Ekstrom and Audi storm to title at Brno

Mattias Ekstr?m stormed the field to take the win at the Automotodrom Brno and claim the 2004 DTM drivers' title and the teams' title for Audi Team Abt. Ekstr?m led from pole to flag and is a very deserving champion, with a string of excellent performances all season. His main title rivals couldn't do enough; Mercedes' Christijan Albers retired with a damaged car and his teammate Gary Paffett finished third.

Mattias Ekstr?m.
Photo by ITR e.V..

Ekstr?m had a great start from pole in the Czech Republic to lead the field but Albers locked up at the first corner and Audi's Martin Tomczyk and Kristensen took advantage. Opel's Marcel F?ssler made up one place to fifth but there was trouble behind them. The Audi of Frank Biela and the Opel of Manuel Reuter collided and a further shunt saw Mercedes' Jaris Janek retire to the pits, while Mercedes' Bernd Schneider and Opel's Laurent Aiello spun.

Albers regained the third place from Kristensen and Paffett, who had a poor start, took back his seventh place from Opel's Peter Dumbreck, who had a flyer from ninth. At the front it was Ekstr?m from teammates Tomczyk and Kristensen, with F?ssler and Audi's Emanuele Pirro in fifth and sixth respectively.

Paffett dispatched Pirro for sixth and the first round of pit stops commenced on lap six, with all the leading pack diving in. Albers nearly made it out in front of Ekstr?m but had to slot in behind. To compound his problems, Albers then pushed Kristensen into a spin when he left the pit exit. He escaped a penalty but was not so lucky with the next one.

Driving right on the edge to try and catch leader Ekstr?m, Albers shoved Tomczyk into a spin and this time it earned him not only damage to his front wing but also a drive-through penalty. He duly served the penalty but the damage proved to be his fate and eventually he had to pull off track, his championship hopes dashed.

Tomczyk also had to retire and the front runners were then Ekstr?m, Kristensen and a really good effort from F?ssler and Opel in third. Unfortunately F?ssler's podium hopes were short lived. He and fourth placed Paffett pitted together and Mercedes really pushed the edge of pit lane etiquette.

F?ssler was already out of his stop and up the pit lane when Mercedes let Paffett go, right when the Opel was alongside. They pushed and shoved but Paffett had the inside line and F?ssler had no choice but to cede the position.

There were some minor scuffles in the midfield and at the back but the race settled into a fairly sedate procession at the front, with Ekstr?m leading Kristensen, Paffett and F?ssler. Behind them there was a trio of Opels and the Mercedes of Jean Alesi battling furiously for minor points positions.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen was in front of Alesi but Timo Scheider took advantage when Alesi had a brief excursion into the dust, to take eighth. Peter Dumbreck was in ninth but try as he might he couldn't get past Alesi.

Ekstr?m took the chequered flag and the championship with Kristensen making it an Audi one-two. Paffett's third place moved him up to second in the championship standings above Albers and F?ssler's fourth was his best result of the season. Emanuele Pirro made another Audi score with fifth and Frentzen, Scheider and Alesi filled the rest of the points positions.

"It is a fantastic day for me."said Ekstr?m. "I think that was the nicest race of the season, although it wasn't easy. I tried to drive constant lap times and concentrate on bringing the car safely into the finish. It's going to be a long night today."

Ekstr?m has been a star all season and the championship is a worthy crown for him efforts. Albers' own charge for the title was a little enthusiastic at Brno and it really was his own fault that he ended up retiring. However, with one more race to go Albers will be battling with Paffett for the 'vice-champion' spot.

"I wanted to keep my championship hopes alive and pushed hard," said Albers. "The collision with Tomczyk was the result of a misunderstanding. I braked earlier than him, he pulled to the right and our cars touched. Congratulations to Mattias Ekstr?m on a great season."

Paffett was happy enough with his third place: "I had a good race with many fair fights," he remarked. "Congratulations to Mattias Ekstr?m. I now look forward to Hockenheim and an exciting fight for the runner-up position."

Audi has made it work in the DTM this year, mainly due to Ekstr?m and his Abt teammate Tomczyk. Kristensen has made his presence felt but the young guns have really put the experienced hands in the shade. Audi Abt may have won the teams' title but the constructors' is still open, with Mercedes nine points behind Audi. The last race of the season is at Hockenheim on October 3rd.