Paul di Resta drove for the championship, not the race win in the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) season finale in Shanghai today, and his approach paid off with the 2010 series championship, as he finished the race second behind title rival and Mercedes teammate Gary Paffett.
"This smile won't be off my face for a long time. Fortunately, my flight is only booked for Monday," di Resta grinned. "I would have liked for more family members to be here to celebrate with me. But now, I will celebrate with the team. Today, it was more about the title rather than victory in the race. That has worked out!"
After all the incidents in qualifying, the race was started from behind a safety car, with di Resta at the front of the field. The Scot had a three-point deficit to championship leader Bruno Spengler at the start, but Spengler had to take the start from the back of the field after crashing out in qualifying.
That made di Resta's job much easier, as he was six points ahead of Paffett, who took the start next to him -- finish on the podium, and the title should be his, unless Spengler would be able to pull off a miracle from the back.
On lap four, as di Resta and Paffett took off into the race lead, Spengler put his plan into action. He overtook Congfu Cheng and Maro Engel early, and then made both his mandatory pit stops in quick succession to get a clear track.
At the front, Paffett moved into the race lead during the first round of stops as di Resta's stop was delayed by a stubborn wheel nut. Jamie Green, in a third Mercedes, and Audi's Timo Scheider were running third and fourth after the first round of stops.
Spengler, meanwhile, had the clear track he needed but could not find the necessary pace; as he struggled with understeer in his newly-repaired Mercedes, he gradually slipped further back from the leaders, and once all the stops were complete, found himself back in 13th, and unable to move further up the field.
"I look back to a good season," Spengler reflected. "However, (here in Shanghai) I made a mistake in qualifying which almost decided the championship already before the race. I suffered from understeer today which was probably a consequence of my accidents on Friday and Saturday."
Instead, Paffett was cruising to an unchallenged finish -- and second place in the title chase -- as di Resta focused on securing the championship.
That cruise was cut somewhat short, though, as the race was red-flagged on lap 50: Mike Rockenfeller and Susie Stoddart were involved in a first-corner incident that blocked the racing line and brought out the red flags. The stewards decided not to do a restart as the race had only six minutes remaining.
"It was a tough race and with my win I achieved everything possible," Paffett said. "However, I had lost a few points during the season; otherwise the fight with Paul today would have been more exciting."
Di Resta did see some pressure, from the Audis of Scheider and Martin Tomczyk. Scheider had made his way past Green during the first round of stops, and Tomczyk pulled a quick move on the Briton just after the two had existed the pits for the second time, to take over fourth place.
For Scheider, the podium brought some comfort after the 2008 and 2009 champion had struggled throughout the first half of the season, dropping out of title contention. The third place moved him up to fourth in the final standings, 18 points behind di Resta (53 points to di Resta's 71).
"Standing on the podium after the turbulent qualifying and the scrap I left behind is almost a bit unexpecteds," Scheider said. "I had problems at the beginning of the season, but the team kept its faith in me. In the second half of the season, I was again able to battle for pole positions and race wins. Third place in the final round is a good way to end the year."
Miguel Molina, Audi's impressive Spanish rookie, finally took fifth place with a very long first stint strategy: he drove 39 laps on his first set of tires, and then stopped on laps 39 and 43.
For di Resta, the championship season may be his last in the DTM: the Scot is strongly favoured to move up to Formula One to take on one of the Force India race seats for the 2011 season. For now, though, di Resta can enjoy the taste of champagne after clinching the hard-fought championship.