Their six-year stint wasn’t a resounding success, but Opel’s role as one of the founding manufacturers of the modern DTM can’t go ignored. When the new DTM returned in 2000 it filled a three-year-old space at the top of German, and European motorsport left by the German Touring Car Championship and International Touring Car Championship. As the series undergoes its biggest overhaul since 2000 ahead of the 2019 season, I’m looking back at its 19-season history, and how Opel fared from 2000 to 2005.
The Pre – 2000 Years
Opel’s participation in top-level German motorsport began in the old Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft era, with the Calibra their car of choice between 1993 and 1996. With drivers including former F1 champion Keke Rosberg and Manuel Reuter, they struggled for three seasons before tasting success in 1996. Opel’s fortunes turned as the series began its rapid decline and Reuter won the ITCC (as it was then known) in 1996 with 218 points. Race wins at Hockenheim and the Nurburgring secured Reuter the title despite a tough run of form mid-season, and Opel beat Alfa Romeo to the constructors crown by just 9 points.
The ITCC folded at the end of 1996 with high travel costs to rounds and poor attendance at races cited as the driving factors.
Modern DTM Era
With the new DTM was announced for the year 2000, Opel and Mercedes-Benz were named as the series’ two manufacturer entries. Although they would both eventually field factory teams, Audi and BMW were also part of the discussions when the DTM was reformed. Both didn’t join the series for different reasons with BMW wanting a greater emphasis on international races, and Audi wanting to use their Quattro four-wheel drive instead of the rear-wheel drive machinery planned for the DTM.
Opel began their maiden DTM campaign with a version of the Opel Astra G Series Coupe with a 4.0L V8 engine putting out nearly 500 hp. Eight drivers were fielded across five different teams with 1996 champion Reuter signed up to spearhead their assault on the title. Reuter was joined by Uwe Alzen, Joachim Winkelhock, Michael Bartels, Éric Hélary, Timo Scheider, Christian Menzel and Stefano Modena for the 2000 season in a strong lineup which expected to challenge for the drivers and constructors championships.
The 2000 season was Opel’s most competitive of their DTM tenure as the teams took 8 race wins from 16 races as Reuter finished 2nd in the standings behind Mercedes’ Bernd Schneider. The trio of Winkelhock, Alzen and Bartels would finish 5th, 6th and 7th and prove Reuter’s closest Opel challengers but the marque was beaten to both the teams and constructors championships. A double victory for Reuter at Motorsport Arena Oschersleben and another double for Alzen at Hockenheim were two of Opel’s standout moments.
It was all change at the team for 2001 as Opel looked to chase down Mercedes at the top of the standings. Out went Alzen, Hélary, Menzel and Modena whilst in came Yves Olivier, Alain Menu, Hubert Haupt and Peter Mamerow. Now split over four teams, Opel failed to win a race all season and whilst star-man Reuter was once again their highest placed finisher, this time he finished the season 9th in the standings. The team didn’t register a podium finish, and the highest placed Opel team finished 7th in the team’s standings. Needless to say, they were crushed by Mercedes in the constructor’s championship, too.
The team didn’t fare much better in 2002. Haupt and Mamerow left the outfit, and whilst Yves Olivier remained he was replaced by JJ Lehto, 2000 returnee Éric Hélary and Johnny Cecotto for the final three races of the season. For the second season in a row, Opel failed to win a race although this time around they did score four podium finishes courtesy of Menu, Reuter and Bartels. For the first time since the return of the DTM, Reuter was no longer Opel’s highest placed driver, a title which went to Alain Menu although they both finished with just 7 points. OPC Team Holzer finished 5th in the team’s championship.
Around came 2003, and Bartels, Olivier, Hélary, Lehto, and Cecotto were replaced by Jeroen Bleekemolen and Peter Dumbreck. Dumbreck, a previous DTM race winner with Mercedes who finished 3rd in the title race in 2001 was a particularly exciting signing and eased the pain of the departure of Bartels. However, despite the changes and big-name arrivals, it was a disastrous year for the team as Dumbreck’s 2nd place finish at EuroSpeedway Lausitz was the only Opel podium finish all season. Dumbreck was the teams highest placed finisher in the championship in 7th, with Scheider, Menu and Reuter completing the rest of the top ten. Opel were comprehensively beaten again in the teams and constructors standings scoring just 60 points to Mercedes’ 237.
2004 bought about the biggest shake-up at Opel since the return of the DTM, as the now four-season-old Opel Astra Coupe was replaced as the marque’s main challenger by Opel Vectra GTS V8 2004, a move which came after a change in regulations. One Astra Coupe remained, driven by Bleekemolen and run by OPC Euroteam. Menu and Winkelhock left the team and the series and in came a star-studded lineup of Marcel Fässler, Laurent Aïello and Heinz-Harald Frentzen in what was arguably Opel’s strongest lineup of the new DTM era.
However success eluded Opel once again in 2004, and Reuter’s 3rd place finish at Oschersleben was their only silverware of another disappointing season. Timo Scheider was their highest-placed driver in 8th, and the new Vectra failed to help Opel make any inroads in the constructor’s title as they finished last once again with 58 points. Rivals Audi and Mercedes scored 168 and 164 points respectively. The highest-placed Opel team finished 5th in the team’s standings.
The start of the 2005 season marked the beginning of the end for Opel in the DTM, as they scaled back from six to four cars ahead of the season opener. Just Fässler, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Aïello and Reuter remained to campaign in a Vectra GTS for a final season. Cost-cutting measures by parent company at the time General Motors were blamed for Opel’s exit from the series, but the lack of results on track can’t have helped. Perhaps now unsurprisingly the team failed to win a race in 2005, but in terms of podiums, it was their best since 2002, as Frentzen came 3rd at Brno and Zandvoort on his way to a manufacturer-high 8th in the final standings. Opel finished last in the constructor’s standings for the sixth year running and also finished 6th and 8th in the team’s standings.
2005 would be Opel’s last season in the series, and they have yet to return to the DTM. They are a manufacturer who never achieved the success we’ve seen Mercedes, Audi and BMW achieve in the DTM in recent years, and after their strong 2000 season, they faded away rapidly never to challenge again. Whether Opel have unfinished business in the DTM or not, their legacy will be one which is unfulfilled for now at least.
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