In the worst case, customers go to the competition

One thing is clear: Abt Sportsline belongs to the DTM like the bratwurst belongs to the Nürburgring. The racing team from Kempten has been involved in the traditional German series for exactly 25 years, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2024. From the ‘New DTM’ in 2000, the Abts have been part of the team throughout, always with Audi racing cars.

Starting with the Abt Audi TT-R, which was built in 100 days, through various silhouette prototypes from the Class 1 era to the current Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo2: Wherever Abt is on the outside, Audi is inside. And success of course: With 76 victories, 256 podium places, five driver and five team titles, Abt Sportsline is the most successful active team in the DTM starting field.

Hans-Jürgen Abt in 2002 with Laurent Aiello and Mattias Ekström, photo: LAT Images
Hans-Jürgen Abt in 2002 with Laurent Aiello and Mattias Ekström, photo: LAT Images

Abt Sportsline and Audi in the DTM: Signs point to farewell

With Kelvin van der Linde and Ricardo Feller, both Abt drivers are currently aiming for the title; they are travelling to the upcoming race weekend at the Norisring as first and third placed drivers. The first driver title triumph since Timo Scheider in 2009 could also be the last with Audi: After the Ingolstadt boardroom quake – no more financial support for customer teams – the signs are pointing towards a farewell.

Despite this highly controversial decision, the Abts have remained loyal to Audi and, together with the new, old sponsor Red Bull, are the only team to continue to field two Audi R8 LMS GT3s in the DTM. Hans-Jürgen Abt, CEO of the Abt Group, made no secret of what he thinks of the decision by the resigned Audi board member Markus Duesmann in favor of entering Formula 1 from 2026.

Hans-Jürgen Abt: “I cannot identify with this company policy”

“I cannot identify with this company policy and would like the current Audi CEO Gernot Döllner to reconsider this,” Abt appealed to the boardroom in Ingolstadt in a press release. “Customer sport is a business model and can be done with relatively little money. What’s more, it is booming.”

According to Abt, Audi has appealed to and made customers happy with its successes around the world for many years. “And then you turn something like that around. I think that customers don’t like that at all and in the worst case scenario they will switch to competitors like BMW or Mercedes. Bringing them back costs more money than keeping the department alive.”

Hans-Jürgen Abt at the DTM
Hans-Jürgen Abt has been a member of the board of trustees of the ADAC Sports Foundation since this year, photo: Gruppe C GmbH

What’s next for Abt Sportsline in the DTM?

As a result, many professional customer teams and long-standing factory drivers turned away from Audi or Audi Sport and looked for new partners. And this despite knowing that the current GT3 Audi is one of the most popular and affordable customer sports cars in the world. The private team Scherer Sport PHX – formerly Phoenix Racing – even managed to take overall victory in this year’s 24-hour race at the Nürburgring.

Without financial support, however, it is no longer possible for most professional customer teams to compete on equal terms in the tough competition with a dozen brands. Abt Sportsline also looked elsewhere and switched to Lamborghini on the Nürburgring Nordschleife last year.

It remains to be seen whether the Abts will also use the Italian GT3 racing cars in the DTM from 2025. “Thanks to the 24-hour race, we have good contacts with Lamborghini and we exchange information from time to time,” said Abt CEO Thomas Biermaier to“We definitely wanted to continue with Audi this year and not stop like this. I think that Audi really appreciates that we continue to represent them in the DTM despite the withdrawal. We will announce what happens in 2025 later in the autumn.”

The only thing that is clear is that the DTM remains an important part of the company even after a quarter of a century of membership. Hans-Jürgen Abt: “Of course. We are an innovative company. ‘From the racetrack to the road’ is our slogan. We want to show people that we do good work, that we are technically adept and reliable. Through motorsport, you can build trust in our products. In the DTM, we demonstrate our technical competence.”

“As early as the fourth race, it was decided which driver to bet on”

Abt even liked the fact that the Abts have been doing their own thing in the DTM as a private team on GT3 cars since the regulation change in 2021. He ruthlessly revealed what many paddock insiders know, but hardly anyone has dared to say openly!

Abt: “I am very happy that we can go our own way again and decide everything ourselves in the team. In the last years of the factory dynasty, we were not even able to work on our own setups. Everything was transparent. If we changed something, the other teams from Phoenix and Rosberg knew about it too. In the end, our only asset was actually the pit stops.”

That was not what Abt was aiming for, he continued: “It was only about the car and the brand. The driver to be backed was already decided in the fourth race. For me, that was no longer real racing, as we have it again today: fighting, having fun and taking risks on the track.”

Abt welcomed the path taken by the new DTM promoter ADAC, calling for a reduction in CO2 emissions and for strengthening the teams “so that they can commit themselves in the long term without being too dependent on the manufacturers. Formula 1 and MotoGP show how a business model can work for promoters, organizers and teams. That’s where we have to go with the DTM in Germany too.”

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