After missing the final qualifying segment at the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) season opener, Mattias Ekstrom was determined not to let that happen again. And this time he showed his speed, setting stunning times for two of the three intermediates at Valencia, and still scoring the pole position for tomorrow's race in spite of a small slip in the third intermediate.
"I'm really happy," Ekstrom smiled. "I'm feeling very well in the car, even though it's very hot. For the race, we have to keep our fingers crossed that the tyres will make it through the distance."
Ekstrom's Audi teammate, Martin Tomczyk, suffered puncture at the Hockenheim season opener while in the race lead, and this weekend both the ambient and track temperatures are far higher than at the Hockenheimring.
"I don't think that we will again see similar damage to the tyres at Valencia, because these are closely related to the specific shape of the kerbstones", explained Michael Bellmann of Dunlop, the series tire supplier. "This race track has much different challenges than the Hockenheimring: the kerbs, that caused the (unusual) contact damage during the season opener, are less high here."
And none of that appeared to bother Ekstrom at the Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo, though: after settin the fastest time in the morning's practice session, he was consistent through the first three qualifying segments, setting second, third and then the fastest time.
Ekstrom's final lap looked on pace to be a 1:29.4, but a small mistake cost him time near the end of the lap, and he finished with a 1:29.565, just 0.016 seconds ahead of Mercedes-Benz driver Bruno Spengler.
"It's a shame that I missed pole by such a small margin," Spengler rued the close result. "My last lap was very good and I didn't make any mistakes. Mattias Ekstrom was just a tiny little bit faster, but tomorrow I will try to turn the tables."
Oliver Jarvis set a fast time early in the third qualifying segment, but then failed to set a good time on his final run. Still, the 1:29.496 was enough to edge Paul di Resta and progress to the finsl qualifying shoot-out segment, and the young Briton pulled it all together again in Q4, nabbing third position on the grid from championship leader Gary Paffett by a margin of almost four tenths.
"In Q3 I made a huge mistake," Jarvis recalled. "With a lot of luck I still made it into Q4 but had to start as the first car. That was a slight disadvantage. After my problems in Q3 I tackled this session a bit too coolly. I was only lacking two and a half tenths to pole. It's nice to be so far at the front, to be able to compete for a podium and maybe to even have a chance of winning."
Behind Paffett and di Resta, fourth and fifth on the grid, there will be a gaggle of Audis looking for a way past the two top Mercedes drivers. Mike Rockenfeller, in a 2008-spec Audi A4 leads the Ingolstadt pack, with newcomer Miguel Molina and Alexandre Premat -- both also in old-spec cars -- behind him.
2008 and 2009 DTM champion Timo Scheider struggled in qualifying again, missing out on Q3 by a margin of 0.123 seconds. After a ninth-place start at Hockenheimring, he will start 10th tomorrow, with a goal of bettering his seventh-place finish in the first race of the season.
"This was extremely disappointing for me," Scheider grimaced. "I've got a huge problem with the tires. We simply can't achieve good balance. That seems to be the problem. Tenth place is another catastrophic result."
Behind him are still the two Mercedes ex-F1 drivers, Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard. The latter, now into only his second DTM weekend, will be looking to learn more DTM racecraft in tomorrow's race, and hopefully improve on his starting position.