Jamie Green took his second pole position of the season in qualifying for the last race at Hockenheim, the Mercedes man clocking a best of 1:45:294 in the super pole session. In mixed weather conditions the Audi of Tom Kristensen was second and Bernd Schneider's Mercedes took third. Championship defender Mattias Ekstr?m didn't make the super pole, his Audi only managing 15th in the open session.
After earlier rain the track was damp for first qualifying and the conditions were very overcast. Nobody was keen to go out and after 10 minutes the Opels of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Manuel Reuter tried their chances. Rumours in the Hockenheim paddock suggest that Opel may want to run as privateers next season but it depends if parent company General Motors (GM) will sign off the cars.
GM announced at the end of 2004 that it would pull Opel out of the DTM after this season and speculation has it that the company is not keen to see its cars compete as privateers if it means they will be at the back. However, private teams have proved themselves in the past; Laurent Aiello, now an Opel driver, won the title with Abt Sportsline in 2002 back before Audi committed to a full works squad.
Alfa Romeo is also strongly rumoured to be entering the DTM next season, perhaps with an eye on the aborted but still existent MG Rover outfit that never made it onto the grid? Meanwhile, Frentzen is reportedly angling for a Mercedes seat next year but vice president Norbert Haug allegedly commented that Mercedes wanted winning drivers, not just those with big names. Ooh Norbert!
Anyway, back to the business in hand. Reuter's Opel was kicking up a lot of spray and posted the first time of 1:51.508, while Frentzen had one or two slightly off-track moments in the slippery conditions. Others started making their way out to get a time in before the rain perhaps returned. Reuter improved to 1:50.809, with the year old Audi of Frank Stippler second and Audi's Martin Tomczyk in third.
Gary Paffett, who looks set to take the title on Sunday, put his Mercedes second and championship rival Ekstr?m slotted into fourth. Kristensen was next to the top, 1:50.761, and Green took second, then Schneider upped the ante to 1:50.321. Green responded with a 1:50.006, with Schneider and Paffett following on behind. Frentzen was keeping in touch as the times reeled through, as were Kristensen and Stippler.
However, Stippler then spun off into the gravel and beached the Audi. Schneider posted 1:49.585 and also in and out of the top ten were Opel's Marcel F?ssler and the Mercedes of Mika H?kkinen, along with Aiello and Tomczyk. At the end of the 25 minute session through to the super pole were Schneider, Green, Frentzen, Kristensen, Paffett, Stippler, F?ssler, H?kkinen, Aiello and Tomczyk.
Names the likes of Ekstr?m, Jean Alesi and Allan McNish never made it and from H?kkinen in eighth everyone was over a second and more off Schneider's provisional pole. 15th is very bad news for Ekstr?m -- the first time he's not made the super pole this season -- who needs to win the race and have Paffett not score any points to retain his championship crown. It's possible but rather unlikely.
There was a little bit of sun for the start of the super pole session but the track was still damp in places, although a dry line was appearing. In the difficult conditions Tomczyk led out on what looked like intermediate tyres and had a rather twitchy lap to clock 1:49.328. Aiello was even twitchier, the back end of the Opel sliding a lot. He was over three second down in the middle sector and crossed the line over five seconds off.
H?kkinen overdid the first corner and went wide over the grass and run off area but made up a little bit of time through the rest of the lap to be just under a second off Tomczyk. F?ssler also took the same corner wide, although not quite as much as H?kkinen, and closed the gap to Tomczyk to just five hundredths at the end of his individual flier. The track was drying every lap and the times started to drop.
Stippler had a clean lap and took provisional pole by over two seconds, 1:46.961. Paffett had a lock up in the first sector but made up for it a little to clock two tenths off Stippler. Kristensen was another who mucked up the first corner, even wider than H?kkinen had been, but kept it together and scorched round to post 1:45.370, over a second and a half up -- the track was evidently much better than at the start.
Frentzen was on Kristensen's pace in the first two sectors but lost out in the last to finish six tenths off the Audi. He spun at the first corner but saved it for his slow down lap! Green was just under eight hundredths quicker than Kristensen, 1:45.294, and Schneider was the last runner. Bernd couldn't make pole for his 200th DTM race and was half a second off Green to slot into third.
So, Green and Kristensen took the front row of the grid, with Schneider and Frentzen on row two in third and fourth. Stippler and Paffett will go from fifth and sixth on row three, followed by Tomczyk and F?ssler in seventh and eighth on row four. The last row of the top ten is H?kkinen and Aiello in ninth and tenth respectively. The year old Mercedes of Alexandros Margaritis, 11th, missed the super pole by one thousandth of a second.
"My car's set-up was perfect and I had the advantage to be one of last in the starting order," said Green. "I had expected Bernd to be faster as he was the last driver; therefore I'm even happier about my second DTM pole position and I will fight for my first win tomorrow."
Kristensen was a little disappointed to miss out on pole. "In the first corner, the tyres were still a bit too cold, but in the 'Motodrom' I was the quickest because the tyres were still okay," he commented. "My position on the first row is good, yet considering the small gap, I'd have preferred Pole..."
Schneider was satisfied with third. "My lap was very good and I was about to achieve the best time; however, I was on the wet part of the track at the last corner and lost time. Starting from the second row is still a good basis for the race. In front of packed grandstands I want to end the season on the podium and hopefully with a win like last year."
Ekstr?m has a very big mountain to climb to keep his title, with Paffett nine points ahead and starting nine places ahead. It can be done but one would have to say it seems too big a task even for Ekstr?m. The team and manufacturers' titles between Mercedes and Audi will also be decided in this season finale so it looks set to be an exciting last race at Hockenheim on Sunday.