Through the two practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, it had looked as if Audi had their cars set up the best for the Hockenheimring circuit, but when the showdown finished, it was Gary Paffett taking pole position for Mercedes with a lap time of 1:33.214 for tomorrow's race, the 2010 DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) season opener.
"The car was good from the very beginning," Paffett recalled. "I continuously improved, and I could close up to the front runners. After the first qualifying heat, I was quite happy, and after the third heat, I had a really good feeling."
Paffett, the championship runner-up last year, had looked oddly off pace as the weekend started, running 12th in the first practice session and 8th in the second. He steadily improved his lap times, though, and by Q1 he was sixth, and then followed that up with fifth second-fastest times in Q2 and Q3 -- and the fastest of all when it counted, in the final segment.
"We will try to score as many points as possible," said Paffett. "But of course, we want to win the race!"
0.076 seconds behind Paffett was Audi's Martin Tomczyk, the DTM veteran starting his 10th season for Audi (in addition to his rookie year with Opel in 2000). Tomczyk has been nothing if not consistent this weeked, setting top times in each of the practice sessions and in Q1, and top-three times in the remaining qualifying segments. Paffett, though, was just a little bit too much for the German in the final session.
"Our preparation was good and it looks like that is paying off now," Tomczyk reflected after qualifying. "From the first lap onwards, everything went quite well. I hope that that continues tomorrow."
After Audi's dominance in practice, it was happy days for Mercedes and team chief Norbert Haug as the Stuttgart team took three of the four spots in final qualifying. After the intrusion of Tomczyk's Audi next to Paffett, the second row holds the Mercedes of Bruno Spengler and Jamie Green. Spengler was just 0.029 seconds off Tomczyk's pace, while Green, in the best 2008-spec car, was a further 0.070 second behind.
Mattias Ekstrom, who won the 2007 and 2008 season openers for Audi, and who might have taken 2009 as well had it not been for a late-race puncture, just barely missed the final qualifying segment, having clocked a time 0.079 seconds slower than Spengler in Q3. Reaching the top of the podium will be much harder from fifth on the grid, though, and especially with three Mercedes drivers in front of him.
"It was my own fault," Ekstrom admitted. "I made a mistake on the crucial lap before the hairpin. But starting from P5 means that anything's possible in the race. I'll be fighting for a podium!"
Paul di Resta, took sixth place for Mercedes, 0.269 seconds behind Ekstrom. Audi's Oliver Jarvis, now driving a current-spec Audi, claimed seventh, and Mike Rockenfeller, in the first of the 2008-spec Audis, was seventh.
Time Scheider, the 2008 and 2009 champion, struggled in the first qualifying session of the year. The stewards took away his fast lap time in Q1 after the Audi driver ran wide in Turn One, and he had to go back out for a last-gasp run -- good enough for fifth in that segment. But he missed making it through to Q3, losing to Green by 0.101 seconds in the second segment, and will have to start from ninth on the grid.
"This morning, we had problems with the front axle," he explained. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to completely solve them before qualifying."
Further back in the field, it was a disappointing qualifying session for David Coulthard, as the former Formula One star made his DTM debut for Mercedes. With a best lap of 1:34.791, the Scot could do no better than 17th -- one spot behind former F1 rival Ralf Schumacher. The two ex-F1 drivers missed Q2 by 0.679 and 0.249 seconds, respectively.
Both were bettered by the two newcomers to the series: Miguel Molina will start 13th for Audi, and Congfu Cheng will line up next to him in 14th, for Mercedes.