Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Rockenfeller takes pole position for Audi
- Spengler incurs two-place grid penalty
- Rain expected for tomorrow’s race
Round seven of the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) takes place at the Brands Hatch circuit in Great Britain. With a length of only 1.929 km the Brands Hatch circuit is the shortest circuit on the DTM calendar. The race itself is over 98 laps or 189.042 km, the current lap record is in the hands of Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior) who lapped the circuit in 41.896s in 2010. Brands Hatch has a history of 50 years of motor sport, drivers love the circuit for its Paddock Hill Bend, a fast corner that starts with a downhill run at the end of the Brabham Straight, and goes uphill again at the bottom of Paddock Hill Bend, and still going uphill drivers then pass the bridge and are on their way to another famous corner: Druids, a very tight right hand corner.
Canadian Bruno Spengler (Mercedes Benz Bank AMG) is currently leading the championship with 47 points, and is followed by Martin Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) with 40 points while Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt) takes third place with 29 points. With four races still to go there are still 40 points to be won, and the championship is still wide open, but Tomczyk is the only man who could take over the lead from Spengler this weekend.
Spengler will also celebrate his 70th DTM race at Brands Hatch, but he admitted it is not his favorite track. “Brands Hatch is a very special track, although I can't honestly say it's one of my favorites. Even so, I finished second last year, which was a decent result. The layout is quite interesting: for one thing, it's quite short, so the whole field tends to be quite bunched up. You can't afford to make a single mistake here,” the Canadian said. “If you're just a tenth of a second down, you'll find yourself several places back on the grid. The first corner is particularly challenging and one of the most difficult parts of the track,” he added.
Tomzcyk, who has scored pints during all six races this season about the Kent County circuit, “Brands Hatch is a nice track. It's also a good one for Audi because we've clinched some nice results there. The circuit is small, very narrow, with a lot of laps being driven. Qualifying is crucial there, and of course the strategy.” Scheider won the race in 2008 and finished on the podium in 2009 and 2010. “It's always nice to return to a track where you've had good experiences in recent years. But that's by no means a guarantee that you'll achieve a good result. I'm looking forward to the race after we've been able to recharge our batteries a bit during the break,” he said ahead of the race.
Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, Head of Audi Motorsport, is also upbeat ahead of the race, “Our performance has always been pretty good there but in the past two years we weren't able to convert this into victories. Now we're aiming to achieve a good result with the momentum we had before the summer break. I'm looking toward this race with optimism.”
Friday and Saturday Practice
On Friday Molina dominated the first free practice and was the fastest driver for Audi, lapping the circuit in 42.776s. As usual, times were close as Italian Eduardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) was just 0.036s adrift of the Spaniard with a time of 42.812s. Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes) and David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes) were third and fourth respectively for Mercedes. Next are two Audis again, Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) and Timo Scheider took fifth and sixth position.
Further down the time sheets, Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) was ninth, while championship leader Spengler took 12th, and was 0.304s slower than Molina. Tomczyk took a somewhat disappointing 15th position with a time of 43.154s. Again, the times of all 18 drivers from Molina to Rahel Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) was within 0.790s, which indicates how close the competition in DTM currently is. Gary Paffett (Tomas Sabo AMG Mercedes) was the second fastest Briton and took 11th place, while Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes), Oliver Jarvis (Audi Sport Team Abt) and Susie Stoddart (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes) were 14th,16th and 17th fastest on their home circuit.
On Saturday Mercedes took the first three places, with Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes) in first place with a fastest lap of 41.948s, followed by Paffett and Green who were just 0.009s and 0,013s slower than the German. Fastest Audi driver was Rockenfeller who took fourth place, while Filipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) and Tomczyk took fifth and sixth respectively. Spengler was seventh for Mercedes, and Christian Vietoris (Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes), Molina and Scheider completed the top ten. The competition was even closer as the difference between leader Schumacher and 18th place Stoddart was just 0.701s.
Qualifying started on a dry and sunny circuit, but not a good start for Spengler as he had incurred a two-place grid penalty for using an unmarked set of tyres during free practice. So ahead of qualifying it was already certain he would not start from pole tomorrow, but the question for him and his team was how to limit the damage.
No driver was interested to venture out onto the track during the first five minutes of Q1, but finally both female drivers Stoddart and Frey were the first to set a time. With ten minutes still to go the order was: Rockenfeller, Scheider, Ekstrom, Mortara, Engel, Albuquerque, Vietoris and Tomczyk. But just seconds later the red flag came out after Albuquerque had landed his car in the tyres that line Druids. A classic mistake, he went into Druids too fast, ran out of asphalt and after crossing the gravel trap ended up in the tyre barrier.
Albuquerque about his unfortunate mistake, “I’ve got no words to express my sadness. In turn two I braked at the same place as before but the wheels locked. But in turn two there’s no room for mistakes, I hit the grass and there was nothing I could do anymore. It’s a shame to have missed qualifying because the car was very good. After the free practice in the morning everything had looked very promising.”
His Audi had to be retrieved but back in the pits but it became apparent there was too much damage for a quick repair and the Portuguese driver will start from 18th and last place tomorrow. The session resumed after 15 minutes, but due to the red flag all drivers were allowed to participate in Q2 and all were ready for another 20 minutes of qualifying.
Drivers certainly gave it their best try, and many slipped off the racing line into the dusty part of the track but without sustaining any damage. With eight minutes left on the clock Rockenfeller was fastest, and was followed by Vietoris, Scheider, Paffett, Ekstrom, Schumacher, Jarvis, Molina and Dutchman Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes). Not much later Tomczyk took over the fastest time of Rockenfeller with just 0.001s, again demonstrating how close the field is at the short ‘Indy circuit’ of Brands Hatch. Mortara had a big moment after he had lost control of his Audi, spun 360 degrees at full speed but managed to get his car under control again and could proceed perusing his fastest lap time.
For Spengler it was important to end as high on the time sheets as possible, but at the end if the session he could only set an eighth fastest time with a lap of 42.040s. It was Schumacher who was fastest in Q2 and set a time of 41.917s. Besides Schumacher, Paffett, Tomczyk, Rockenfeller, Molina, Green, Ekstrom and the unfortunate Spengler were heading for Q3 to decide who would go to the final top four shoot-out.
Again not much action during the first five minutes of Q3, but finally Molina, Ekstrom and Schumacher were the first to set a time. For Schumacher, the question was whether he could continue the excellent pace he had shown in the morning and in Q2, but the German ex-Formula One driver could only put in a lap of 42.080s which gave him a disappointing seventh position in Q3. Green however, was very quick and finished Q3 in first position, followed by Tomczyk, Rockenfeller and Paffett. With only 0.047s between the first four of Q3, it promised to be a spectacular shoot out for the pole. The last four in Q3 were Ekstrom, Spengler, Schumacher and Spaniard Molina. Spengler will therefore be starting from eighth on the grid tomorrow.
Spengler was not too disappointed about his result, “Starting eighth on the grid isn’t the end of the world -- tomorrow’s race is 98 laps long, and a lot can happen over that distance. Tomorrow is another day and I’ll try to get as close to the front as possible. I’m not concerned about championship positions today – the points aren’t awarded until the race tomorrow.”
First in the final shoot out was Paffett, he had a good clean lap without mistakes and set the time to beat on 42.345s. But all drivers had to use the same tyres as in Q3, the man on the freshest tyres was Rockenfeller, who had set his time in Q3 in just a few laps to save his tyres. A great move of his team, and indeed it was Rockenfeller who set the fastest time with 42.090, and although Tomczyk and Green still had to make their final run, it was clear it would be very difficult to beat him.
Tomczyk was next, but he was slower in sectors two and three and took third place. Last man out was Green, but he also could not beat Rockenfeller’s pole time, and he will be leaving the start grid from fourth position tomorrow.
Tomczyk was satisfied with his fourth place, “I entered the turn with a lot of understeer and lost a bit of momentum. With that, it was clear that it wouldn’t be a perfect lap. I’m satisfied nevertheless. Third place is a superb starting base. And I’m happy for Mike (Rockenfeller) about his fastest time.” And his goal for tomorrows? “Obviously, my aim is to finish in front of Bruno Spengler in order to make up my seven-point gap,” the German said.
Rockenfeller admitted the tyre choice was the deciding factor, "It’s important to have tires that are as fresh as possible in Q4. In Q3 I managed a very good first lap. That’s why we decided not to drive a second lap. The risk paid off in the end. The race tomorrow will probably be very difficult, but we’re well prepared. And for now I’m happy about pole - my first one in the DTM."
Paffett, who scored second place today, ““I’m very happy and pleased with second place in qualifying. It wasn’t easy to make it through to the Top 4 shootout as it’s always very tight at Brands Hatch. My C-Class ran well and I'm looking forward to the race. Rain is forecast for Sunday – that suits me, because I love driving in the wet. I think I’m ready.”
Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport commented about qualifying, “After four poles in the first six races, this time we’re starting with Gary second on the grid. It is a bit of a handicap for Bruno to be back in eighth place, but nothing that he and his team can’t handle tomorrow. It should prove interesting, and tomorrow we will see who can produce the best speed over 98 laps. We’ve secured two victories at Brands Hatch in the last two years and our goal is to win again on Sunday.”
Audi motorsport chef Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich about today’s qualifying, “At Brands Hatch everything has got to fit together perfectly if you want to be at the front. Naturally, it’s nice that ‘Rocky’ took the pole position for Audi and that Martin (Tomczyk) is on grid position three. That’s a very good starting base for tomorrow’s race.”
Rockenfeller scored his maiden pole position at Brands Hatch, but for tomorrow there is rain forecasted, which means drivers and spectators will be in for a spectacular race on a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult. Tomczyk, the number two in the championship will be starting from third position, while leader Spengler will start from eighth position.