Paul di Resta may be second in the points starting tomorrow's DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) season finale in Shanghai, but he is firmly in control of the championship battle, as current leader Bruno Spengler will start from 17th. Di Resta will start from pole position, with the final championship hopeful, Gary Paffett, in second position alongside di Resta.
"It was a very difficult qualifying with little grip," said di Resta. "I tried not to take too many risks. First place on the grid is the best position in the battle for the title, but at this track, that can change quickly. One has to be very careful."
The qualifying events di Resta referred started with Spengler, who badly hurt his chances at the 2010 DTM title with a heavy crash at Turn 2 in the first qualifying segment.
"I tried to brake a little later than in practice, but then I was just a little bit too late," the Canadian explained. "This was clearly my mistake and I apologize to my team, because my guys had a lot of work this weekend. They made it possible that I could do a few laps in Q3; however, after the quick repairs the steering didn't work correctly so I was not able to move up."
But that was just the first of the red flags: local hero Darryl O'Young crashed at the pit lane entry in Q2, Susie Stoddart and Timo Scheider both hit the wall in Q3, and finally Jamie Green spun into the tire wall in the final qualifying segment.
With the incidents and the drivers' lack of experience on the track, the organizers unusually allowed all the drivers to continue in the second segment, instead of the usual knockout format, and then repeated that again for
"Crashing at 220 km/h is not a nice feeling," Scheider, the 2008 and 2009 champion, grimaced. "Fortunately, nothing happened to me. We are now working flat out to get the car ready in time for the race."
That final red flag, brought out by Green's incident, had the end result of canceling Q4 altogether.
"I am happy that I made it to the single-lap qualifying," Green said. "Unfortunately, the track offered not much grip and so I hit the tyre barrier."
Scheider was already unable to take his lap, so with Green out of the picture, too, the stewards decided to form the grid based on Q3 results, with di Resta and Paffett on the first row, followed by Green and Scheider. With no drivers knocked out in the first two segments, this effectively turned Q3 into the only qualifying segment that mattered.
For Spengler, it was disaster. He had run in fifth in Q1, and that should have given him at least 14th on the grid, but with all drivers continuing to Q3, Spengler's Q1 times became meaningless. He did return to the track for the dying minutes of Q3 after some hasty repairs, albeit with a still-damaged steering.
Spengler then started his single flying lap with just seconds left on the clock, and looked reasonably competitive in the first segment -- but he was unable to complete the lap as that session, too, was red-flagged, this time for Scheider's crash.
The championship leader will start from the final row of the grid, then, ahead of just O'Young, who failed to set a lap time in Q3. With just three points separating Spengler and di Resta, the Canadian will have to work hard tomorrow to have a chance for the title: he will need to finish second to guarantee himself the championship. ANd that is a tall order from the back of the evenly-matched DTM field.
"I now have the best chance to win the race and the title," di Resta mused. "However, qualifying showed that a lot of things can happen on this track."
The race will start at 3:23 PM local time on Sunday.