It marks the end of an era: After 17 years, 193 races, 23 victories and two championship titles, factory driver Mattias Ekström ends his DTM career, which means that Audi’s most successful DTM campaigner to date is leaving this racing series. In 2018, Ekström will concentrate on the factory-backed commitment of his team, EKS, in the World Rallycross Championship. The new member of Audi’s DTM driver squad is Dutchman Robin Frijns.
“This was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make,” says Ekström. “The DTM was my life for a long time and my heart will always continue to beat for the DTM in the future too. However, I’ve also invested a lot of time and energy in my rallycross team in recent years. Without the dual program I’m now able to fully concentrate on one series again and have more freedom again for my family and my children. I’ll continue to compete for my own team and am clearing the way in the DTM for a promising youngster.”
Mattias Ekström began his DTM career in 2001 at the age of 22 in the Audi customer team of ABT Sportsline. In 2004, he raced for the first time as a factory driver and instantly clinched his first DTM title. In 2007, title number two followed and last season he just barely missed another overall victory. Always at his side: Audi Sport, ABT Sportsline and partner Red Bull in whose HANGAR-7 at the Salzburg airport Ekström now announced his decision as well.
Alongside the DTM, Ekström has been competing in the World Rallycross Championship with his own team, EKS, since 2014. As early as in his third year, he secured the world championship title and, as in the DTM, finished last season as runner-up champion. Ekström describes his most recent years as a major dual effort which the 39-year-old no longer wants to shoulder. “Mattias informed us early of his wish to contest only one series in the 2018 season,” says Head of Audi Motorsport Dieter Gass. “Obviously, Mattias is extremely valuable and important for both projects. That’s why this decision was not an easy one for either of us.”
Ekström leaves a gap in the DTM squad which makes it possible for 26-year-old Robin Frijns to be promoted to the ranks of an Audi factory driver. The Dutchman has been active in customer racing for Audi since 2015 and comes from single-seater racing. In a junior driver evaluation in Spain, he gathered initial experience at the wheel of an Audi DTM race car in 2013. “Robin left a strong impression with us even back then and we haven’t lost sight of him ever since,” says Head of Audi Motorsport Dieter Gass. “At the wheel of the Audi R8 LMS, he showed his abilities and is doing a very good job in our Formula E simulator as well. That it’s possible to battle for the title in the DTM even as a rookie was demonstrated by René Rast last year. Robin has great potential and Audi is in a very good position in terms of its driver lineup for the 2018 DTM. We’re convinced of this.”
The remainder of Audi’s DTM driver line-up will be the same as last year’s: Loïc Duval (F), Jamie Green (GB), Nico Müller (CH), René Rast (D) and Mike Rockenfeller (D) have been confirmed as drivers by the automobile manufacturer. This is the team Audi won all three titles (drivers’, manufacturers’ and teams’) with in the 2017 season.
The new DTM season will open at the Hockenheimring on May 5/6. The first race of the 2018 FIA World RX 2018 will be held at Barcelona on April 14/15.