Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Tomczyk is leading the championship
- Ekstrom takes second pole of the season
- Tomczyk and Spengler 11th and 13th
- Latest news Coulthard, van der Zande
The Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain hosts round nine of the German Touringcar Masters (DTM). It is the fourth race on foreign soil, earlier this season the Netherlands, Austria and Great Britain already hosted a race of the most popular touring car championship in Europe. The 4.005 km long Spanish circuit is located just 25 km west of the center of Valencia, and during Sunday’s race drivers in total cover a distance of 45 laps or 180.225 km. The current lap record is held by Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) who lapped the circuit in 1m30.971s in 2010, and won the race as well.
After a sensational race at Oschersleben two weeks ago, Martin Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) is leading the title chase with 58 points, 9 points ahead of Bruno Spengler (Mercedes-Benz Bank AMG) who is second with 49 points. Ekstrom is third with 39 points and is - as there are still 20 points to earn this season - the third and last third driver who still can win the title this year.
Tomczyk is of course optimistic ahead of the race, “Arriving at Valencia with a nine-point advantage is a nice buffer. But we need to continue to work hard and in a focused manner. Oschersleben showed how quickly something can happen.” And about the circuit the Bavarian commented, “Valencia is a tremendous circuit. We drove there for the first time last year. Audi clinched a fantastic victory with Mattias Ekstrom. It's a very balanced track. The chances are probably very high that we'll have dry conditions at Valencia. We didn't experience that in the past two DTM races.”
Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior) will be driving on home soil and the Spaniard has a good feeling about this weekend. “Valencia is my home race, I'm looking forward to it very much. You're particularly motivated for such a race. Last [race] weekend we showed that we're really good in qualifying. In the race I've got to improve some more. I've got the feeling that Valencia will be a good weekend,” said Molina.
Not much luck for Canadian Spengler, who had to give up the race at Oschersleben with only four minutes to go, and he scored no points at all. His Mercedes suffered from a front shock absorber failure and his did-not-finish meant Tomczyk reinforced his the lead in the championship for Audi. “I've put my retirement from the last race behind me now - motor racing is unpredictable, and unfortunately you have to expect bad luck from time to time. I'm focused on the future when we may find that fortune smiles on us once again. I'll be attacking in the last two races and going all-out to win the championship - there is still everything to play for. My team and I are not giving up,” an ever-optimistic Spengler declared. About the circuit he said, “I like the Valencia circuit a lot. It's extremely challenging and is especially demanding for the brakes. Like in Oschersleben, it's very important to use the kerbs correctly.”
Norbert Haug, Vice-President of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport knows his team has some catching-up to do, “In the last two races, things have not gone as we hoped and Bruno Spengler has lost 16 points relative to his main rival, Martin Tomczyk. In all honesty, our defeats at Brands Hatch and Oschersleben were self-inflicted and we missed out on points that we should have scored.” But he certainly hasn’t given up, “We will push harder than ever and maintain our belief that we can win. If everybody else considers us to be the outsiders, that will only strengthen our determination.”
Friday and Saturday Practice
Molina very appropriately topped the time sheets on his home circuit on Friday morning and was the fastest Audi driver with a time of 1m31.770s. He was followed by Gary Paffett (Tomas Sabo AMG Mercedes) who was the fastest Mercedes driver and was just 0.041s slower, while Ekstrom took third place for Audi with a lap time of 1m32.031s.
Mercedes and Audi had five cars each in the top ten, Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes) was fourth, Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes) fifth and Spengler sixth. Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt) was the third fastest Audi driver and took seventh place, just 0.010s ahead of Dutch rookie Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes) who was eighth. The top ten was completed by Filipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) and Tomczyk who recorded a time of 1m32.312s. Fastest lady was Susie Stoddart (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes) who landed 14th position, while Rahel Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) was 18th and last, 1.819s slower than the number one.
On Saturday during second practice Molina was once again the fastest man on track and beat his own time set on Friday with over a second by recording a time of 1m30.452s. A good day for Audi as they had seven cars in the top ten and occupied the first five places. Ekstrom was second just 0.019s behind Molina, Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) third, Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) was fourth and Albuquerque completed the all Audi top five.
First Mercedes driver was Spengler who set a time of 1m30.741s and his marque colleagues Green and Paffett took seventh and eighth place respectively. A disappointing result for Tomczyk, who was 11th with a time of 1m30.941s, 0.489s off Molina’s pace
The first qualifying session started on a hot and sunny circuit, Rockenfeller, van der Zande, Schumacher and David Coulthard (Deutscher Post AMG Merrcedes) were the first drivers on track. They were soon followed by Tomczyk and Spengler, who took third and sixth time respectively, not really the desired result for both title contenders. Both then went back to the garage and waited and watched the screens, but were not in a hurry to go out again.
With seven minutes left on the clock, Albuquerque led with a time of 1m28.888s, followed by Paffett, Molina, Tomczyk - who had improved his time by then, Mortara, Scheider, Oliver Jarvis (Audi Sport Team Abt), Schumacher and Spengler. Not much later Ekstrom put his fastest lap on the clock and took 6th place, but like the others also retreated to the garage where the waiting game still continued. With four minutes to go, the drivers on the last four places were on track trying to get into Q2, but only Green was able to improve his time and landed 10th position, pushing Spengler one place down the order to 11th.
Spengler decided to go out again to defend his position, but came straight back in without a timed lap. The chequered flag was waved to end Q1 and Albuquerque remained the fastest driver, while Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes), Christian Vietoris (Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes), Stoddart and Frey did not qualify for Q2.
During Q2 and Q2 it became an altogether different story, the Ricardo Tormo circuit gets slower as the track temperatures rise, and a few drivers were able to take advantage of that. Not many drivers were in a hurry to venture onto the track, Spengler was still sitting in the garage listening to Haug who gave his protégé some last instructions. With ten minutes to go Coulthard and Rockenfeller were the first to go out for their first run, and were not much later joined by Albuquerque, Molina, Tomczyk and Spengler.
Coulthard was the first to record a timed lap of 1m.30.399 but was soon overtaken by Molina who seemed to feel very comfortable at his home circuit. But the game completely changed when Mortara lost control of the back of his Audi, spun and ended up in the gravel trap, his qualifying was over as he couldn’t get his car out of the gravel again, but more important, the session was red-flagged to give the marshals the opportunity to retrieve the abandoned number 19 Audi.
“I made a mistake on my fastest lap and unfortunately lost my car. That’s disappointing because we had a good vehicle. My laps are pretty good, it’s just that sometimes I simply want too much - like today. The weekend isn’t over yet. In the race I’ll try and battle for a good result,” a disappointed Mortara explained.
Almost 20 minutes later all remaining 14 cars were, as a result of the red flag situation, allowed to participate in Q3. Again no driver seemed to be interested to go onto the track, as they have to use the same set of tyres in the final shoot-out and just waited until the very last moment to make their final run. Finally Rockenfeller and Coulthard were the first to emerge from the pit lane, with hindsight a good decision, and Rockenfeller immediately set a time of 1m30.203s, while Coulthard in his yellow Mercedes took second place.
Van der Zande was also on track and he took second place from Coulthard again, meanwhile Spengler and Ekstrom also went out for his first run. The Swede was really fast again today and took the lead from Rockenfeller. the order on the time sheets was now: Ekstrom, van der Zande, Coulthard, Rockenfeller, Jarvis and Green.
But as it got hotter and hotter and the tyres also started to lose their grip, and it was difficult if not impossible to beat the top three, Spengler was the first victim and didn’t get further than ninth place, no luck for Tomczyk either as he made a mistake on his first lap and took 10th place behind his title rival. Spengler went out for another run, but he was not able to improve his time and returned to the garage still in ninth position.
At the same time Tomczyk was on his last lap and took eighth place at the time, not a good performance, but he at least had jumped ahead of Spengler. Tomczyk did another lap, but was probably nervous and made a few mistakes and had to abort his final lap and apologized to his crew on his way back into the pits.
Other drivers were still on track and jumped ahead of the two rivals, and Tomczyk finished Q3 in 11th place, and Spengler in 13th place, hardly a good position to fight for the podium on Sunday. The surprise of the day were the now four remaining drivers: Ekstrom (1), van der Zande (2), Coulthard (3) and Albuquerque (4).
Not a great result for Tomczyk, but he nevertheless remained upbeat, "Qualifying went pretty well in the beginning. Then the red flag came and, due to the regulations, we only had one set of tires left. I made a mistake and had to stop the lap and start again, which is not the best thing for the tires. Considering this mistake, the result was okay."
The final top 4 shoot-out
As always the last man was first on track, and Portuguese Albuquerque was the first to go out for his final and all-deciding fast lap. As said, drivers have to use the same tyres as in Q3 and the big question was now who would have the freshest set of tyres.
Albuquerque made a few tiny errors in the first sector, again a mistake in the last sector and set the benchmark with a lap of 1m32.021s, not really a good time. Scot Coulthard was next, and the 40-year old ex-Formula driver was already slower in the first sector, again slower in the second sector and when he crossed the finish line was second with 1m31.338s.
Next was van der Zande, he drove a flawless first sector, again a great second sector but did not improve Albuquerque’s time, but did finish ahead of Coulthard. It was then up to Ekstrom to decide who would be on pole for Sunday’s race, and the Swede didn’t make any bones about it, he was the fastest man today and took his second pole position of the season, Albuquerque was second, van der Zande third and Coulthard fourth.
Ektrom was satisfied with the result, “My qualifying was very good. In Q3 and Q4 I managed a clean lap. In the fourth qualifying section the track was very slippery. A huge ‘thank you’ from me to my engineer Alex Stehlig, the Abt team and the guys from Audi, who gave me a perfect car. We’re in a good position for the race, but tomorrow is a new day."
Second place man Albuquerque commented, “I made it into Q4 and clinched the sensational P2 there. I’m very happy! I had a good pace in all the sessions. In Q4 I made a couple of small mistakes. That’s why I was surprised about second place. I was lacking a bit of experience in driving a qualifying lap on used tires. I really want to thank Audi Sport Team Rosberg for a fantastic car."
For both van der Zande and Coulthard it was their best qualifying result ever in DTM, and they will be leaving from the second row of the grid tomorrow. As Schumacher has incurred an three place grid penalty during the race in Oschersleben, he will start from 13th and not 10th place, while Tomczyk and Spengler move up one place and will be starting from 10th and 12th position respectively.
Spengler has to win the race if he wants to stay in contention for the title, but for Tomczyk things are a bit easier, if he wins, although it will be difficult starting from 10th, he can claim the title, no matter where Spengler and Ekstrom finish. However, Ekstrom is also still in the race for the title, and he now has the best possible position to start the race from, and he can postpone the title decision, but he also has to win and Spengler and Tomczyk are not to score any points to keep his championship hopes alive.
Latest news - Coulthard, van der Zande - updated
Bad news for van der Zande and Coulthard as they were excluded from qualifying after it was determined the rear wings of both cars were not mounted according to the regulations. Both drivers would originally have to start from the back of the grid tomorrow, however both teams have lodged a protest to the decision which in fact means the official decision by the DTM officials has been delayed and both drivers are allowed to start from their original start position tomorrow, except van der Zande who had already incurred a one-place grid penalty after using two instead of one set of tyres during Q3. His time during the final top four shoot-out has been deleted and he will start from fourth position, which promotes Coulthard to third place.