Preview: Is the future of DTM female?
The popular DTM series kicks off its new era with the 2021 season opener at Monza. In a top-quality field, Sophia Floersch and Esmee Hawkey will break a 9-year hiatus for women in a series that has often featured outstanding female talents: from Lella Lombardi to Ellen Lohr, from Susie Wolff and Katherine Legge to the up-and-coming DTM Trophy drivers. Is the future of DTM increasingly female?
When Saturday afternoon the first race of the 2021 DTM season will get underway at the Temple of Speed in Monza, it will open a whole new chapter in the glorious history of the championship.
For the first time since its inception in 1984, the top German Touring Cars championship – and one of the most exclusive closed-wheel forms of motor racing worldwide – will move to GT3 regulations, having abandoned the Class One format.
DTM maintained its original name but went through a series of format changes throughout the last 20 years. What has not changed, is its ability to attract some of the most important manufacturers, teams and drivers in the sport.
What might have become 'just one more GT3 series' turned out to be once again one of the world's top line-ups in GT racing: veterans from the old DTM era will race alongside GT3 specialists, as well as young talents coming straight from single-seaters.
With 6 different brands on track – five in Monza – and over 20 elite drivers of the likes of Rockenfeller, Wittmann, Muller, Auer, Juncadella, van der Linde, Glock, Albon, Lawson, Klien, the new season is looking as competitive as ever.
And, among the biggest talking points at the season opener, will surely be its two female entrants: for the first time since 2021, in fact, DTM will have a woman on the grid.
German racing star Sophia Floersch combined a double program in 2020, racing in both the FIA Formula 3 Championship and in ELMS, as she moved her first steps in sports cars and endurance.
The 20-year old from Munich, widely considered as one of the most promising female talents in motor racing, might have attracted international attention after her infamous 2018 crash in Macau, but her career was never defined by that moment alone.
A few months after her spinal injury, she was back in Formula 3 – an accomplishment that gained her a Laureus Sport Award – and had a competitive season in Formula Regional European Championship, before stepping up to the FIA F3 series.
But it was at the wheel of the LMP2 prototype of Richard Mille Racing that the young racer would impress in her rookie season, finishing in the top ten at Le Mans.
Also combining a program in WEC, Floersch's 2021 season will be another year of learning, as she makes her GT3 debut in DTM at the wheel of the ABT Sportsline Audi R8 LMS Evo.
“First of all I’m super happy to be racing in DTM this year - 10 years ago I was this small girl watching DTM in Munich at the Olympia Stadium, I was a fan. And ten years later I’m racing here this season." – she said after her first test. "I’m obviously very happy about the opportunity thanks to Schaeffler and I’m going to try to make the best out of it.”
While closed-wheel and GT racing is not completely uncharted territory for Floersch, who raced in the Ginetta Junior Championship after karting and became the youngest ever winner in the series at 15, the new GT3 machinery will obviously require some adaptation from her single-seater experience.
“The first step I did in cars was with the Ginettas, but we had no ABS, no traction control and were a little bit slower than the cars we are racing in DTM this year." – explained Floersch.
"I’m actually used to single seaters, and cars with more aerodynamics and less weight, so that is kind of the biggest change to be honest. It’s a touring car now, so compared to F3 it’s double the weight and [it has] ABS, which is something completely new for me - braking is something I need to get used to. But it’s fun, I think I have a really good team behind me, two really good teammates and I can learn quite a lot from them."
Pre-season testing proved to be a learning-curve for Sophia, who is nevertheless looking forward to learning from some of the best GT drivers.
“Kelvin [van der Linde] has quite a lot of experience, he drove the car for the first time in 2014 and so I can learn quite a lot from him and the same from Mike [Rockenfeller] - he’s not really used to the R8, but he has a lot of DTM and touring cars experience" – she explained after her first testing days.
Floersch will return to her 99 number and her striking Schaeffler-green livery will make sure that her presence on track will be clearly visible.
She will be one of the three drivers (together with Timo Glock and Gary Paffett) to launch the pioneering Schaeffler steer-by-wire system, an exclusive debut in the series.
The system is set to eliminate the conventional mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the wheels, replacing the steering column with electronics.
Automotive and industrial giant Schaeffler is not only leading the technology quest, but also the push for equal opportunities: "Put your money where your mouth is. Schaeffler is doing just that. They are leading the shift to e-mobility. And they are investing in female talent" – tweeted Floersch recently, as a short film starring the young Schaeffler brand ambassador was released.
But Sophia Floersch will not be the only female driver on track in Monza, as British 23-year old Esmee Hawkey was announced as part of the T3 Motorsport line-up just one week ago.
Despite one season in the all-female F3 championship W Series, Hawkey's background is in GT cars: after three seasons in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB, Esmee clinched the title in 2020 with a dominant season in the Pro-Am category.
With the support of growing media brand ROKiT, Hawkey's management sealed the last-minute deal for the upcoming season in DTM with just a single test day in the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 ahead of the first race in Monza.
It will thus be quite a challenge for Esmee, but we can surely expect significant progress throughout the season from the young lady from Kent.
"T3 has a fantastic track record of developing young, driving talent and I have really enjoyed my first experiences with the team and car." – she stated after the announcement.
"With so little time before the first round, I know I am jumping in at the deep end but I’m excited to ramp up my preparations for the season. I know it is going to be a huge step up but it’s one I am ready to take and make the most of.”
“I’m so excited to get the weekend started,” Esmee added. “I’ve been working hard on my preparations for the past few weeks so I just want to get in the car and get out on track. The DTM will be a whole new experience for me but one I’m really looking forward to. The team has welcomed me with open arms and I feel right at home."
"I’m looking forward to returning to Monza, I scored a podium here in Carrera Cup so I’ll be looking to put that experience to good use and have a successful first weekend.”
Since 1984, ten women have raced in DTM so far. Floersch and Hawkey will be the 11th and 12th female drivers to enter a race in the popular series.
One of the historic milestones for women in DTM was surely the 1992 Hockenheim race that saw the victory of Ellen Lohr.
On 24th May 1992, Lohr held off the attacks of F1 champion Keke Rosberg and DTM champion Bernd Schneider to take a truly career-defining victory.
“It is only a matter of time until we will have fast women in DTM again." – commented Lohr, who is watching closely the rise of new female talents across the whole ladder.
“For many years, there hasn’t been real progress, but now, things are moving really quickly. Strong generations are coming up through the junior ranks that are at a good level to make their mark in DTM pretty soon already.”
“Along with the switch to GT3 race cars in DTM, the best era for a woman to be successful in DTM is now coming up", Lohr is convinced.
Having switched to DTM full time with a Mercedes works contract in 1991, Ellen Lohr remains so far the only woman to have secured a win in the series – but the she wasn't the first one to start a race: this record belongs to none other than Lella Lombardi, the last woman to have entered a Formula 1 race and, to this date, the only one to have scored points at the pinnacle of motorsport.
Lombardi's first entry dates back to 1984, when she raced for Alfa Romeo in two races in Hockenheim – and clinched two top-10 finishes.
The first woman to step on the podium would be Beate Nodes two years later, when the Ford driver finished third at the mighty AVUS racetrack.
Dutchwoman Henny Hemmes entered two race events in 1984 and 1985, while Mercedes Stermitz – a driver with relevant Formula 3 experience – and Annette Meeuvissen both competed in full seasons as BMW works drivers in 1988 and from 1988 to 1991 respectively.
We would have to wait until 2006 for the next female participation: joining Mercedes, Scottish racer Susie Stoddart (who then became Susie Wolff) scored some top-10 finishes in her DTM career before reaching F1 in a test driving role at Williams. She remains the last woman to have driven a F1 car in an official free practice session to this day.
Vanina Ickx raced for Audi from 2006 to 2007, while Katherine Legge and Rahel Frey were the two last women to have entered a DTM race in 2012. Nine years later, the spell will be broken at the Monza season opener.
On the iconic 5.793km of the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, three more female racers will battle out on track in the DTM Trophy races – the GT4-based series that is aiming at becoming DTM's main feeder series: GT specialist and KTM works driver Laura Kraihamer will return for a full season after a one-off appearance last year at Lausitzring, while 23-year old Sophie Hofmann will make her debut with the Audi R8 LMS GT4 of Heide Motorsport.
At her first start in the series will also be Stéphane Kox, racing in the #90 Ring-Racing Toyota GR Supra GT4.
An unmistakable sign that the future of DTM is likely to be increasingly female.