Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Tomczyk takes the crown in old-spec Audi
- Ekstrom wins second race of the season
- Spengler was way off the pace today
Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt) won the penultimate round of the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, but Audi driver Martin Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) clinched the 2011 DTM title in a convincing way. After 11 years and 111 races in DTM the Bavarian finally took the title as his rival Bruno Spengler (Mercedes-Benz Bank AMG) inherited ninth position after Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) who was ahead of him, retired three laps before the end of the race, and the Canadian was simply too much off the pace to defend his title aspirations today.
Ekstrom won the race, Filipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) was second and crossed the finish line 18.103s behind the Swede, while Tomczyk finished third, 33.950s behind the leader. Dutchman Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes) and David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes) finished in fifth and sixth place respectively, but were not officially classified as they both can still be disqualified from today’s race after stewards yesterday discovered the rear wing of their car was not mounted according to the technical regulations. But even if they would be disqualified and Spengler as a result would move up to seventh place, it still isn’t enough for Spengler to beat Tomczyk.
Race winner Ekstrom commented, “Of course it’s fantastic to have won another race, particularly because it was hard work throughout the weekend.” But it was a great day for Audi he smiled, “But this is not my weekend but Martin’s on which he has decided the championship early in his favor. He’s worked hard for this for many years. I’m happy for him, and of course also for his team, Phoenix, and for the squad of Audi Sport..”
The race started this afternoon on a very hot Spanish Ricardo Tormo circuit, with ambient temperatures around 28C and a track temperature of 51C. Very difficult conditions for man and machine on a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult, and before the race it was already clear Spengler had to get ahead of Tomczyk during the race one way or another to still be in contention for the title.
Both rivals didn’t perform well during qualifying and Tomczyk started the race form 10th place, while Spengler was one row behind him in 12th place. But Tomczyk was the man who gained the most during the start; he had a great start and was seventh after one lap, while Spengler had to be satisfied with 10th position. Tomczyk gained another position on the second lap and took sixth place; Spengler however, was stuck behind the red Audi of Oliver Jarvis (Audi Sport Team Abt) and simply didn’t have the pace to keep up with the rest.
Both van der Zande and Coulthard also had a good start and after three laps Ekstrom was leading the race and had already built up a three-second gap on Albuquerque who was second.
Albuquerque about the first laps, “I knew that the start would be a key to success. It was all about keeping the two Mercedes cars behind me. I wasn’t able to do anything toward the front because Mattias was simply too strong for me.”
The Portuguese driver was closely followed by Coulthard and van der Zande who were in third and fourth place, while Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt) was fifth with Tomczyk in sixth behind him. They were followed by Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior), Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes), Jarvis and finally Spengler in 10th position.
Spengler was struggling to keep the pace and wasn’t even able to catch up on Jarvis, who without a doubt would have made life difficult for the Mercedes driver to protect his Audi marque colleague Tomczyk. At the front Coulthard and van der Zande had no problems holding on to their position and were still behind the Audi of Albuquerque, but further back Green and Molina were dicing for seventh position. Green positioned his Mercedes next to the Audi of Molina at almost every corner, but he could not get past the Spaniard who was determined to score a good result on home soil.
By lap 11 the first pit stop window was open, and it was expected Spengler would pit first as he was still struggling behind Jarvis, but much to everyone’s surprise it was Jarvis who pitted first and rejoined the race in 16th position. Others also decided not to waste any time and also pitted, Coulthard made his stop on lap 13, van der Zande pitted one lap later but his pit stop was not fast enough to get ahead of the yellow Mercedes of Coulthard. Next was Tomczyk, he made a flawless stop and rejoined the race in 11th position behind Spengler at the time.
But Spengler decided to stay out as long as possible as long as his tyres still performed well; perhaps this decision was the beginning of the end of his title aspirations. The whole top seven still had to make their first stop: Ekstrom, Albuquerque, Scheider, Spengler, Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes) and Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes). Not a good day for Schumacher, as he spun twice and before the pit stops was in 18th and last position and he would play no part in the rest of the race.
Spengler’s lap times started to drop so it was finally time for his stop, but he rejoined the race in 14th position, while Tomczyk was ninth, and his strategy just didn’t work. It seemed everything was going Tomczyk’s way, while Spengler was now stuck behind Mortara. Or perhaps one could replace the word ‘stuck’ with ‘struggling’, as it again became clear the Mercedes driver couldn’t get closer to the Italian Audi driver, let alone overtake him.
After 24 laps it was already time for the second round of pit stops, by now Spengler was feeling the pressure, he braked too late several times as he got more and more nervous. He came in for his second and final pit stop to try to get ahead of Mortara, but the Italian also came in at the same time. Spengler was just a little bit quicker when he left his pit area and got ahead of the Audi, but only with a few inches to spare. Spengler rejoined the race in 14th position, while Tomczyk was 11th. This stop was in fact the only thing that worked out well for Spengler.
Scheider was the last man to make his first stop, he was leading the race at the time but during his pit stop had to brake hard when he was sent out with the fuel can still attached, he lost valuable seconds and rejoined the race in fifth.
It was a difficult race for all drivers, but Tomczyk did have an advantage as he was the only one of the top drivers who had already made two stops, and when others ahead of him pitted it certainly paid off, as he jumped to third position and was even ahead of Scheider’s white Audi. Spengler also gained a few places as a result of the stops and was 10th at the time, but the gap to Tomczyk had grown to almost 30 seconds, and he still didn’t have the pace to overtake.
On lap 31 Ekstrom was still comfortably leading, followed by Albuquerque, Tomczyk, van der Zande, Coulthard, Molina, Jarvis, Green and Spengler in ninth position. Coulthard was in fact doing Tomczyk a favor as he was slower and held up the rest behind him a little. At that point of the race Tomczyk was already the champion, even if van der Zande and Coulthard ahead of him would be disqualified later.
Scheider was very fast after his second stop and was now just a few yards behind Tomczyk. Interesting to see was how Scheider dealt with this precarious situation he was now in, he obviously did not want to overtake Tomczyk - and was probably instructed by his team not to do so - but at the same time had to fend off van der Zande’s relentless attempts to overtake him. The Dutchman kept trying but Scheider was experienced enough to keep the rookie behind him so he could not become a threat for Tomczyk.
Spengler meanwhile was still struggling, it certainly wasn’t his day, and he stayed where he was. Which also applied to the rest of the field at that stage of the race, from lap 35 onwards there were no position changes at all, and by lap 40 Mercedes boss Norbert Haug who was directing the race from the pit wall, already knew he had been beaten and Tomczyk and not his protégé Spengler would be celebrating winning the 2011 DTM Championship this afternoon. After Mortara had retired, Spengler was ninth, and he would finish in ninth position as well and lost the title to Tomczyk.
In an official comment Haug said, “First of all, congratulations to Martin and the Audi team. At the end of the day, I am a sportsman, one should be able to lose as well.” And he was satisfied with the efforts of his team, “Today, I am one hundred percent behind my team. They have all been working very hard. Unfortunately, we have lost 20 points to Martin in the last races.”
But today’s race of course had two winners: Ekstrom and Tomczyk. Ekstrom was the first to cross the finish line, followed by Albuquerque who crossed the line 14 seconds later and recorded his best season result.
“I made good use of my tires and concentrated on not making any mistakes throughout the race. Space in front and at the rear - that’s how I’d pictured the situation to be. I’m very pleased with the result today, and tomorrow I’ll start thinking about the next race. We need to continue to work step by step,” Albuquerque commented after the race.
Tomczyk took third place, but more important: he took the 2011 DTM crown as well. A remarkable achievement, as he took the title in a 2008-spec Audi, at the start of the season Tomczyk himself didn’t think he had many chances for success in the ‘old’ Audi; it is in fact the first time ever an old-spec car has won the championship.
Tomczyk was of course happy winning the title, “It’s hard to find words for my emotions. It’s definitely a very nice feeling to be DTM Champion. You’ve got to have achieved it first before you can realize that that’s what you are.” And he added, “Eleven years of DTM with lots of ups and downs, and in the eleventh year, together with Team Phoenix, I’ve managed to become champion. It’s been a fantastic season and real fun to drive this car and to work together with this team. Not only I have earned this title but also, first and foremost, Audi Sport Team Phoenix. But Abt and Rosberg, too, have their share in this overall Audi performance. I think we deserve a couple of parties now."
Tomczyk took over the title from Scot Paul di Resta who won the championship last year; he has since then moved to Force India’s Formula One team where he made an impressive Formula One debut this season.
Spengler was understandably disappointed, “It was a tough race. We fought hard and the guys did a very good job – pit stops went perfectly, enabling me to move up a position, but more was not possible. My team gave their all, but it wasn’t enough to win the title, it’s a pity. Many thanks to the guys for their brilliant support.” And he congratulated Tomczyk, “This was unfortunately not the championship outcome that we had wanted, but we didn’t lose the title today – that happened much earlier. Congratulations to Martin Tomczyk and Phoenix-Audi – they deserved to win.”
Audi Head of Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, who was absent this weekend, congratulated Tomczyk on the official Audi website, “Absolutely well done, I’m tremendously happy for Martin. He has been a member of our Audi family in the DTM for eleven years and has experienced many ups and - no doubt - downs.” And he further commented,”But he has never lost his spirit and has emerged as a leader, particularly in this season. Now he has rewarded himself and his team for the hard work and the fighting spirit with the title. We’ve always known that Martin is a strong racer and a great guy - now he’s also a true champion.”
Scheider became fourth, and an uncertain situation still for van der Zande and Coulthard who finished fifth and sixth, as they raced ‘under appeal’ and they can still be disqualified from the race if their teams should decide not to appeal the decision of stewards of the race, or if their appeal would be overruled by the Spanish motor sport authorities. As long as there is no decision, both drivers are removed from the official results, therefore Molina was classified as fifth, Jarvis sixth and Spengler seventh.
Van der Zande was nevertheless pleased with his best season’s result, “I’m satisfied with where I finished in the race itself. I’m pleased that I was able to put in such a strong performance in Valencia. The heat made it a difficult race, but I gave it everything I’d got.” And Coulthard commented, “That was a tough race but enjoyable – it was a lot of fun fighting with the other guys at the front of the field. Shame that Bruno now has no chance of taking the championship; he’s had a terrific season and would have made a worthy winner.”
Gary Paffett (Tomas Sabo AMG Mercedes was eighth, and Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) and Green completed the top ten. Green’s compatriot Susie Stoddart (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes) came home in 11th place, Christian Vietoris (Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes) was 12th, Schumacher 13th, Rahel Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) 14th and Engel and Mortara 15th and 16th.
The next race will be again on home soil when DTM returns to the circuit where they started the season: the Hockenheimring, where drivers will fight for second and third place in this year’s championship.