It had been a long time: the 2008 and 2009 DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) champion Timo Scheider had not won a race since the Catalunya round in September of 2009 -- and Audi had not beaten Mercedes since the second round of the 2010 season. Scheider took care of both today with a strong drive to win at a damp Adria International Raceway from 15th on the grid.
"I had a great start and at the end of the first lap, as the race was stopped due to Alexandre Premat's accident, I already was in seventh place," Scheider smiled. "Before the start, I said to my team as a joke that this could become the best race of my life. And now I have won! Unbelievable!"
Indeed, the start was key to Scheider's success, given how challenging passing can be with the evenly-matched DTM cars. The Audis of Markus Winkelhock and Martin Tomczyk touched at the start, and then erstwhile championship leader Paul di Resta made contact with Mike Rockenfeller.
That took three cars out of Scheider's way -- Winkelhock was able to continue -- and when Maro Engel bumped with Premat, sending the latter into a fierce barrel-roll, Scheider was able to weave his way through the decimated mid-field and move into seventh before the red flag came out for Premat's accident.
Premat was shaken by the force of the accident, but exited the car under his own power, seemignly unhurt. He was taken to hospital for observation as a precaution, but the safety of the DTM cars' structure appears to have protected him well.
Some twenty minutes later, the stewards restarted the race, and Scheider quickly made his way past Winkelhock to secure sixth place.
Rain set in some six laps later, but it appears that the race's quota of chaos has already been reached, as the onset of precipitation did not trigger any additional incidents. But neither did it stop Scheider's progress: on the 13th lap the German veteran made a move to get past both Jamie Green and Oliver Jarvis to take fourth and was behind only Bruno Spengler, Gary Paffett and Mattias Ekstrom.
Paffett then gifted another position to Scheider: a failed attempt to get past Spengler into the lead ended with the two Mercedes trading paint. Paffett came off the incident worst, as he spun, losing places to Ekstrom and Scheider.
Spengler dropped into the pits for new tires on the next lap, with Ekstrom and Paffett following on the next round. Scheider, though, stayed out, taking advantage of the clear track and setting a stonking pace on tires that were now 20 laps older than those of his competitors.
"I was able to advance superbly on the first laps," Scheider recalled the event. "After that, the guys did a perfect job. The key today was that I was able to drive for an extremely long time on used tires."
In fact, Scheider stayed out until lap 31, when others had already started their second round of stops -- and then made his second stop just two laps later. At the end of the stops, there was little question of the lead, and Scheider took the victory by a convincing 8.912-second margin over Paffett in what was clearly the drive of the day. Maybe even "the drive of the lifetime," as Scheider said.
The win was over Paffett, though, not Spengler: the Briton finally made his way past Spengler after the final pit stops. It was no longer a pass for victory, but critically it kept Paffett in the fight for the 2010 championship, at least mathematically.
"I knew that it would be very difficult," Paffett recalled. "The track is slippery and there was massive tyre wear. The important thing is that I have made it to the finish and that I have reduced the gap in the championship standings."
With Scheider's drive and his own struggles with grip, Spengler couldn't convert the early race lead into a win, and had to settle for third place. But as di Resta spent much of the afternoon recovering from incidents and ended up without a single point, Spengler is back in a familiar position atop the points standings.
"My start was great and I took the lead," he explained. "Later, my rear tyres didn't work so well anymore and I was sliding a lot. Only after my second pit stop the situation improved."
di Resta, who came into the race in the championship lead, started the race sixth, but ended up tangling with Rockenfeller as the latter tried to avoid a surging Oliver Jarvis. Di Resta's and Rockenfeller's cars were quickly repaired during the red-flag period, and the two rivals then began to work their way back through the field.
But with just half a dozen laps remaining, di Resta tried a move on Audi's rookie Miguel Molina, only to hit Molina's rear wheel. With the rear suspension broken, Molina failed to negotiate the turn, and slid into the Scot. di Resta was able to recover, but would finish in ninth place and out of the points as Ekstrom passed him for eighth on the final lap.
"I am disappointed," di Resta admitted. "It could have been a good race, but I dropped back again and again caused by some incidents. It was a crazy race with good opportunities for me, but now I am leaving with empty hands."
Ekstrom's mid-race third place, meanwhile, had been wiped out by a troubled first pit stop, which dropped him out of contention.
Instead, behind the three podium finishers were three Audis: Winkelhock, Jarvis and Tomczyk. Engel took seventh for Mercedes ahead of Ekstrom.
Spengler now takes a three-point championship lead into the season finale in Shanghai in four weeks time, with Paffett a further six points back. Paffett needs a DNF from both Spengler and di Resta -- but Spengler, a model of consistency this season, just needs to finish ahead of di Resta, or one place behind to claim his first DTM title.