It was only a little over a month ago that Tom Kristensen turned the race around for Audi at Le Mans, taking the lead for the german marque for good in heavy rain. And "Mr Le Mans" was at his best again in DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) ...
It was only a little over a month ago that Tom Kristensen turned the race around for Audi at Le Mans, taking the lead for the german marque for good in heavy rain. And "Mr Le Mans" was at his best again in DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) qualifying today, clinching the pole position in rain-shortened qualifying at the Nurburgring.
Kristensen set the fastest time of the first qualifying segment, 1:38.346. After Mike Rockenfeller crashed his 2007 Audi heavily early in the second second segment in the rain, the organizers red-flagged the qualifying session, setting grid positions based on the first segment.
"In the first segment the conditions were still okay," Kristensen explained. "After my first lap in the second segment, very heavy rain started. Even on the straight that meant you had to lift. There's no doubt that the decision to stop the qualifying was right. I'd have liked to go out again later, but under these circumstances it was the right decision to stop."
It first looked as though the first segment would be run, with all the cars competing, but in the interest of safety, article 18.5 of the rules took precedence, and the qualifying was short. As a result, the grid was significantly scrambled, as many top drivers did not attempt all-out fast laps.
"Even at 60 km/h down the straight, I had heavy aquaplaning and problems getting back to the pits," Martin Tomczyk described the conditions. "The decision to stop qualifying was entirely right."
Mercedes was not happy with the decision, though, and wanted to include the times from the second session up to the time of the red flag -- which would have significantly improved the Mercedes teams' grid positions.
"In the sporting regulations of the DTM, it says: 'When qualifying is stopped, the starting grid for the race is being determined by the sections run and ended up to that time,'" quoted Mercedes motorsports director, Norbert Haug. "It was section two that was ended by the red flag after about three quarters of the scheduled ten minutes, and therefore, according to our judgement, and we are by no means alone in this, the order in the second qualifying section at the time when red was shown applies."
Nevertheless, the series' decision stood in the end, and after a lengthy delay, Kristensen was confirmed as the polesitter for tomorrow's race.
Rockenfeller, ironically, was the second-fastest in the first segment, and his lap time of 1:38.495 will give him his only his second front-row starting position, equaling his performane at Oschersleben last year, and the best start of any 2007-spec car this year.
"This is only the second time in my DTM career that I am starting from the front row," he said "I am very happy with that, even though the way it happened was rather unusual. The rain really suited my year-old car and I honestly got myself this second place in the first qualifying heat."
Tomczyk makes it an Audi 1-2-3 on the grid, with Gary Paffett taking the fourth starting position for Mercedes. Paffett, at 1:38.649, was just 0.063 seconds behind Tomczyk.
"In the second qualifying session we showed that we're doing well in rain," Tomczyk recalled. "As a racer, I always drive as fast as I can. Nobody can tell me that he drives half a second slower voluntarily. That's why it was a fair result, even though in a case like this some drivers are more fortunate than others."
Mattias Ekstrom was the top championship contender in the rain-scrambled qualifying; with his Audi six tenths slower than Paffett, he will start from fifth with the goal of improving his second-place standing in the DTM title fight.
Championship leader Timo Scheider, also driving for Audi, was well back in ninth, 1.174 seconds off Ktristensen's pace, and will have a challenge in trying to move up the field in tomorrow's race.
"That was definitely a wet experience!" said Scheider. "Personally, I'm very disappointed that only the first session counted in the end. We had decided to wait in the pit lane and not to risk anything because the rain had become heavier. That was our downfall. For me, this means I've got my work cut out for me on Sunday."
Top Mercedes challengers in the championship battle, Jamie Green and Paul di Resta, fared even worse: they will take the start from 13th and 12th positions, respectively, from amid a gaggle of 2007-spec cars, who will be slower than the leaders but fast enough to slow down Green's and di Resta's progress.
"Today, qualifying was like a lottery," a grim Green summed up his feelings.
Ralf Schumacher had his best qualifying of of the year for Mercedes, and will start from seventh place. Likewise, Susie Stoddart has her career-best starting position of 15th.