By Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- First victory of the season for Audi
- Pit stops decided Sunday’s race
- Martin Tomczyk steals the show
Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) scored his maiden victory during his 44th DTM race at Circuit Park Zandvoort in the Netherlands today. The 27-year old Audi driver took the lead from Bruno Spengler (Mercedes-Benz Bank AMG) during the first series of pit stops, and stayed in the lead for the rest of the race. He had an error-free race although a small glitch during his second pit stop almost robbed him of his well deserved first place.
The German was of course delighted about his victory at Zandvoort, “I am relieved. Hockenheim was very frustrating after a good qualifying and the poor race. Fortunately, we have found the problem and solved it.” And the winner added, “My thanks go to my team and to Audi. Both stops and the strategy were fantastic and my car was really fast. In the end I was even able to play it safe The result was a good qualifying and a great race. Today, the foundation was the start, plus two excellent stops and a good pace.”
Although Spengler started from pole position, he lost the lead to Rockenfeller due to a misunderstanding during his first pit stop, “Unfortunately, we have given victory away. Up to the first stop, the pace was good and I was able to pull clear from Mike. After the stop, however, Mike was ahead of me and wasn’t able to follow him anymore.” Asked about the misunderstanding Spengler commented, “There was a bit of confusion on the radio about whether I should come in or not, and that's when Mike got past me. But hey, that's motor racing.” But he remained optimistic, “Nevertheless, it isn’t a bad day. Finishing second at Zandvoort is something I haven’t achieved so far.”
Unfortunately, we have given victory away
Third place was for Martin Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix), who drove a fantastic race in his 2008-spec Audi and was without a doubt the star of the race as he was responsible for many thrilling moments at the Dutch circuit. “My car had been superbly prepared and was incredibly quick,” said Tomczyk. “At times I almost felt like I was in a different league. It’s nice to be among the front runners and in contention for the championship with a 2008-spec car.”
Spengler had a super start when the lights turned to green and he led the field into the famous Tarzan corner, behind him Rockenfeller was quicker off the line than Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes) and took second position. Portuguese rookie Felipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) missed his braking point and ploughed through the gravel trap, he managed to get out but his Audi was damaged and he later had to give up his race with cooling problems. After the first lap Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline), who had qualified in 16th position, was already in 13th position, and during the race he would continue his impressive march to the front of the field.
During the first few laps there were already a few confrontations, Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt ) was fighting for third position with Tomczyk, the pair made contact a few times, but Scheider overtook Tomczyk without a problem when he ran wide in the Hugenholtz corner on lap 6. Swiss Rahal Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) also ran wide at the same corner, and damaged her car when she hit the tyre stack, she fell back to last position and would also finish the race in last position.
Further down the field, Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes S) was battling for sixth position with Gary Paffett (Thomas Sabo AMG Mercedes), the Briton already had problems during the warm-up session in the morning, and the problems continued to plague him during the race, although the Briton initially kept Schumacher behind him, he eventually finished the race in ninth position. On lap 11 it was time for the first series of pit stops.
The pit stops decided the race
Rockenfeller, Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg), David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes) and Susie Stoddart (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes) were the first to pit, Rockenfeller made a super fast pit stop, which proved to be the decisive moment of the race. Both Scottish drivers Coulthard and Stoddart battled for position at the pit lane exit, but Stoddart kept her foot down and Coulthard lost one place.
On lap 12 Dutchman Renger van der Zande (stern AMG Mercedes) and Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior) pitted, but more importantly, Spengler missed the call from his team to come in due to a misunderstanding, and the Canadian came in one lap later together with Green and Scheider. It was a normal pit stop for Spengler, but this one extra lap was in fact what decided the race, Spengler joined the race behind Rockenfeller who had pitted one lap earlier and was never able to get closer to the German -- let alone close enough to overtake him.
One lap later Tomczyk and Schumacher tangled at the pit lane exit after their pit stop, the incident was investigated by the marshals but it was decided it was a normal race incident and both drivers escaped a penalty. Ekstrom and his team had adapted an alternative pit stop strategy, and after all drivers had pitted, the Swede led the field and was followed by Rockenfeller, Spengler, Green, Scheider, Mortara, Tomczyk and Paffett. Spengler and Rockenfeller were equally fast, but Scheider now came closer and closer to Spengler, while Tomczyk closed in on Mortara, not much later he overtook the Italian rookie just before the second series of pit stops.
The order of the race changed again when drivers pulled into the pit lane for their second stop, Paffett and Stoddart were the first to pit, one lap later followed by Scheider, Mortara, Schumacher and Coulthard. The Scottish ex-Formula One driver was a little bit too fast on his way out and was found guilty of speeding in the pit lane, and had to come in once more for a driver-through penalty.
On lap 22 Spengler, Green and van der Zande made their second pit stop, Spengler came out first followed by Green, and both drivers rejoined the race just ahead of Scheider. On lap 24 it was time for Rockenfeller to make his second and final pit stop, but he almost lost the lead again to Spengler when his pit crew made a small mistake and his stop took almost twice as long as his first stop. Fortunately for him he had already build up a gap to Spengler and ‘Rocky’ emerged from the pit lane still ahead of Spengler.
The last two drivers to make their second pit stop were Tomczyk and Ekstrom, on lap 30 both entered the pit lane, Tomczyk’s stop was quick and he exited the pit lane just a few meters ahead of Scheider. The pair went into the Tarzan corner side by side, but Tomczyk fiercely defended his position and left Scheider behind him just before the Gerlach corner.
With now only 11 laps to go, Rockenfeller was still leading the race, with Spengler, Green, Tomczyk, Scheider, Mortara, Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes), Ekstrom, Paffett and Schumacher behind him. Tomczyk put the pressure on Green ahead of him, and on lap 35 the pair went side by side into the Tarzan corner -- one of the favorite overtaking spots at Zandvoort -- and again it was Tomczyk who won the battle, Green tried to regain his position but ran wide at the Gerlach corner and had to give up his attempts to overtake Tomczyk.
With now only six laps to go, Tomczyk had set his sight on Spengler who was still in second position behind Rockenfeller, he came closer and closer, but Spengler saw the danger and defended his position. While they were fighting the pair came closer and closer to Rockenfeller, but the German kept his cool and didn’t panic, he kept them behind him and crossed the finish line in first position and scored his maiden DTM victory. Spengler finished in second, Tomczyk in third, Green in fourth and Scheider in fifth position.
Mortara finished in sixth position and scored points in his second DTM race ever. Ekstrom once again showed his class and determination to finish in eight position, while Paffett, who always had been quick at Zandvoort, finished in ninth position, and was followed by countryman Jarvis who completed the top ten.
This time it was Norbert Haug, Vice-President of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, who had to admit defeat. “Congratulations to Audi and to Rockenfeller on his first DTM victory which was well deserved. Bruno’s car was having radio problems throughout the race, so he didn’t hear the call from the team in time for his first pit stop. If he’d stopped one lap earlier, he would have kept the lead, though we might have lost this on the second stop anyway.”
If he’d stopped one lap earlier, he would have kept the lead
Head of Audi Motors Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich was pleased with the first win of the season, “Despite the fact that qualifying wasn’t optimal we knew that our performance is good. We were optimistic that we’d even be able to win from the second row of the grid.” And added, “On the whole, our cars were very quick today - thanks to the great job and hard work done by the whole squad. ‘Rocky’ drove a commanding race. Martin (Tomczyk) attacked superbly.”
Again the ever continuing battle between Audi and Mercedes, plus the many overtaking maneuvers spectators witnessed at the Zandvoort circuit, provided a thrilling second round of the German DTM championship. Spengler is still leading the championship with 18 points, followed by Rockenfeller and Tomczyk (both 10 points), Ekstrom and Scheider are fourth and fifth with both nine points, and Green completes the top six with seven points.
Next race is in three weeks at the Austrian circuit of Spielberg, where Audi and Mercedes will once again fight for the victory.