Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Martin Tomczyk invincible at Brands Hatch
- Bruno Spengler now second in championship
- Audi stronger in the rain than Mercedes
German Martin Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) now leads the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) championship after a well-deserved victory for Audi on a very wet Brands Hatch circuit. Audi was faster in the rain than Mercedes, as Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport team Abt Sportsline) and Italian rookie Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) completed the all-Audi top three by finishing in second and third place respectively.
Tomczyk was obviously happy with the result, “A fantastic race! The start was obviously a little tricky. The situation with Gary Paffett in the early stages was a bit difficult. He blocked and wasn’t able to drive the times that I could. But then I found my pace. From then on things were going really well all the way up to the end of the race, very fast, very consistent. It’s been a perfect weekend.”
It was already raining at Brands Hatch before the start of the race, but not hard enough to start behind the safety car, and it was therefore decided drivers could make two full parade laps to get used to the tricky conditions before they stopped on the start-finish straight to line up for the actual start. Pole-sitter Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport team Abt Sportsline) was away first, but behind him drivers scrambled for position while visibility in the middle of the pack was almost zero.
Swede Ekstrom made a dream start from fifth position on the grid and took Gary Paffett (Tomas Sabo AMG Mercedes), Tomczyk and Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes) by surprise and entered Paddock Hill Bend in second position behind Rockenfeller. During the first and second lap a lot went on behind the two leaders, Timo Scheider (Audi Sport team Abt) was the first to go off track and he reported ‘something was broken’. But the damage was not really that bad and after a quick visit to the pit for new tyres he could continue his race, albeit in 18th and last position.
“I actually had a decent start and was able to make up some positions in the first two turns,” Scheider said after the race. “But in turn three, I was unfortunately hit. I thought something was broken but only the tire was damaged. Unfortunately, my pit crew wasn’t prepared yet which cost a lot of time,” he explained.
All eyes were on championship leader Bruno Spengler (Mercedes-Benz Bank AMG) who had qualified in sixth on Saturday but also incurred a two place penalty after he had used a set of unmarked tyres during the morning practice and therefore had to start from eighth on the grid. The unfortunate Spengler again lost a place during the third lap and fell back to ninth position. Paffett ran a bit wide and both Tomczyk and Mortara slipped past the Briton to take third and fourth position.
On lap five a charging Tomczyk found his way past Ekstrom and started a race to catch up with the Audi of Rockenfeller. On lap nine Rockenfeller was leading, and was followed by Tomczyk, Ekstrom, Mortara, Paffett, Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes), Green and Spengler -- who had taken back his eighth place by then.
Tomczyk was on a good pace in the wet and after a short scramble took the leading position from Rockenfeller, and immediately started to pull away from the rest of the field. Rockenfeller had problems keeping his Audi on track and soon Ekstrom was at his tail and started challenging him for second place. It wasn’t Green’s lucky day either, as he went off at Paddock Hill Bend but miraculously enough managed to get his car back on the wet asphalt again, but was now in ninth position. Thanks to Green Spengler was then in seventh position, but Green’s ordeal wasn’t over yet as he spun again a few laps later, this time he fell back to 12th position.
Meanwhile Ekstrom was stuck behind Rockenfeller and was losing time, Tomczyk who had a clear track ahead was almost one second a lap faster. Ekstrom tried all the tricks in the book but with the atrocious weather conditions had to be careful not to spin off himself, but on lap 15 he finally wrestled his way past the bright yellow Audi. Rockenfeller was clearly not at ease in the rain and not much later was passed by Mortara as well. On lap 18 Tomczyk was still leading, followed by Ekstrom, Mortara, Rockenfeller, Paffett, Schumacher, Spengler and Jarvis.
Obviously, Spengler was also struggling in the wet as Jarvis was now looking for a way to get past the Canadian. The conditions were still very tricky, and almost all drivers were slipping and sliding on a very wet Brands Hatch circuit. Also leader Tomczyk went off onto the grass, but without any damage to his car, and the German didn’t even lose the lead and after this scary moment was still about five seconds ahead of Ekstrom. Spengler still had to fend off Jarvis who was right on his tail, but by then it was time for the first round of pit stops.
After Green and David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes) had collided while side-by-side fighting for 11th position, both drivers pitted. Unfortunately, Green fell back to 15th place and ended up right ahead of Ekstrom who was in second place. Although Green was one lap behind Ekstrom, no blue flags were waved and Green refused to give way. Ekstrom had already shouted over the radio he wanted to see blue flags for Green, but the marshals still did not take any action, a crazy situation to say the least.
On lap 28 Ekstrom finally passed Green’s Mercedes after the latter made a small mistake, but it was clear he was not at all happy with the way Green had blocked his progress for five laps. Still the top eight drivers had not pitted, and championship leader Spengler in seventh place was now 28 seconds behind race leader Tomczyk, and there was not really much hope he could make up that much time in these very difficult conditions.
On lap 38 Paffett in fifth position had closed in on Rockenfeller, who was simply not fast enough in the rain, but overtaking in these conditions was tricky at best. Nevertheless Paffett got a tow from Rockenfeller on the Brabham Straight and both drivers went side-by-side into Paddock Hill Bend, a daring move that was further complicated because Scheider and Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes) both emerged from the pit lane at the same time while fighting for position and ended up right in front of Paffett and Rockenfeller, luckily none of the four drivers made a mistake and all four went safely into the next corner, Druids.
Both Scheider and van der Zande were as it is called ‘under investigation’ by the stewards, not for their fight on track, but for their escapades in the pit lane, both gentleman were banging doors in the pit lane after they had made their stop, and neither of the two wanted to give up his position and the pair exited the pit lane side-by-side, but no further action was taken.
At this stage the top eight still hadn’t made their first pit stop, but as the times of the top eight started to drop compared to those on fresh wet weather tyres, it was about time to change tyres. First in were Schumacher and Rockenfeller, Schumacher’s stop was a bit too long, long enough for Rockenfeller to get ahead of him. Schumacher immediately started his attack on Rockenfeller for seventh place but could not find a way past the Audi driver. Paffett had also pitted and had rejoined the race ahead of Rockenfeller and Schumacher, Ekstrom also made his stop and returned on track in third position.
On lap 47 spectators saw Rockenfeller plowing through the grass and it soon became apparent Schumacher had hit him during one of his attempts to overtake him. This time Schumacher was under investigation, but again no further action was taken as the stewards deemed it was a racing incident.
Rockenfeller commented about the collision, “Honestly speaking, I don’t understand why there was no penalty for that. I’ve got to watch the scene again, but from my perspective the matter was clear.”
Spengler was next to pit, but he did not gain a place, nor did he lose a place, and was still in seventh position. Tomczyk was still comfortably leading the race followed by Ekstrom, Mortara, Paffet, Schumacher, Rockenfeller, Spengler and Jarvis.
But due to the rain, something extraordinary happened, the pit crews on the pit wall suddenly found themselves watching black screens, as the data and timing streams could not reach the pit wall anymore after a power failure. A number of teams went straight into the garage to monitor the race from there, as it was also time for the second round of pit stops and without data they didn’t even know where their driver was. Luckily the pit to car radio still worked and teams could tell their drivers when it was time to pit.
Spengler was still fighting to collect as many points as he could in an attempt not to lose the championship lead, and had come closer and closer to Rockenfeller in sixth place. Both drivers tried to get ahead of each other during their last pit stop, but it wasn’t to be and Rockenfeller stayed in sixth, and Spengler in seventh position.
The on-track conditions were still very treacherous, the rain did not stop and Paffett was again sliding through the corners in an attempt to take over Mortara’s third place. But Paffett was still 2.2 seconds behind him, and Mortara and his team recognized the danger and the Italian was able to maintain that two-second gap until the finish line. Originally the race would last for 97 laps, but due to the weather those 97 laps could not be finished within the maximum of 70 minutes, and on lap 75 the clock started the countdown, at that moment there were still 10 minutes to go.
With four minutes to go the positions were still the same, Spengler was still trying to catch Rockenfeller for an extra point, while behind them Green and Jarvis were fighting for eith place and the last point. With just one minute to go Green finally passed Jarvis and took eighth position. Tomczyk was invincible at the wet Brands Hatch circuit and crossed the finish line to claim his third victory of the season, Ekstrom scored his third podium of the year after his win at the Nurburgring, while Mortara crossed the line in third position to take his first ever podium in his still short DTM career.
Our drivers did a great job and in the end racers from all our teams were on the podium
It was also a good day for the number two, Ekstrom, "I’m really happy. For me, second place feels like a victory because I achieved the maximum. I saw Martin (Tomczyk) behind me, he’s in the title race and I let him run. After that, both of us were driving flat-out. It was a fantastic race for Audi.”
Of course with three Audis on the podium, Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich was with pleased with the result, "That was no easy feat as the DTM has never raced in rain at Brands Hatch before. We clearly had an advantage in the race today. Our drivers did a great job and in the end racers from all our teams were on the podium - today we’ve got every reason to celebrate.”
Norbert Haug, Mercedes-Benz Head of Motorsport commented, “At the beginning of the race, we simply weren’t quick enough. In dry conditions in the morning, everything worked well, but unfortunately, it didn’t work in the rain. At 14 seconds, Gary’s gap to the leader was simply too big. Now, we are concentrating on the next race. We can’t win this one anymore, but we can win the next one. The battle for the title is more open than ever. Audi is only leading by one point.”
Thus Spengler lost the lead in the championship today, Tomczyk is now leading with 50 points, Spengler is second with 49 points, and Scheider and Ekstrom share third place with 29 points each. For the next race DTM returns to home soil again, for round eight at the Motorsport Arena Oschersleben on September 18.