Mattias Ekstrom will be starting tomorrow's DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) race from a familiar spot: the pole position. The popular Swede set a time of 1:33.205 on a damp Lausitz Eurospeedway, and that was easily fast enough to clinch the prime starting spot, the 12th of his DTM career.
After a mad scramble in the first qualifying segment, where the Audi teams largely missed the dry track while their Mercedes rivals clocked fast times before the onset of rain, Ekstrom felt lucky to make it through to the second segment, let alone beating the Mercedeses of Gary Paffett and Paul di Resta in the final segment.
"That was the craziest pole position in my career," Ekstrom shook his head after clinching the pole. "I just barely made it into the second section and in the end I'm all the way at the front. I know how important pole is, particularly here at the EuroSpeedway, because it's difficult to overtake on this circuit."
The Eurospeedway has certainly been a Merceds stomping ground in the past: an Audi has never started from pole since the track was added to the DTM schedule in 2003. As for victories, the only ones Audi has are two by ... no other than Mattias Ekstrom. The Swede was granted a victory there in 2004 after Paffett was disqualified, and took one outright in 2005's second race at the track.
With Ekstrom determined to take his third Lausitz victory, after disaster struck his car on the final lap at Hockenheim, Paffett will have his hands full, and more so after dropping from second to seventh on the grid, thanks to a five-place grid penalty for avoidable contact at Hockenheim.
"Clearly, the pole time was possible here for me and my qualifying result is tarnished by the relegation," said Paffett. "But actually I wanted to start sixth on the grid and not seventh - this was what Norbert (Haug) had told me after the penalization in Hockenheim."
"The forecast for tomorrow is rain and then everything is possible even "from seventh on the grid," he continued. In 2004, I made it to the top "from a seventh starting position in the dry."
Of course, there was the small matter of disqualification in that race, as Paffett's Mercedes had an insufficient amount of fuel left in the race -- giving the win to Ekstrom.
But with Paffett's current penalty, di Resta moves up to the front row; the young Scot had set a time of 1:33.534, 99 thousandths behind Paffett and 0.329 off Ekstrom's pace.
"I am happy to start from the front row, although I feel sorry for Gary and his relegation," said di Resta. "We have been strong all day, be it in the dry or in the wet. My target for tomorrow is clear - I want to be among the top drivers, hopefully at the very top."
Behind Ekstrom and di Resta, the second row on the revised grid is all Audi, giving the Ingolstadters an impressive three out of the top four grid positions at a track where they have traditionally struggled. Mike Rockenfeller, third, counted himself just as lucky as Ekstrom.
"In the beginning I really worked up a sweat when I noticed that a heavier drizzling rain was setting in during the first qualifying," he recalled. "I was nervous because we went out on the track a minute too late. It was also pretty tight because the rain was really getting heavy. I was lucky to have made it into Q2!"
"At the beginning of Q3 I got stuck in traffic and ended up in fourth place," he continued, explaining his eventful qualifying session. "Everyone else kept doing their laps, so on my last outing I again tried driving a little faster. I managed doing that until I spun in the long right-hander and ended up in the gravel trap."
With Rockenfeller stuck in a gravel trap, he had no chance to catch the top three and make it into the final segment, but he had still managed to outqualify the third-fastest Audi, that of Timo Scheider, by four hundredths of a second. The two will now be looking to make life difficult for the gaggle of four Mercedes behind them: Bruno Spengler, Jamie Green, Paffet and Maro Engel.
Meanwhile, three of the top Audi drivers got caught by the onset of the drizzle in the first segment, and Martin Tomczy, Tom Kristensen and Oliver Jarvis will be starting at the back of the grid, ahead only of Ralf Schumacher, who was not able to take part in qualifying after heavily crashing his Mercedes in the morning practice session.