Gary Paffett and Bruno Spengler have been the class of the 2010 DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) season, and it was no different today, as the two Mercedes drivers locked out the front row at the Adria International Raceway. Paffett edged his teammate by a single hundredth of a second on the twisty, compact Adria circuit to take the pole position -- one he needs desperately in order to have a shot at the championship.
"I felt comfortable already yesterday and was able to improve a little bit again and again," he said. "I will give it my all tomorrow, to be up front also at the end and to reduce the gap behind Paul (di Resta) in the overall ranking. My target is to keep my title chances alive."
Paffett was never the fastest in the three initial qualifying segments, but neither was he at risk of being eliminated. Slowly building up to the final single-lap qualifying segment, the Briton was ready when it mattered. Running first on the track, his time of 1:10.471 would not be matched; though Spengler, running last, came close.
Spengler, who has finished in the points in eight of the nine races so far, and on the podium in seven, has spent most of the season leading the championship standings. A disastrous weekend at Hockenheim a fortnight ago, though, dropped him behind di Resta, and he now needs to work to regain the lead -- and take the title.
The Canadian ace got his rhythm perfected by the third segment and set the fastest time there, giving him the final running spot for the shootout. It looked very good as he weaved his C-Class through the twists of the track, but for a small slip at the end of the lap, which surely cost him the pole position.
"At the end of my final lap I made a mistake under braking," Spengler admitted. "However, I stayed on the line and I don't think it cost me much time. I am happy with second place on the grid. I was in the single-lap qualifying a couple of times this year, but I never was on pole. Instead, I won twice and I hope I can repeat this tomorrow."
Critically for Spengler, the championship leader, di Resta never got his car set up quite right, and missed out on the final segment. Instead, he will start sixth, and will have to work hard if he is to prevent Spengler from making up the three-point deficit to the championship lead.
"I struggled throughout the weekend to get the maximum out of my car," di Resta explained. "In the end I lacked about a tenth of a second to make it to the single-lap qualifying."
Mattias Ekstrom took third for Audi as the Ingolstadt team's struggles continue. Ekstrom had already resigned himself to another disaster, as he was the "best of the rest" in the first segment and had not qualified to move on -- until Audi's 2008-2009 champion, Timo Scheider had his final time disallowed as the session had ended before that time was set.
Ekstrom made the best of the opportunity, and was second-fastest in the second and third segments, and then finally took third on the grid with a final lap that was 0.089 seconds off Paffett's pace.
"I thought that I was eliminated as early as after the first section," Ekstrom recalled. "Timo's misfortune of having crossed the line too late was my fortune and allowed me to move into the next round. Position three is surely not bad but frustrating if you look at the small gap. Anything's possible in the race tomorrow and the aim is clear: victory."
Jamie Green took fourth for Mercedes, and will start alongside Ekstrom. Meanwhile, Mike Rockenfeller impressed again in a 2008-spec Audi and took fifth, 0.038 seconds ahead of di Resta.
The race, the penultimate one of the 2010 DTM season, will take its start at 2 PM local time tomorrow.