Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Audi in control at Nurburgring
- First win of the season for Ekstrom
- Spengler still leading championship
On a dry and sunny Nurburgring Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) scored his first victory of the season at the Nurburgring during round six of the German Touringcar Masters (DTM) Championship. The Swede took pole position yesterday and controlled the race from start to finish. Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline), who left from third place on the start grid, finished in third place after he had made a costly mistake at Turn 1 just two laps shy of the finish.
“It’s really great standing at the top of the podium again: Not only because of the big trophy but also because of the way in which we achieved this victory,” Estrom said about his victory.
Championship leader Bruno Spengler (Mercedes-Benz Bank AMG), who had chased him for almost the whole race, finally got past the German and finished in second position, which means the Canadian is still leading the DTM Championship with 47 points.
A good weekend for the Ingolstadt-based Audi team, as they finished with seven cars in the top ten today. Ekstrom had a good start and was the first to enter Turn 1 after the lights had turned to green, behind him it was Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes) who lost a lot of positions on the first lap after he had started from second on the grid. After one lap the Briton came through as sixth, while Rockenfeller and Spengler took advantage of the situation and took second and third place.
There was also the traditional first lap incident, this time involving the two ex-Formula One drivers Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes) and David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes). Schumacher braked too late and ran into the back of Coulthard, as a result both ran wide at Turn 1, the Scot decided to take revenge and hit the Mercedes of Schumacher hard while both were struggling to get back onto the track. Schumacher spun and had to abandon his race, while Coulthard was able to continue, albeit with extensive damage to the front section of his yellow Mercedes.
Schumacher about the incident, “It’s a pity that I had to retire early. I had a scrap with David, each of us seeing an opportunity. I braked a bit too late perhaps and made contact with him. It was a fair fight; we both wanted to maintain position. As fellow Mercedes drivers, we did everything we could, though, and gave no quarter, but it’s no big deal, in a close-run race, these things happen.”
Further down the field there was some pushing and shoving going on as well, Martin Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) became the major victim and also damaged the front of his Audi. Gary Paffett (Tomas Sabo AMG Mercedes) made a great start and had moved from 13th to ninth after three laps, but the Briton did have a few problems with his car, as Filipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) and Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes) both passed him on lap 8.
At the front of the field meanwhile, the situation had remained unchanged, Ekstrom was leading, followed by Rockenfeller, Spengler, Eduardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg), Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt), Green and Tomczyk who really didn’t seem to be bothered by the damage to the front of his car. It soon became apparent there were a number of fights going on, Rockenfeller and Spengler were dicing for second, behind them Scheider and Mortara for fourth place, and behind those two Tomczyk and Green were fighting for sixth position.
Further down the field, eighth to 14th were battling for position and certainly provided the necessary thrills for the spectators. During the first round of pit stops Tomczyk tried to get ahead of Green by pitting earlier than the Briton, but the strategy didn’t work, others tried the same, Scheider tried to get ahead of Mortara by pitting earlier than the Italian rookie, again close, but no cigar. The same could be said of Spengler and Rockenfeller, but the order remained the same after both had made their first pit stop.
Meanwhile Ekstrom was able to get away a bit from the numbers two and three, Rockenfeller and Spengler, and slowly built up a three second advantage. Spengler continued to chase Rockenfeller, while Scheider finally found a way past Tomczyk and took fifth place. Green was still dicing with Mortara, but could not get close enough to the Audi, who seemed to be faster on the straights, while Green was a bit faster on the twisty sections of the Nurburgring.
Green’s pit crew finally decided to call him in for his second and last stop, again hoping they could get him ahead of the Italian, but again failed to do so. Around lap 25 it was time for the last and final round of pit stops, but the top six stayed out as long as they possible could, Ekstrom was still leading, followed by Rockenfeller and Spengler, Mortara, Tomczyk and Green.
The first to pit was Mortara, and the same scenario unfolded, drivers tried to overtake their opponent in the pit lane. This time Spengler was unlucky, his pit stop took at least four seconds longer than usual, and as a result Rockenfeller’s pit crew could take it easy, and the German had no problem at all when he rejoined the race gain; Spengler was now almost four seconds behind him.
After 34 laps Ekstrom was still leading with Rockenfeller and Spengler 3.7s behind him, behind those two Tomczyk and Scheider were fighting for fourth position, while Green and Mortara were still battling for sixth. By now Spengler had arrived at the tail of Rockenfeller’s Audi, but again both drivers were equally fast, and Spengler could only hope “Rocky” would get tyre problems or would made a mistake.
At that point it looked like Audi was going to score a one-two victory at the Nurburgring, Ekstrom had nothing to fear and was in command of the race, while Rockenfeller still managed to keep Spengler behind him. By lap 40 Ekstrom had already built up a five second lead, but Spengler still hadn’t given up on taking second place from Rockenfeller, and kept pushing him, hoping he would make a mistake. At the same time, Coulthard who was in 17th and last place, had made his last stop, but when he rejoined the race, he ended up literally in the middle of the fight between Scheider and Tomczyk.
The Scot seemed to have gotten wings on his fresh tyres, as he recorded the fasted lap, and even threatened to overtake Scheider who had to fiercely defend his line to keep him behind him, but more important, he wanted to keep him behind him to prevent Tomczyk to get closer to him. During the closing stages of the race Scheider decided not to take any risks and let the ever charging Coulthard past him as Tomczyk was now several seconds behind Scheider.
At the front Spengler still hadn’t given up and kept pushing Rockenfeller hard, and this time he was lucky as Rockenfeller completely missed his breaking point at Turn 1 with just two laps to go, and Spengler took over his second place with ease. A big disappointment for Rockenfeller, and with two laps to go it was impossible to overtake Spengler again, the latter cruised to the finish line to take second place behind Ekstrom, who on the finish line still had almost six seconds on Spengler. Rockenfeller finished third, Scheider fourth, Tomczyk fifth and Green sixth.
Ekstrom was happy with his weekend at the Nurnurgring, “We had a perfect weekend. Obviously we were a bit fortunate in qualifying but our performance was right too. I’m very happy - also for the team. As a group we were rewarded for hard labor today. Now I’m very much looking forward to the next races.”
Spengler about his surprise second place, “I'm happy with my second place. I overtook Mike Rockenfeller just two laps before the finish. My C-Class was very fast today, but I couldn’t use all the speed, as I couldn’t find a way past Mike for quite a time. Many thanks to the team for a great, consistent car.”
The top ten was completed by Mortara (seventh), Paffett (eighth), Albuquerque (ninth) and Oliver Jarvis (Audi Sport Team Abt) finished tenth. With seven cars in the top ten, Audi this time fair and square beat Mercedes at the Nurburgring, much to the delight of Audi boss Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich.
“Overall, it was a great team performance,” Ullrich said. “Mattias Ekström and his A4 DTM were in a league of their own this weekend. And Team Abt showed perfect pit stops. It’s a shame that Martin Tomczyk lost a few points. But we’re happy that after the body contact with Jamie Green on lap one he was able to even finish the race,” he commented.
Norbert Haug, Vice-President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport was happy Spengler is still leading the championship, “The race result was decided by the grid positions from qualifying when the weather conditions kept changing. Bruno Spengler got the worst of it yesterday, but the main thing is finishing second in the race has increased his championship lead by a further four points. So from that aspect, he can claim to be one of the winners on the day.”
A good race for the DTM rookies, Mortara was again the fastest rookie today, while Albuquerque was the second fastest rookie with his ninth place, and Dutchman van der Zande was third fastest rookie as he finished in 11th position. Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior) was 12th, Christian Vietoris (Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes) 13th, Susie Stoddart (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes) 14th, Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes) 15th, Rahel Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) 16th, and Coulthard 17th and last.
Next race will be on September 4 at the British Brands Hatch circuit. Spengler is leading the championship with 47 points, followed by Tomczyk (40), Scheider (29), Green (24), Ekstrom (21) and sixth is Rockenfeller with 20 points.
Driver quotes to follow