By Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
Summer fun for DTM drivers in Munich
Not a real DTM race this weekend, but a show event at the Munich Olympic Stadium in Germany, which in the past has been the stage of numerous major sport events like the 1972 Summer Olympics, the 1974 Football World Cup, the 1988 Football European Cup, the 2002 Track and Field Athletics World Championship, and in 2011 the stage for the DTM summer show event, especially organized for the DTM fans.
Organizers have laid down a 1.192 km long track, truly a Mickey Mouse circuit with many very tight corners. The track has a slower infield section with very narrow turns and a pit lane area, while the second outside section is faster and has two straights. The concrete walls are always close by, and many cameras mounted on the side of the cars did not survive the ordeal.
The set-up of the race for today was simple: the Audi drivers race each other, and also the Mercedes drivers race each other in a knock-out race, the winner goes to next round, and the best driver of each marque ends in the final, so one Mercedes driver and one Audi driver go to the final heat. The big difference with other stadium race events like the famous Race Of Champions (ROC), is that all drivers race in their own car, the very same car they race in on the DTM circuits, and not in different cars or show cars.
Today was a qualification day, in the morning the fans could hear the roaring engines echoing through the stadium for the first time, as drivers started for the prologue to determine who the two slowest cars were, as only the 16 fastest cars would enter the afternoon session for the quarter and semi finals. Ralf Schumacher was the fastest Mercedes driver while Edoardo Mortara was the fastest Audi driver. Canadian Bruno Spengler had originally been the fastest Mercedes driver, but was handed a two-second penalty for jumping the start.
Susie Stoddart (Mercedes) and Miguel Molina (Audi) were side-lined, Stoddart was the slowest of the Mercedes drivers, and Molina crashed during the last lap of his three-lap heat.
Thus 16 drivers headed to the afternoon quarter and semi finals, where the race was really on and two drivers of the same marque raced each other for three laps for a place in the quarter finals. Biggest surprise was Dutchman Renger van der Zande, who beat his Mercedes colleague Gary Paffett with almost one second.
Another surprise in the Mercedes camp was David Coulthard, who beat Christian Vietoris. But not without problems, Coulthard jumped the start, and was also handed a two-second penalty, but the Scot nevertheless won his heat. Coulthard jokingly commented, “I gave the starter money to switch the lights to green on the count of three, but he didn’t do it, so I’m going to get my money back now.”
In the last Mercedes heat Spengler won from Jamie Green, and was the fourth Mercedes driver to make it into the quarter finals.
In the Audi camp Mortara won his heat with Rahal Frey, Swede Mattias Ekstrom was faster than Timo Scheider, while favorite Martin Tomczyk was beaten by Briton Oliver Jarvis. Mike Rockenfeller was the fourth Audi driver to go to the quarter finals after winning the last heat from Filipe Albuquerque.
Apart form lapping the circuit three times, drivers now also had to make a pit stop in the quarter finals, and change all four wheels, which made the heat extra exciting and spectacular for the fans.
Mortara and Ekstrom were the first Audi drivers to battle for a position in the semi finals, a battle convincingly won by rookie Mortara, Ekstrom made a few mistakes and brushed the wall several times, and was ultimately 1.875s slower than the Italian. The second Audi driver to go to the semi finals was Rockenfeller who won from Jarvis, who had a car problem and was almost 15 seconds slower than the German.
Spengler won his heat with Schumacher, while Van der Zande again impressed and beat Coulthard, who this time had no problems with the start, but was just slower. Van der Zande was already faster than Coulthard at the first stage of the heat, and after the pit stop Van der Zande set the best lap time of the quarter finals, and beat Coulthard at the finish line with 1.648s.
Semi Final and Super Final
Hence for Audi, Mortara and Rockenfeller reached the semi finals, and Spengler and Van der Zande represented Mercedes.
First on track were Audi drivers Mortara and Rockenfeller, the Italian made no bones about it and beat Rockenfeller with 2.103s. The second semi final was between Van der Zande and Spengler, the first lap both were equally fast, but Van der Zande made a costly mistake and drove into Spengler’s pit area. As a result, Spengler also got confused and drove into Van der Zande’s pit, but compared to Van der Zande, it didn’t cost him that much time to rectify his mistake and he won the heat.
During the last heat, the Superfinal, Spengler and Mortara battled it out during a five-lap race, again with a mandatory pit stop. Mortara was leading with 0.224s after two laps, and took a lot of risks driving as close as possible along the concrete walls. During his pit stop he took another three-tenths of a second, lost two-tenths again during the last two laps, and finally crossed the finish line 0.366s ahead of Spengler.
Spengler certainly had fun today, “It is mega fun here, it is also very special when it is so close as with Edoardo.” Winner Mortara, without a doubt the surprise of the day, commented, “It was so, so close every time. It was a great race, it was unbelievable!”
Today was the qualifying event, tomorrow the race is on again at the Munich Olympic Stadium, and all drivers get a second chance to show their skills in front of many thousands of spectators.