Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Miguel Molina takes pole for final DTM race
- Problems for Ekstrom who lands 10th place
- Bruno Spengler to defend 2nd place
The German Hockenheimring traditionally hosts the final race of the German Touringcar Masters (DTM), while it already hosted the season kick-off earlier in May this year. The DTM Championship has already been decided in favor of Audi’s Martin Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) during the last race at Valencia, but with still one trophy to be earned the race is again on at the German Hockenheimring, a 4,574 km long track in the south German county of Baden-Wurttemberg, about 15 km south of Heidelberg.
Drivers will cover a distance of 173.812 km or 38 laps on Sunday, on a circuit that is known for its sharp hairpin, the Spitzkehre, and the Motodrom, the stadium-like last section of the track which is lined with grandstands which offers a great view for the tens of thousands of DTM supporters. The current lap record is in the hands of last year’s DTM Champion Paul di Resta, who lapped the circuit in a time of 1m33.576s in October 2008.
The title Rookie of the Year has also been decided and goes to Audi’s Edoardo Mortara who drives for Audi Sport Team Rosberg. Audi has been very successful this year, and Head of Audi Motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich is looking forward to the final race of the season. “I'm convinced that the DTM finale at Hockenheim will be a tremendous race. There are many who are still viewing the event as a chance to present themselves for the 2012 season by winning this season's finale,” said Ullrich. “The outcome is completely open and it's definitely well worth for the fans to travel to the DTM finale,” he added.
2011 DM Champion Tomczyk is also adamant there is still plenty to fight for this weekend, “Arriving at Hockenheim as DTM Champion will be a new experience for me. It's a nice track and great conclusion for the DTM. Audi is still battling for a couple of things. Mattias [Ekström] can still become the runner-up and Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline can still win the team championship. There's no doubt that everyone will be trying to make a few more marks, and to run at the very front of the field.”
His Swedish Audi colleague Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) commented about the season grand finale, “It's always nice to travel to Hockenheim. It will conclude the season. This time I'm arriving there completely relaxed and will try to deliver a solid performance. I want to clinch another good result before we can look forward to the winter break.”
Mercedes driver Bruno Spengler (Mercedes Benz Bank AMG) is currently second in the championship, and will have to keep Ekstrom at bay this weekend, as the Audi driver is just two points behind him. “The Hockenheimring is one of my favorite tracks, and the season opener in May went really well for us -- it was the second win in my career at the circuit. I especially like the combination of fast corners and slow sections such as the hairpin. This course is technically very demanding and you need good brakes and impressive top speed,” the Canadian stated ahead of the race.
Norbert Haug, Vice-President of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport saw the title go to Audi but is nevertheless confident Mercedes will perform well at the “Ring”, “Hockenheim is the home race for Mercedes-Benz and, just like every year, thousands of our colleagues and the many fans of our company will be there to cheer us on. In the past, their support has obviously given us a real boost: since 2000, when the DTM was revived, Mercedes-Benz won 18 out of 25 races staged at Hockenheim, which is a win rate of over 70 percent.”
The last race of this season also means a goodbye to the old DTM formula, as next year new sporting and technical regulations will come in place, and both Audi and Mercedes will give demo runs in the new 2012 spec cars this weekend.
Friday and Saturday Practice
On Friday during first practice Tomczyk posted a fasted time of 1m33.621s, and he was followed by three other Germans to make it an all-German top four. Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes) was second just 0.168s slower than Tomczyk, Christian Vietoris (Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes) was third and Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) was fourth, 0.362s shy of Tomczyk's time.
Dutch rookie Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes) surprised with fifth place, keeping Ekstrom, Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt) and Portuguese driver Felipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) well behind him. Ninth and tenth place were for the two Scottish drivers Susie Wolff (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes) and ex-Formula One driver David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes) rounded out the top ten. Not a good day for Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes), who took 18th and last place, 2.365s slower than Tomczyk. And who is Susie Wolff one might think? She is the same Susie Stoddart who last weekend married Christian ‘Toto’ Wolff and is therefore now officially Mrs. Wolff and will be competing under her new name from now on.
On Saturday morning the Audis were ruling Hockenheim as they took possession of the first five places. Scheider was fastest with a time of 1.32.682s and was closely followed by Tomczyk who was just 0,033s behind him. Ekstrom, Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior) and Oliver Jarvis (Audi Sport Team Abt) took third, fourth and fifth place.
Fastest Mercedes driver was Vietoris in sixth place, Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes) was seventh, while Spengler was in 10th position. Schumacher improved a bit and took 14th, while this time Wolff was 18th and last, but still within one second of leader Scheider.
With temperatures around only 8 degrees Celsius it was hard to get enough heat in the tyres, but during the first qualifying round it was Rockenfeller who set the benchmark with a lap of 1m33.604s, not really a fast time and soon Tomczyk beat Rockenfeller’s time and took over his place. But not for long as Spaniard Molina raised the benchmark again a few notches and took the lead, but it was Green who was the first to break the 1m33 barrier and recorded a time of 1m32.977s, and thus took the early lead from the Spaniard again.
With just six minutes to go, Schumacher didn’t get further than 10th place, while Paffett was trying hard to improve his time and almost ran off the track. Not much later Schumacher lost his 10th spot to Coulthard who did a great job in his yellow Mercedes. With only three minutes remaining on the clock van der Zande, Rahel Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix), Wolff and Mortara were in the drop-out zone.
Wolff desperately tried to get into the top 14 but failed to improve her time. Meanwhile Ekstrom had fallen down to 16th place after Mortara had taken fourth spot, but the Swede saw the danger and put in a fast lap and landed sixth position with a time of 1m33.191s. Schumacher who was also out of Q2 at the time, also improved and took 13th place, just ahead of van der Zande who was the last man to qualify for Q2. As the chequered flag was waved to signal the end of Q1, Paffett and Engel were fighting for a place in Q2, but it was Paffett who eventually improved his time and took 12th place.
Wolff on her qualifying pace, "It's a pity. I feel that I could have done better today, but still couldn't manage to qualify higher than 17th. Obviously, I had been hoping to be start from higher up the grid in my first race as Mrs. Wolff. But there's everything still to play for, so I'll have to be on the prowl, just like a real wolf tomorrow."
Q2 therefore started without Engel, Coulthard, Wolff and Frey. Again most drivers went out early to find a free lap with no traffic ahead, first to set the fastest time was Tomczyk, but not for long as Molina took over first place with a time of 1m32.625s which proved to be the fastest time of Q2.
With only five minutes to go, Jarvis and Spengler waited in the garage until the very last moment. By then Paffett, Jarvis, Spengler and Schumacher were in the danger zone, while Ekstrom was eighth and not really sure of a place in Q3 either. With just two minutes to go Spengler finally ventured out onto the track for his one and only fast run, he took eighth place which at the time gave him the right to make an appearance in Q3.
However, Ekstrom lost his place for Q3 as others improved their time and he will be leaving the grid from 10th place tomorrow, not a good position as he has to battle with Spengler for second place in the championship. Mortara tried too hard to improve his time, ran wide at the Sachs Curve and crashed into the tyre barrier, yellow flags were waved and drivers could not improve their fastest time as a result of the yellow flag situation. Out for Q3 were Albuquerque, Ekstrom, Mortara, Vietoris, Schumacher and Dutchman van der Zande.
A disappointed Ekstrom said, "When you’re not perfect, then you end up in tenth place of the grid. And I wasn’t perfect today. Starting from P10 is always difficult. We’ve got a good car and can make up some ground. It’s certainly possible to overtake some vehicles but it won’t be easy."
After Mortara’s Audi had been retrieved it was time for Q3 to decide who could secure a place in the final top four shootout. Rockenfeller was the first man out for a timed lap, and set the benchmark lapping the circuit in a time of 1m32.714s. And then it became very quiet at the Hockenheimring, as Spengler, Tomczyk, Molina, Green, Scheider, Paffett and Jarvis stayed in the garage, clearly trying to save their tyres for the final shoot-out.
Schumacher, who eventually took 13th position, “"I'm obviously not all that happy with 13th place on the grid - I had hoped for much more. I will once again do everything I can to secure the best possible result in the last DTM race of the season tomorrow."
With just three minutes remaining all finally left the pits for their one and only run. Spengler was quick but his Mercedes was bouncing a lot on the straights and he was only able to take second place at the time. Tomczyk was fast as well and he took Spengler’s second place, while Molina surprisingly took first place, which also meant Spengler went further down the order. Not much later Green and Rockenfeller took third and fourth place, Scheider took fifth and the Canadian didn’t make it into the final shoot-out and finished the day in sixth place.
Spengler was not even that disappointed, “"Qualifying actually went better for me than free practice this morning. It was difficult to get tyres up to temperature -- we rarely drive in such low temperatures as we have seen this weekend. We intend to do even better tomorrow. I'm looking forward to the race and will of course do my best."
The final four contenders for pole position were now Molina, Tomczyk, Rockenfeller and Green. Fourth place man Green was the first to go out for his final run, and the Briton drove a flawless lap and recorded an excellent time of 1m32.920s. Next was Rockenfeller but the yellow Audi was already three tenths of a second slower in sector one, the German made a small mistake in the second sector and then was over half a second slower and crossed the finish line with a time of 1m33.510s.
Current champion Tomczyk was next and not surprisingly was faster than Rockenfeller and without further ado took second place. But it was Molina who grabbed pole position, despite the fact he locked up his front wheels a little in the second sector, not even that could stop the Spaniard from taking his second career DTM pole.
Fastest Mercedes driver Green stated, “"I had a clean lap in the final part of qualifying, but Miguel Molina was a little bit faster than me. I had hoped to get on pole, but second on the grid is a good starting position for the race. I won the last race of the season at the Hockenheim Ring once before, in 2007, so all being well, I can do it again tomorrow and we can round off the season with a home win for Mercedes-Benz."
Of course Audi boss Ullrich was happy with the result, "It was a very thrilling and close qualifying session. It’s nice that one of our year-old cars is again at the very front and that Miguel (Molina) clinched his second pole position. Martin (Tomczyk) and Mike (Rockenfeller) had the chance of taking P1 as well. But it was obvious again that our competitors are very strong and that simply everything’s got to fit. I’m happy for Miguel - and on the whole we’ve got a good base for the final race."
And Molina commented about his second pole, "I’m very happy about my second pole position this year. I’ve got to thank the team that did a superb job after we had a problem with the car yesterday. I also want to thank Audi and my family for their support. I’m proud to be starting into the last race of this DTM era from the top spot on the grid. We’ve got the best starting base tomorrow and will try and do a good job to turn into the best possible result."
Tomorrow it is expected the temperatures will drop to just 4C so it will again be difficult to get the tyres up to the right temperature. Spengler has to defend his second position in the championship, but his rival Ekstom starts from 10th place on the grid, which is without a doubt an advantage for Spengler, who simply has to keep the blue Audi behind him to secure his second place in the 2011 DTM championship.