ROWE Racing is closing in on a decision between entering the DTM or Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS, according to team principal Hans-Peter Naundorf.
The reigning Total 24 Hours of Spa and Nürburgring 24 winning squad, which is operated by Motorsport Competence Group, is evaluating a possible switch to the GT3-based DTM alongside an expected return to endurance competition at the Nordschleife.
Naundorf told Sportscar365 that a decision on ROWE Racing’s 2021 program is due to be made in the coming days, following a long period of weighing up the options between the DTM and GTWC Europe Endurance Cup which it entered last year with Porsche.
According to Naundorf, MCG’s program backer ROWE Motor Oil is interested in the “new challenge” provided by the DTM’s adoption of GT3 cars in place of Class One.
He explained that sporting, financial, marketing and sustainability factors are among the key points under consideration for determining ROWE Racing’s next step.
“It’s not purely budget, which is not the ultimate decision point,” said Naundorf.
“One point, from the sporting side, is that the ROWE Racing team project has been doing really well at Spa for the last five years. We’ve had four podiums out of five years. The question is: what do you want to do and achieve?
“There’s also a marketing factor: the reach of the viewers. It doesn’t only come down to what is the best sporting racing series.
“For example, my investors are only actually paid for Spa. But to be really good for Spa, you have to take in the other races.
“Then with an event like DTM, which is eight equally highlighted events, it’s a new kind of marketing. It’s a little more like soccer game days. [ROWE] ask me for a new challenge, and for sure the DTM is a new challenge in every way. It’s a chance to do something new.
“That doesn’t say we are leaving endurance – we are going to stay at the Nordschleife – and it doesn’t say that we’re not going to come back to SRO.
“I personally may look to run one of my cars under a different name, at Spa. Maybe MCG running this. For ROWE, the decision is not made and will be made shortly. They are looking for a new challenge and a new form of platform for marketing.”
Cost considerations are central to ROWE Racing’s evaluations, with Naundorf suggesting that the DTM is better suited to the team’s business model than GTWC Europe.
He estimated that the cost of running an entry at the 24 Hours of Spa has increased by seven percent each year since the 2016 edition when ROWE won with a BMW M6 GT3.
The team added a second Spa victory last year with a Porsche 911 GT3 R driven by Nick Tandy, Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber.
“The majority of the teams did not carry the cost reduction that Stephane [Ratel, head of GT World Challenge] aimed for,” said Naundorf.
“And I can understand why they did not want to have these kinds of cost reduction proposals because they make a different kind of business.
“They have pay drivers with one or two cars, and then the second car is maybe a Pro car with manufacturer input and a Gold driver who brings a good sponsor.
“With the ROWE project, an industrial partner puts in its money and wants to see a return of investment.
“For industrial partners, it’s quite a hard choice to say that we’re going to go for a sixth, seventh and eighth podium at Spa. To be able to run it, every time you need to put more money and effort into it.”
The investment becomes harder, according to Naundorf, when the rising cost of racing in the series is met with less financial backing from other corners.
“What comes into play is that the manufacturers that I [have been] working with have been drawing out the money,” he said.
“So you get less and less budget from their side. From the ROWE side, I have the same kind of budget or slightly raised. But when other partners are minimizing the budget, that’s a problem. They then put more money in a new project like DTM.
“In the end, we have to be able to pay [for] everything. That’s one part of the process which is taking place.”
Naundorf said the “goal” is to continue running BMW and Porsche GT3 cars this year.
However, neither brand has announced a factory support network for DTM customer teams, unlike Mercedes-AMG and Audi which have both confirmed their official backing.
“There is no real decision being made, if we would like to run a BMW car or Porsche car in the DTM for example,” said Naundorf.
“There are pros and cons, and the list is quite long. But there’s one big point: you want to have the commitment from the manufacturer.
“If you start a new racing series, the manufacturer needs to be behind it. Are they open in sharing the technology with the ITR on BoP? Is there a communication between them?
“For me, modern motorsport on this level is quite complex and a lot of things have to fall in the right line.
“If you have partners like BMW or Porsche, and they do all the communication they have, the reach is much longer and the benefits for your partners are better. These are things you have to consider.”
Naundorf’s final point of consideration concerns sustainability.
“The world always asks about sustainability issues,” he said. “You can’t ignore that when you want money from a company, they’re going to ask these questions. A long-distance race isn’t as sustainable as a sprint race.”
Final Decision on Program Imminent
ROWE Racing is expected to make a definitive call on its 2021 sporting direction by the end of this week.
“We have to look in different scenarios, what our partners want,” said Naundorf.
“It’s not decided if we’re going to stay in GT World Challenge Europe or if we do something different, like DTM for example. It’s really not decided yet.
“The ROWE Racing project already wanted to expand last year with Intercontinental GT, but because of the pandemic we shortcutted it, and it’s the same for this year.
“It looks like we’re going to do the Nürburgring 24 again. There are final conversations going on about it. It’s going to be [decided by] end of next week. This is the timeline.”