For its second season under GT3 regulations in 2022, the DTM took a major step forward in competitiveness. Not only were grid sizes bigger, only once dipping below 20 cars as a product of the Hockenheim race one crash-fest, but the pool of quality drivers scrapping for honours was back to a level comparable with the manufacturer-based Class 1 era with a mix of established factory drivers and hotshoes with plenty to prove.
No less than 11 different drivers took a pole position, while the same number took victories in a season characterised by unpredictability. That is to be expected in a championship governed by Balance of Performance, which changed regularly throughout race weekends in an effort to keep the different brands in check, but it meant consistency was a precious commodity.
Through it all came Sheldon van der Linde, who delivered BMW a first title since 2016 as his Schubert Motorsport team and the BMW M4 GT3 made a memorable introduction to the series.
But which of the drivers shone the brightest during the closely-fought campaign? Here we assess the year’s top performers.
10. Nico Muller – Team Rosberg Audi
Championship: 7th, 105 points
Total podiums: 2
Wins: 1 (Portimao II)
Pole Positions: 1
After a trying 2021 as Team Rosberg adapted to GT3 rules, Nico Muller ended a year-long victory drought with a dominant win in Portugal. But it was to prove a false dawn for Kimmo Liimatainen’s ultra-professional team, the DTM’s dominant force towards the end of the Class 1 era, in Muller’s final year with Audi before joining Peugeot’s Hypercar roster. Thereafter, whenever the four rings were on song it was Abt’s three-car stable that had the upper-hand.
Imola was Muller’s only other podium, where the Swiss ran old rival Rene Rast close throughout the race before settling for the runner-up spot. He was a regular fixture in the lower top-10, but never again came close to hitting the heights of Portimao.
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Still, a podium might have been on the cards in the first Nurburgring race before he was clipped by Rast and picked up a race-ending puncture, while his best qualifying performance from the second half of the season at the Red Bull Ring, second, turned into an afternoon of disappointment as he repeatedly clashed with Thomas Prening’s Porsche at Turn 3.
Muller’s higher peak means he makes our top 10 ahead of Abt Audi driver Kelvin van der Linde – runner-up to his brother at the Nurburgring and polewinner at Norisring – and GruppeM Mercedes man Maro Engel, who enjoyed spurring drives to podiums at the Lausitzring and Red Bull Ring. Ricardo Feller (Imola race two) and the generally luckless Felipe Fraga (Norisring race two) also won races, Feller’s triumph all the more impressive after a BoP change which rendered his marque stablemates largely uncompetitive, but neither were as consistent as Muller.
9. Marco Wittmann – Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW
Championship: 8th, 98 points
Total podiums: 3
Wins: 1 (Hockenheim II)
Pole Positions: 0
Marco Wittmann was the best BMW in qualifying more often than champion Sheldon van der Linde, but the 2014 and 2016 title-winner’s highlights weren’t as great. A lack of testing, he believes, “was our main issue”. Whereas the Schubert team was meticulously prepared for the season, van der Linde estimating “we did 10 or 12 private days before the season even started” to understand the new M4, Walkenhorst “didn’t go testing enough” according to Wittmann at Hockenheim.
On the level playing field of Portimao, it was Wittmann who had the best finish of fourth, but he could never get back on terms with van der Linde after the South African’s Lausitzring double.
Wittmann scored the best results of any BMW driver at Imola – peaking with third in race two after a final lap pass on Lucas Auer – and the Norisring, where he finished fourth in race two. But he was largely anonymous (aside from being punted into the wilderness by Thomas Preining at the Nurburgring) until Hockenheim, his most complete weekend of the season, which elevated him from 15th in the standings to eighth.
He had taken the lead from eventual winner Auer prior to the red flag stoppage in race one, and made him sweat as they closed down the early-stopping Dev Gore before ultimately finishing third, then followed it up with a stylish win in the season finale after forcing Rene Rast into a rare error.
8. Dennis Olsen – SSR Performance Porsche
Championship: 10th, 89 points
Total podiums: 3
Wins: 1 (Spa I)
Pole Positions: 1
Given his bulging CV, it was widely expected that Laurens Vanthoor would lead Porsche’s charge as the Weissach manufacturer embarked on its first season of DTM. But it was his team-mate Dennis Olsen that instead emerged as SSR’s team leader, and greatly boosted his credentials in the process.
That the bespectacled Norwegian is quick in a Porsche is a nothing new, having won the 2017 German Carrera Cup title and finished a close second in that year’s Supercup. But where Vanthoor struggled to get the car where he needed it, former Porsche Junior Olsen thrived and strengthened his case further to be awarded full factory status.
Of all the circuits on the DTM calendar for a Porsche to win at, then Spa would perhaps be the last place you’d predict – particularly as SSR didn’t do a pre-event test there. But there Olsen delivered a stylish win, withstanding worsening rain towards the end and a fast-closing Maximilian Gotz on fresher tyres.
He’d already served notice of his progress by taking two strong runner-up finishes – behind Bernhard Porsche rival Thomas Preining at the Norisring and Luca Stolz’s Mercedes at the Norisring. And while it was Preining who ended up as the best Porsche seven times to Olsen’s six in qualifying, Olsen was the fastest 911 runner in four of the first six races before Bernhard managed to sort its package.
It was a pity that his season was ended prematurely at Hockenheim when he braked to avoid the Preining-David Schumacher crash ahead and he was fired into the barriers by Ricardo Feller in what he describes as the first big crash of his career, ripping the engine mountings out and preventing him from starting the finale.
7. Luca Stolz – Team HRT Mercedes
Championship: 6th, 108 points
Total podiums: 4
Wins: 1 (Nurburgring II)
Pole Positions: 0
The paddock’s quiet man, who is much happier talking with his mechanics than facing the TV cameras, Luca Stolz was rewarded for his efforts with Mercedes squad HRT in GT World Challenge and selected to replace Winward-bound champion Maximilian Gotz. He proved an astute appointment.
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In a familiar environment working with Gotz’s former engineer Renaud Dufour and buoyed by the confidence from winning the Bathurst 12 Hour, his season started well as two runner-up finishes arrived from the first two rounds at Portimao and the Lausitzring, behind Lucas Auer and Sheldon van der Linde respectively.
He was never the quickest Mercedes in qualifying (albeit only 0.061s down on poleman Auer at Hockenheim), a stat that will need to be addressed if he is to challenge for the title in 2023, but Stolz usually raced strongly and was helped by consistently excellent HRT pitstops.
His first win, at the Nurburgring after qualifying seventh, was a perfect snapshot of Stolz’s racecraft and Uli Fritz’s well-drilled mechanics working in harmony. Having made his way up to fourth before the safety car, a typically rapid service jumped him ahead of van der Linde and Thomas Preining, putting him into a net lead which he didn’t waste. After navigating the safety car restart, he gapped Dennis Olsen to win by 4.5s, the second-biggest margin recorded by anyone all year.
He also benefitted from an early service in the second Red Bull Ring race to climb from 11th to second, beaten only by a marauding Preining, after an impressive stint nursing ageing wet tyres on a fast-drying track.
6. Nick Cassidy – Red Bull (AF Corse) Ferrari
Championship: 13th, 64 points
Total podiums: 2
Wins: 2 (Spa II, Red Bull Ring I)
Pole Positions: 1* (Red Bull Ring I pole position inherited from Rast)
Missing two rounds on Formula E duty meant Nick Cassidy didn’t crack the top 10 in DTM points, but the 2017 Super GT champion reminded everybody of his sportscar prowess when he was present.
Following an eye-catching one-off at the Norisring in place of Alex Albon last season, Cassidy was signed to dual programmes with AF Corse for the GTE Am class of the World Endurance Championship and aboard its AlphaTauri-branded 488 GT3 in DTM, where he earned two stylish wins at Spa and the Red Bull Ring.
In the former, he survived a wheelbanging moment with poleman Rene Rast then held his nerve – and kept the throttle pinned with cold tyres on his outlap – to just fend off early leader Sheldon van der Linde (delayed by a duff pitstop) before doing it all over again in a final one-lap shootout.
Then in Austria, after Rast had earned a three-place grid drop for instigating the Spa argy-bargy, Cassidy was promoted to pole and converted serenely despite full ballast.
He was frustrated to miss Portimo and Norisring, his Dario Armellin-run Ferrari a front-row contender in Ayhancan Guven’s hands at the latter, and also contributed to his lowly starting position of 21st at the Nurburgring – when qualifying’s cancellation due to fog caused the grid to be set by championship order. There he picked his way through to seventh, a performance that went under the radar but demonstrated Cassidy’s quality.
Another that is easy to forget was Imola race two, which he rated as “one of my best” but finished only 17th due to the DTM’s rules that prohibit double-stacking under the safety car. Team-mate Felipe Fraga got first pick and Cassidy, who had run fifth, had to stay out. It wrecked his race, but he had pulled an impressive 10s gap over the similarly doomed Dennis Olsen before pitting.
He also beat Fraga in their qualifying head-to-head, coming out on top 5-4 in sessions where both were able to participate (excluding Lausitzring II and Hockenheim II).
5. Thomas Preining – Team Bernhard Porsche
Championship: 5th, 116 points
Total podiums: 4
Wins: 2 (Norisring I, Red Bull Ring II)
Pole Positions: 0
Only Lucas Auer and Sheldon van der Linde outscored Thomas Preining in the second half of a season in which the Austrian showed that single-car outfits can compete with the series’ heavyweight teams.
His two-time Le Mans-winning team boss Timo Bernhard knows a thing or two about driving, and identified in the 2018 German Carrera Cup champion a raw talent who with polishing could become unstoppable. His instincts were proven right.
Despite having no team-mate to compare notes with, it was Preining who first unleashed Porsche’s potential in the DTM with a stirring drive to fourth at Imola. He had occupied third until being deposed by a charging Mirko Bortolotti late on, but channelled that disappointment into making history as Porsche’s first DTM winner in the following race at the Norisring. His was about the only car without a scratch after race one, where Preining controlled proceedings from the front following decisive moves on Kelvin van der Linde and Rene Rast.
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Following two third places at Spa – the first after pulling off a save of the season contender at Eau Rouge on the opening lap, the second despite a broken radio – he stormed through from seventh on home turf at a soaking Red Bull Ring for a second win of the campaign that put him just 14 points off the summit heading to Hockenheim.
There are still some areas for Bernhard to iron out of his charge; Preining was overly familiar with the kerbs at the Nurburgring’s Veedol Chicane, resulting in his retirement with splitter damage, and was perhaps too aggressive in battle with David Schumacher as their Hockenheim tangle instigated a multi-car pileup behind. But particularly if the team expands to two cars, Preining will be a real force to be reckoned with in 2023.
4. Mirko Bortolotti – Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini
Championship: 4th, 121 points
Total podiums: 5
Pole Positions: 2* (Nurburgring I pole was on the basis of championship positions after qualifying was cancelled)
The season of two halves metaphor is a tired one, but it applies acutely for mid-season points leader Mirko Bortolotti. Lamborghini’s talisman was ultra-consistent in the early rounds and after the Norisring had amassed 89 points, but tallied just 32 from the remaining eight races as he slipped to fourth.
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It would be easy to point to his disastrous weekend at the Nurburgring as the key factor, leaving with no points when he had been set to beat main rival Sheldon van der Linde in both races, but that alone didn’t cost him the title. Banking the points for finishing second and fifth would have resulted in a 37-point swing, still leaving him six points shy.
While he was at fault for the contact with Felipe Fraga while duelling for the lead in race one, his clash with Kelvin van der Linde while disputing fourth in race two was a racing incident. His nose was ahead at the right-hander, and he ultimately retired with a punctured left-rear, although his rival reckoned he wouldn’t have made the corner.
Bortolotti can point to several races where problems out of his control cost him as he ended the season winless. Electrical gremlins at Portimao almost certainly lost victory in the season-opener, and he could well have beaten Rene Rast in the first Imola race had it not been for a tyre infringement penalty that meant he had to start 16th instead of sixth. His late fresh tyre charge to recover third, after a long opening stint in a race bereft of action, was perhaps the year’s best drive.
Problems with getting the tyres working in qualifying at Spa left him to recover lowly points finishes from 20th on the grid in both races, while there was also the tardy pitstop at Hockenheim that cost another victory shot in race one and finally extinguished his slim title hopes as he finished seventh.
3. Rene Rast – Abt Sportsline Audi
Championship: 3rd, 149 points
Total podiums: 6
Wins: 1 (Imola I)
Pole Positions: 3* (Red Bull Ring I pole docked for three-place grid penalty)
Back after a year away in Formula E, the triple DTM champion took time adjusting to the GT3 format introduced in his absence, but grew into a title contender and the standout Audi driver in his final year with the brand before switching to BMW.
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Rast admitted he got onto the pace sooner than he’d expected following a pointless opening to the season in Portimao, as engineer Felix Fechner’s radical set-up revamp at the Lausitzring yielded a race two podium. Taking pole and strolling to victory next time out at Imola all seemed very familiar, but it was to prove his only win of a campaign in which he felt he was “never competitive enough to win races from our own pace”.
Rast did top qualifying a season-high four times (though lost his Red Bull Ring race one pole to a grid penalty), but at both Spa and Hockenheim he lost out at the start to a BMW driver and couldn’t re-assert himself. In the latter, he managed to force his way back ahead of Marco Wittmann on the Walkenhorst man’s outlap, only to run wide in his efforts to stay ahead and drop back again, while a puncture in the former while third was a significant setback in his title hopes.
The deflation was unrelated to his earlier contact with Nick Cassidy, but did result in the three-place grid-drop which likely cost him victory to the Kiwi at the Red Bull Ring as he fought back from fourth to second.
Perhaps his best drive was at the Norisring, where despite a slow puncture he held on to finish third in race one – a result he repeated in the more sedate Sunday encounter.
Rast was left frequently unimpressed by driving standards this year – not least after being turfed off by David Schumacher at the Nurburgring – and it remains to be seen whether he’ll return next year. If not, he’ll be a huge loss.
2. Lucas Auer – Winward Racing Mercedes
Championship: 2nd, 153 points
Total podiums: 4
Wins: 2 (Portimao I, Hockenheim I)
Pole Positions: 2
Had the season started at the Nurburgring, Lucas Auer would have beaten Sheldon van der Linde to the title by nine points even with the puncture that robbed him of a likely haul of 18 for second at Spa. In fact, his 93-point tally over the final eight races was unrivalled by anybody.
Having been 29 points off the lead at the season’s halfway point – Mirko Bortolotti then holding the ace card – he closed to two points behind van der Linde heading into the final race at Hockenheim after winning the opener, but with full ballast on his car in the finale and a suboptimal grid position after being caught out by a red flag in qualifying he didn’t quite have enough to make up the difference and finished 11 points in arrears.
But being runner-up in the 2022 DTM is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. And in his second season at Winward working with Portuguese engineer Mauricio Moreira, the Austrian found another gear and emerged as Mercedes’ lead title threat to underline his belief that he’s a technically better driver for spending one season each racing in Super Formula and then with BMW in the final season of the Class 1 DTM.
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Shading newly-arrived 2021 champion Max Gotz from the off, he took advantage of Bortolotti’s electrical glitch to win the Portimao opener and also took pole at Lausitzring before losing out at the start to van der Linde’s rapid M4 and to speedy pitwork from Luca Stolz’s HRT squad.
He was frustrated to lose third on the final lap of the second Imola race to Marco Wittmann after getting himself into contention with a ballistic restart, and took no points from the Norisring (when he persevered with neck pain that required physio treatment), but was superb in the final rounds and Spa DNF aside, never finished outside the top seven.
To boot, he was the fastest Mercedes driver in qualifying an impressive seven times.
1. Sheldon van der Linde – Schubert Motorsport BMW
Championship: 1st, 164 points
Total podiums: 6
Wins: 3 (Lausitzring I and II, Nurburgring I)
Pole Positions: 2
Having struggled with the ageing M6 GT3 in 2021 and been overshadowed by elder brother Kelvin, Sheldon van der Linde came into the season eager to prove a point. And while his Schubert Motorsport team gave him all the tools needed to do the job, with an extensive pre-season testing programme that he explained was “really the key to finding all the small tricks” on the new M4, the South African absolutely delivered on his end of the bargain as he ended BMW’s five-year title drought.
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Rapid in qualifying, assertive in battle and mentally resilient when faced by setbacks, 23-year-old van der Linde had all the attributes needed to triumph in such a tightly-fought season. The Lausitzring double winner was the only driver all year to take a weekend clean sweep, managing full ballast expertly in race two as he kept just enough life in his tyres to hold off the fast-closing Maro Engel.
Unlike many of his rivals, he rarely got involved in scrapes - his blameless involvement in the race one Norisring pileup was his only DNF - as he showed a knack for when to choose his battles.
It would have been easy to force the issue with Nick Cassidy after his slow tyre stop arguably cost a fourth win of the year at Spa, but he saw the bigger picture. Then at Hockenheim, with the title on the line after a tyre infraction resulted in grid penalty that left him starting 16th, he was wheel-perfect in his recovery to second as all around him chaos reigned.
It wouldn’t be correct to say Van der Linde was without blemish. At an unexpectedly uncompetitive weekend for BMW at the Red Bull Ring, he earned a nine-place grid penalty for track limits abuse in race one as he tried everything to haul himself into the points, then spun on the opening lap of the soaking race two. He also picked up a three-place grid drop for the second Portimao race due to track limits transgressions, ultimately finishing eighth.
But those relatively minor blips aside, van der Linde was simply awesome in 2022. He had more wins than anybody and those high peaks made him a well-deserving champion.