The tight championship battle between Timo Scheider and Paul di Resta is the highlight of the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) season finale at Hockenheimring, but Mattias Ekstrom had his own ideas, and slipped by the two championship rivals to take the pole position for Sunday's season finale.
Ekstrom set a time of 1:32.244 in his Audi A4, four hundredths of a second faster than di Resta's Mercedes, to claim his second pole of the season and hte twelth in his DTM career.
Every pole position is something special, but this one isn't extraordinary," Ekstrom said. "But maybe it helps that I don't have the pressure of battling for the title. Today, the car was very easy to drive."
Di Resta, at 22 years old the youngest driver in DTM, will have a challenge on his hands tomorrow. While he pipped championship leader Scheider's Audi to the second grid position by a solid 0.208-second margin, simply finishing ahead of Scheider will not necessarily be enough for the chanmpionship.
There is always something to improve, but we have done our job," the young Scot said. "The goal was to start ahead of Scheider. It will be a long and tough race, but first of all I will concentrate on the first corner and on staying ahead of Timo. I will try everything to stay in front. In the race, many things can happen, I am looking forward to it."
Scheider, who took the pole position on the series' first visit to Hockenheim in April, has been fast throughout the weekend, but made a mistake in the first qualifying segment, hitting the kerbs hard enough to damage his Audi's suspension. Some hard work by the Audi mechanics enabled him to rejoin in time for the final qualifying segment, though.
"If only ...," Scheider rued his error. "After the mistake I made in the first segment, it was important not to crack under pressure. Of course, I was a little bit more cautious at that point after that. But I ended up close to Paul and Mattias is on pole -- Paul can look forward to a hot race. I know how good my car is on a long distance, so I remain calm. At Le Mans, I moved up from fifth on the grid into first place, so I am in a better position here."
After the top three, it is a gaggle of Mercedes crowding the grid: Jamie Green joins Scheider on the second row, followed by Bernd Schneider -- in his final DTM race -- and Bruno Spengler. Martin Tomczyk, seventh, and Tom Kristensen, eighth, are the next Audi pilots.
Ekstrom and Scheider finished 1-2 in that first Hockenheim race, and an Ekstrom victory could secure Scheider's first DTM title, even if di Resta holds off Scheider: with an Ekstrom-di Resta-Scheider podium, the two would finish tied with 71 points, two victories and four second places each. Scheider's two third places would give him the title in that scenario.
As such, the roles of Ekstrom and Green become critical in helping their teammates' chances: a single point can make all the difference when Scheider's and di Resta's final championship points are tallied on Sunday afternoon.
"I will try to pull clear tomorrow at the start as soon as I can," Ekstrom smiled. "And when I happen to meet the two, it is clear that I will be racing Paul harder than Timo!"