Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Mattias Ekstrom scores 16th career victory
- Spengler retires with suspension problems
- Martin Tomczyk extended his title lead
Audi’s Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) emerged as the winner of a rain struck and chaotic race at the Motorsport Arena Oschersleben during round eight of the German Touringcar Masters (DTM) this afternoon. The race started in the rain and like at Brands Hatch there were two parade laps before the actual start took place. Once lined up the lights turned to green and the whole field headed into Turn 1, a very narrow and in the rain even trickier corner, and it was no surprise several drivers ran wide and lost positions after just a few hundred meters.
Pole sitter Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior) braked to late and ran wide, Bruno Spengler (Mercedes Benz Bank AMG) who left from second place on the grid therefore took the lead and was followed by Ekstrom while Molina managed to hold on to third place. It was a chaotic first lap as Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt) and David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes) both spun, Scheider fell back to 11th spot, while others damaged their car. Maro Engle also spun after he got a notch at the back of the circuit, ploughed trough the gravel but was able to continue his race, but lost a lot of places in the process.
Martin Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) made the best start of his life and was sixth after leaving from 14th position on the grid. After two laps Spengler was leading, next were Ekstrom, Molina, Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes), Oliver Jarvis (Audi Sport Team Abt) and Tomczyk, and for the latter it became a race to never forget.
Scheider made another mistake on lap 3 and fell back to 16th place, but it was a miracle he was still in the race, as his car had sustained plenty of damage. On that same lap Jarvis and Filipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) collided and both cars were damaged as well and debris were spread all over the track, miraculously both were able to continue their race, but the damage seriously hampered their progress throughout the race.
By now it had become clear Tomczyk was the man to watch as his rocket start gave him hope to at least keep up with his closest rival Spengler. The Canadian was leading with Ekstrom just two seconds behind him, while Tomczyk was sixth, just eight seconds behind Spengler, and with the tricky conditions, any scenario was still possible. Further down the field it was also chaotic, Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes) lost control and went backwards into the tyre barrier. The Dutch rookie managed to get back to the pits but his race was over.
The race was also over for Susie Stoddard (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes) on lap 6 after she had spun and also damaged her car. Ekstrom by then was able to match the pace of Spengler, and not much later he arrived at the back of the Mercedes, looking for a way past. Ekstrom then dove into the inside of the Mercedes and relatively easy took over the lead, this also meant Tomczyk had again gained one place on Spengler. His yellow Audi had sustained some light damage during the melee of the first laps, but it did not slow him down and he was able to maintain his pace early on in the race.
Another bad day for Schumacher, after a few laps he spun while entering the first corner after the start/finish straight and ended up in the middle of the pack facing the wrong direction and was lucky he wasn’t collected by the cars behind him. He spun his car around to get it pointing in the right direction again and was able to continue, but a few corners later got a push from Albuquerque and this time ended up in the tyre wall, his race was now definitively over.
And speaking of damage, there was no car on track that had survived the first laps without any damage, the track was littered with debris and drivers had to go off their line to zigzag around the sharp carbon fiber parts, and as a result many missed their breaking point and went off through the grass and gravel traps. On lap 10 there were more problems for Albuquerque as he ran into the back of Gary Paffett (Tomas Sabo AMG Mercedes), and again further damaged his car.
Ekstrom had increased his lead to Spengler and was now almost 4 seconds ahead of him, Spengler was followed by Molina, Tomczyk - who had gained another place, Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes), Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg), Christian Vietoris (Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes) and Scheider - who had made his way back to eighth place already. Mortara was getting closer and closer to Tomczyk, but never really attempted to overtake him, as his team probably advised him not to interfere in the championship battle.
Ekstrom again confirmed he was in excellent form by lapping the circuit one second faster than Spengler. The first pit stop window was open from lap 12 onwards and Molina was the first to pit and rejoined the race in 11th position. Not much later Vietoris and Green also pitted, but the top eight stayed out as they had found out they were faster on used rain tyres.
Lap 18 was almost the end of Tomczyks’ race, he lost his engine cover at the start/finish straight and Mortara behind him barely managed to dodge the flying yellow cover. However, he didn’t seem to be handicapped by the missing engine cover and although his team had a new one waiting for him in the pit lane, he decided to stay out and with hindsight, this was the decision that determined the outcome of the race. Tomczyk about the incident, “That caused me to completely lose the front aerodynamics. But we had so much mechanical grip today that it didn’t even make such a big difference.”
Albuquerque also lost his engine cover and had to give up his race with a battered car, also Jarvis lost his engine cover and altogether Audi lost three engine covers this afternoon.
After 20 laps Ekstrom was still leading and had built up a gap of a little over nine seconds, and was followed by Spengler who in his turn had built up a gap of 13 seconds to the number three, Tomczyk. Mortara and Scheider were in fourth and fifth place, and Engel was in sixth position. But it was soon time for the top eight to pit, Mortara was the first to do so as he was still trailing behind Tomczyk although he was clearly faster and after his stop rejoined the race in 11th position.
Tomczyk and his team were still facing the dilemma whether they should replace his engine cover as more parts began to fall off the yellow Audi, but decided not to do this as they reckoned it would cost too much time, and after his pit stop Tomczyk rejoined the race still without engine cover, but more importantly, still in 3rd place right behind Spengler. More problems for Audi when Scheider pitted, previously his team had warned him his engine was overheating and during the pit stop a mechanic examined the front of the car, and it became apparent Scheider had to retire as the water was now gushing out of the damaged radiator.
Meanwhile Ekstrom had made his pit stop from lead position, and Spengler was now leading the race. He of course tried to gain time on Ekstrom and stayed out a long as he possibly could. He finally came in on lap 28 but his stop wasn’t fast enough to take the lead, rejoined in second place again with Tomczyk still behind him. Of course this whole scenario of rain and crashes had given Tomczyk an unexpected advantage, and he now had Spengler in sight.
On lap 30 the order was: Ekstrom, Spengler, Tomczyk, Mortara, Vietoris, Paffett, Jarvis and Coulthard. Soon Tomczyk was in for another surprise. Spengler came on the radio and reported ‘there was something strange’ with his car. It was now also time for the second round of pit stops, this time Ekstrom was first to make his last stop and rejoined the race in 3rd position.
It was Tomczyks lucky day when Spengler came in for his stop, it took his team 30 seconds to replace his right front wheel, and when he was back on the circuit in 11th position replays showed there was a problem with his right front suspension, as the right front of his car was lower to the ground than the left front, and sparks were flying from the front suspension.
Tomczyk, still driving around without an engine cover, had a scary moment as well as he missed his braking point ahead of Turn 1. Spengler again over the radio reported problems, and he was by then almost three seconds per lap slower, and although he had climbed to ninth as drivers ahead of him had pitted, Mercedes Motorsport boss Norbert Haug was seen shaking his head from his position on the pit wall, as he knew it would soon be over.
Green was now right behind Spengler, but didn’t overtake him to give the Canadian a last chance to score points, but it wasn’t to be. Due to the rain, at this stage of the race it became clear the full 42 laps could not be finished in the maximum of 70 minutes a DTM race is allowed to last, and the clock began ticking away the seconds. Next to fly off the track was Molina, and this time it was Audi Sport Director Wolfgang Ullrich’s turn to shake his head in despair as the Spaniard lost a lot of places and would eventually finish eighth.
Mortara again did what he was supposed to be doing and stayed behind Tomczyk so he could score maximum points, behind them Spengler was still driving around in ninth place with his suspension problem that seemed to get worse and worse as he lost more and more speed, and Green and Jarvis were now just a few meters behind him. The big question was of course whether Green would decide to pass Spengler, or stay behind him to protect his team colleague. He did the latter, but Jarvis didn’t agree and after a few attempts finally literally banged his way past Green’s silver Mercedes.
He was about to overtake Spengler as well, when Spengler steered off the track into the pit lane, as his brakes now also started to fail and had to retire with just four minutes to go. The ‘good’ news was soon relayed to Tomczyk, who also lost more and more speed as he lost more ground to Ekstrom who was still leading the race comfortably.
The last seconds ticked away and the Swede was the first to cross the finish line, followed by Tomczyk in second place while Mortara came in third. Paffett who had started from the back of the grid after his qualifying woes which prevented him from even posting a timed lap, also performed a miracle and was fourth, Vietoris and Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) were fifth and sixth. Engel, Molina, Jarvis and Coulthard rounded out the top ten.
Green was 11th, Rahel Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) 12th, and last to be classified was Spengler who became 13th and last - three laps behind winner Ekstrom.
Ekstrom was extremely happy with his second win of the season, and his 16th DTM career win, “The car was perfect, driving was very relaxed today. The track was very slippery, but I am used to that from Sweden and I certainly had an advantage because of that. At the start of the season, things didn’t go too well for me. Now, it is significantly better and I am enjoying such a weekend.”
Tomczyk was the man who gained the most today, “Oschersleben was extremely slippery in the rain today. When I saw that one car after the other in front of me was spinning off the track I took it a little easier. That paid off.”
Mortara scored his second podium position in a row, and the Italian rookie commented, “I’ve never driven a car in the rain that has been as good as my A4 today; my engineer did an incredible job!”
Of course, Audi was the big winner today with six cars in the top ten and Ullrich was therefore proud of his drivers who performed extraordinary strong at the Oschersleben circuit. “We’ve seen very spectacular motorsport today,” he said. It was also Audi’s 60th victory in DTM, “Similar to the round at Brands Hatch our A4 DTM was extremely strong in the rain. Mattias [Ekström], Martin [Tomczyk] and Edoardo [Mortara]again drove tremendous races. We’re happy about our 60th victory and another fantastic result for Audi."
Also a day to remember for Paffett. “I’m very satisfied with fourth place considering that I started from 18th position. After this qualifying, I didn’t expect to be the best-placed Mercedes-Benz driver in the end. From that point of view, this is a fantastic result. Had it not been for my collision with Timo Scheider, I could even have finished second”, said Paffett.
And a day to forget for Spengler, and he commented about his misfortune, “It was just bad luck - nothing you can do. Unfortunately, something suddenly went wrong with the front of the car, and then it wasn’t as drivable as at the start. We don’t yet know exactly what the problem was.” About his affords to get to the finish line he said, “I tried to keep going, because there still might have been a chance of securing some points, but I had to retire. It's unfortunate, but it’s not the end of the world. There are still two races to go and we’re certainly not about to give up. There’s still plenty to fight for.”
Mercedes boss Haug knew he had been beaten by Audi today, but remained optimistic, “Anyone who knows us, knows that we never give up. The situation with Bruno is too bad, because he had a good chance of claiming back the championship lead. But that is the way things are in motorsport. Now, the motto is attacking, to get the maximum result from the last two rounds of the season.”
Today’s result of course caused a landslide in the championship standings, while Tomczyk was previously leading with just one point, he now has 58 points, nine points more than Spengler in second place (49 points), Ekstrom has taken over Scheider’s third place and now has 39 points, while Scheider is fourth with 29 points. Which in fact means with 20 points still to earn during the last two races of the season, only Tomczyk, Spengler and Ekstrom have the possibility to become this year’s DTM champion.