The DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) championship will be on the line in tomorrow's season finale at the Hockenheimring, with Audi's Timo Scheider trying to hold off his Mercedes rival, Gary Paffett. However, that didn't stop Scheider's teammate, Mattias Ekstrom, from claiming the pole position, his third of the season.
"Being all up in front is always nice," said Ekstrom. "My goal on Sunday is to have a good start and pull clear out in front. I am happy to have a close view of the battle for the title -- preferably in my rear-view mirror!"
Ekstrom, in his ninth season of driving for Audi in the DTM, also scored pole positions in the series' first visit to the Hockenheimring and at Lausitz earlier season, today's pole is the 15th in his DTM career. The two-time DTM champion took it in style, thoroughly dominating the day's proceedings.
Having set the quickest time in the morning practice session, Ekstrom kept up his speed in the first qualifying segment, again outpacing others. While he was back a little in the second segment, in the penultimate third segment his early time of 1:31.894 was dominant enough that the Swedish touring car ace chose to stay in the garage during the final runs in the segment to conserve tires for the race -- and still no one could match his speed.
In the final hot-lap segment, Ekstrom was the last one out, and easily set a time of 1:32.525 to clinch the top spot on the grid, 0.066 seconds ahead of Paffett. Paffett, who is seven points behind Scheider and with only a maximum of ten in the offering tomorrow, bettered his rival by 0.022 seconds, in spite of the Mercedes carrying an additional 5 kg of ballast this weekend.
"My C-Class was great and the 10-kilo weight handicap (compared to the Audis) were not a problem for me," Paffett summed up his qualifying session. "I have to finish first or second tomorrow to keep my title hopes alive and second on the grid is a good basis to achieve this. However, my chances to make up Timo's advantage of seven points are not really big."
For Scheider, it was a matter of staying close to his rival while avoiding big risks, as he strives to become the first repeat champion since Bernd Schneider, who achieved the feat in the 2000 and 2001 seasons. With his points lead, a fifth-place finish or better will guarantee the title to the DTM veteran.
"For us, it was important not to lose contact to the front and not to experience another mistake again like we did at Dijon," Scheider explained. "The fact that I went out very early in Q3 showed that I took no risk. Instead, we even accepted the fact that the track was not as good here and there. This enabled us to show our performance and to avoid traffic as well as risks. That's why I'm very pleased. I'm behind Gary (Paffett) on position three and was beaten by just two hundredths. That's a good starting base for tomorrow."
Paul di Resta took fourth for Mercedes, while Audi's sportscar ace Tom Kristensen, who is retiring from DTM at the end of the season tomorrow, will start fifth. Audi drivers also took sixth and seventh, with Oliver Jarvis bettering Martin Tomczyk in spite of the former driving a 2008-spec car.
Maro Engel, in a 2008-spec Mercedes, took eighth, while two of the 2009-spec C-class were shut out of the top four grid rows: Jamie Green just missed out on advancing to the third segment and will start ninth, while Bruno Spengler is stuck in 15th. Spengler, who has consistently qualified well for Mercedes this year, thought he had easily made the cut to advance into the second segment. However, with a large number of drivers improving their times at the end of the segment, he missed out, and will have to start the race at the tail end of the grid.
"My lap wasn't really good and there was room for improvement," Spengler recalled. "We thought it would be enough for Q2 anyway; unfortunately, we were wrong. "
However, all eyes will be on the Scheider-Paffett battle at the front with the title on the line. Both drivers are looking for a second championship -- Paffett won the title in 2005 -- but Scheider will be in the driver's seat as the race gets under way tomorrow afternoon.