On March 19, 1981 the 'usual suspects' of the DRM (Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft) gathered in the paddock at the Zolder circuit in Belgium for the first round of the series' 10th season. The usual suspects were the likes of the Schnitzer, Kremer, Zakspeed, GS and Joest teams. They were the ones left from the glory days. Others, like Loos, Max Moritz, and Grab had already gone. The factory teams from right at the beginning were gone too, and from the many international stars like Hezemans, Schurti, Stommelen, Peterson, Ickx, and Schenken, only a handful remained. What was once considered the best production car series in the world had become too expensive, too overwrought, and no longer relevant. The development of the increasingly finicky Group 5 cars meant the grids had shrunk, with just a few genuine front-running cars left. To enlarge the fields, a new class had been created a couple of years earlier; the 'Rennsport Trophäe' – the Racing Trophy – was essentially a race within a race, with a separate pointscore for drivers in Group 4 or Group 2 cars. It did create some interesting battles, with German touring car talents such as Selzer, Boller, Vogt, Henzler, Nussbaumer, and Wolf. But it really was a second class, in the shadow of the Group 5 competitors from Divisions 1 and 2. The DRM racing format really was becoming an out-dated model.
The 1981 season actually highlighted the fundamental problem with the original two-class system (Division 1 and 2), and why it needed to be abolished. There had already been a decision to do so in principle, but a compromised formula could not be agreed on. So the existing system stayed in place, making 1981 the last season where the champion would be whoever scored the most points in either of the two Group 5-dominated divisions.
Pre-season favourites for the title were the two Zakspeed Capri drivers, namely the 1979 champion Klaus Ludwig and Manfred Winkelhock, the reigning champion Hans Heyer in the Lancia, and Bob Wollek, who after a stint with the Loos team had returned to his spiritual home at Kremer. The crew at Zakspeed had developed a clever two-pronged strategy across the big and small classes, and the Capri was perfectly-suited for sprint racing. It was fast enough to win, and as reliable as an everyday workhorse.
Competition for Ludwig in the 'small' class was coming from BMW and Lancia, and it was not to be underestimated, given the strong performances by the previous year's runner-up Stuck and reigning champion Heyer. In the 'big' class, Wollek was always a tough nut to crack as an opponent. And just where Stuck would stand in the Group 5 BMW M1 was an unknown. So, Winkelhock started the season in the 'big' Zakspeed Capri in the Division 1, while Ludwig went after the title in the small class.