Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Rockenfeller and Ekstrom fastest in practice
- Rainy and tricky conditions during qualifying
- Ekstrom takes pole ahead of Green
The German Touringcar Masters (DTM) this time arrived at the Nurburgring for round six of the DTM championship. The circuit last weekend hosted the German Formula One Grand Prix, but this weekend the 18 Mercedes and Audi drivers will dominate the circuit that is famous for its Nordschleife, the old almost 30km long Grand Prix circuit with over 140 corners running right through the forests and hills of the German Eifel.
Formula One abandoned the Nordschleife in 1976 after Niki Lauda’s near-fatal accident. In 1984 a completely new circuit was opened, the 4.542km Grand Prix Strecke which over the years has become the home and heart of German motor sport.
DTM will be using the short Grand Prix Strecke, 3.629km long, the current lap record is in the hands of Bruno Spengler (Mercedes Benz Bank AMG) who in 2010 recorded a time of 1m24.372s. Spengler is currently leading the championship with 39 points, three points ahead of Martin Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) who is second, and 15 points ahead of Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt) who is in third place.
Friday and Saturday Practice
First free practice on Friday took place under a cloudy sky, but on a dry circuit. It was Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) who surprisingly set the fastest time for Audi with a lap of 1m25.372s, which was exactly one second slower than Spengler’s fastest 2010 time. The Canadian record holder himself posted the second fastest time on Friday and was thus the fastest Mercedes driver as well. Another surprise as David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes) took third place, while rookie Dutchman Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes) took fourth place, only 0.364s slower than Rockenfeller.
The first ten places were equally shared between Mercedes and Audi, and each had five drivers in the top ten. Fifth place on Friday was for Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline), sixth for German Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes), seventh for Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior), eighth for Scheider, while Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes) and Tomczyk took ninth and tenth position.
Again lap times confirmed DTM has become a very close and competitive touring car championship, as there was only 1.051s between leader Spengler and the number 17, Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes). Swiss driver Rahel Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) recorded the slowest lap of the day with 1m26.808s.
During Saturday morning practice Audi dominated with seven drivers in the top ten; fastest was Ekstrom with a time of 1m25.538s. But only by the smallest of margins as Spengler was the fastest Mercedes driver and set a time just 0.007s slower than the Swede. Again the first 17 were within 1.052s, while Frey was again slowest and took 18th place, 1.254s behind the leader.
Next four places were again for Audi as Rockenfeller, Molina, Tomczyk and Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) took third to sixth place. Gary Paffett (Tomas Sabo AMG Mercedes) was the second fastest Mercedes driver with a lap of 1m24.790s, but had to share seventh place with his compatriot Oliver Jarvis (Audi Sport Team Abt) who recorded the exact same time. The top ten was completed by Scheider and Green who took ninth and tenth place respectively. Schumacher improved a little bit, but ended on a disappointing 16th place, 0.688s behind leader Spengler.
Saturday’s free practice was again an indication how competitive DTM is, with just three tenths of a second between number the one and number ten, while the top four was separated by just 0.049s.
Rain was forecasted but the first qualifying session started in dry conditions, but it soon started to rain, not enough for wet tyres, and all drivers started Q1 on slicks. Most drivers got out on the track quickly to set a time, except Paffett who took a gamble and stayed in the garage. In tricky conditions Spengler set the fastest time ten minutes into the session, while Scheider and Engel ran wide in Turn 1 where it seemed to be extra slippery today.
More rain arrived with just eight minutes left on the clock, Schumacher had problems and also ran wide, and the ex-Formula One driver decided to come in as he was already two seconds off the pace. Problems for Paffett as well, he locked his front wheels during his first timed lap, and did not get further than 18th position. Also problems for Scheider who was 16th at the time, but both Paffett and Scheider were lucky, the rain stopped and they could qualify for Q2 by setting a fast lap during the final minutes of Q1.
Jarvis, Frey, Schumacher and Engel did not make it into Q2, which started in dry conditions, courtesy to the unpredictable weather in the German Eifel region. Rockenfeller and Ekstrom were initially the fastest drivers, but with only six minutes to go the order was Green, Tomczyk, Ekstrom, Scheider, Rockenfeller and Mortara. Spengler was still out on the tyres he used in Q1 and was 16th, and with only three minutes to go the Canadian pitted for new tyres and with a flawless run promoted himself to a great third position.
Paffett meanwhile was in 11th position, tried everything he could, but with only one timed lap left, he failed to qualify for Q3, and the Briton ended up on a very disappointing 13th position. Christian Vietoris (Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes), Filipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) and Susie Stoddart (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes) were the other three drivers who didn’t make it into Q3. More impressive were Mercedes drivers van der Zande and Coulthard who made it into Q3 for the first time in their DTM career.
Van der Zande about his best qualifying performance yet, “We have completed about half of the season, I have learned a lot the past few months and it all pays off now. It was still wet when qualifying began, but the track dried quickly and we had to be quite careful. I am in a position to score points tomorrow, and that will therefore be the target.”
During Q3 it started to rain again, but as drivers are only allowed to use one set of tyres in the final qualifying runs, it meant they only had one chance to set a good time on the clock as the tyres drop off quickly after just a single fast lap. Rockenfeller was out first and set the benchmark for Q3 with a lap of 1m.24.195s. Green was out as well and also on a fast lap, but scored second position at the time, only 0.007s slower than Rockenfeller’s Audi. Spengler was third, but both Ekstrom and Tomczyk had been waiting in the pit and still had a set of unused tyres.
Ekstrom then took first position after one timed lap on his fresh tyres, while Mortara ruined his one and only lap on unused tyres when he missed the braking point at Turn 1, and returned to the pits while cursing his bad luck on the radio with words we cannot repeat. With one minute to go the cards were already shuffled, and Mortara, Molina, Tomczyk and Scheider didn’t make it to the final shoot-out for pole position.
Mortara about his qualifying run, “It’s been one of my best qualifying sessions so far. But I’m not completely satisfied because I made some mistakes on my lap. The conditions were difficult because there was drizzling rain.” And the Italian added, “With a good pace in the race and without any mistakes at the start we could be doing a good job.”
Seventh place man Tomczyk, “It was difficult to hit the right time for a lap. In the end it didn’t completely work out. But generally I’m happy with our performance this weekend.”
Again the rain came down during the top four shoot-out, Spengler was the first one out on the circuit while it was still raining which could be good for him if it would rain even harder after he had recorded his qualifying lap. But the weather gods decided something else and it was almost dry when it was Green’s turn to set his fastest lap, 1m35.144, which was almost two seconds faster than Spengler.
Green also indicated it had been a difficult qualifying session, “Conditions today were really difficult. Timing for the lap was crucial. I am very happy with second place, it gives me all the opportunities for the race.
Next was Rockenfeller, but he made a big mistake and ended up on the run-off area at Turn 1 and although he could continue his lap and was even two tenths of a second faster in the second sector, he lost four tenths to Green’s time again in the third sector. His mistake cost him dearly, as he finished his lap with a time of 1m35.544s.
“I wanted too much in a wet place. Once the wheel stops it takes time until it starts to move again. There I lost the time that cost me the front row,” Rockenfeller said. And added, “But it’s more important that we were among the front runners the whole time. That makes me feel optimistic.”
Last man was Ekstrom, who almost made the same mistake as Rockenfeller at Turn 1, but as the track had now become much drier, he was already an incredible two and a half seconds ahead of Green’s time in the first sector. He made no further mistakes and finally finished his lap in 1m32.066, which was 3.180s faster than Green, who ultimately took second position on the grid for tomorrows race. Rockenfeller and Spengler finished in third and fourth position and will be starting from the second row of the grid.
Pole sitter Ekstrom was a happy man, “It’s nice to be back on pole again. But it’s also nice to finally experience a trouble-free weekend again. So far, we’ve had a good Friday and a very good Saturday. Now the key is to stay just as concentrated in order to continue the same way in warm-up and in the race.”
Of course Audi boss Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich was satisfied with today’s result, as Ekstrom scored Audi’s 60th pole position, “With six Audi cars in the top eight we’d already had a very good team performance by that time. That ‘Eki’ [Ekstrom] with a perfect lap in difficult conditions then converted this into pole was primarily his achievement.”
More rain is expected for Sunday’s race, and drivers will have to lap the Nurburgring 49 times in tricky conditions, and without a doubt team tactics and pit stops will play an important role. The Nurburgring is a fast and technical circuit, a real drivers’ circuit where Spengler and Tomczyk, who are first and second in the championship, will be battling to keep their position in the championship.