Bruno Spengler is beginning to look like the favourite for the 2010 DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) title, as the Canadian added a victory at EuroSpeedway Lausitz to his two second places so far this year. The Canadian has scored 26 of possible 30 points in the first three races of the season, and his consistency has given him a commanding early lead in the championship chase.
"Winning here really is an incredibly good feeling -- I have given my girlfriend a nice birthday present today," Spengler smiled after the race. "Every year, I have said that I want to win the championship. Perhaps, this year I won't say it -- even though it is my goal!"
At Lausitz, Spengler started second -- he has qualified in the top three in each of the races so far -- behind Mercedes teammate Paul di Resta, who proved to be the main challenger for Spengler: the Scot held position from the start, with Spengler behind him, and they were followed by the third Mercedes of Paul Green.
Top Audi qualifier Mattias Ekstrom had started from third on the grid, but his race was short: he got away slowly, losing a handful of positions, and then in the fifth turn he was tapped by Audi teammate Alexandre Premat. Worse, Ekstrom spun into the Audi of 2008-2009 champion Timo Scheider, and then was hit by ex-F1 driver David Coulthard, who could not avoid the incident.
"This is the worst thing that can happen," rued Audi motorsport director, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich. "Our two best-placed drivers in the championship collide. Something like that really shouldn't happen in a team."
Ironically, his feelings were very similar to those of Red Bull F1 team principal Christian Horner last weekend -- and Red Bull is one of the main sponsors of the Audi DTM effort.
The three separate impacts brought out the safety car, and ensured that the damage to Ekstrom's car was such that he had no option but to call it a day. Premat and Coulthard would eventually retire as well, while Scheider ended up at the back of the field after an unplanned pit stop to repair the damage.
"I had a bad start," Ekstrom summed the first lap. "But after the first few corners I thought it all would be OK. Then my car was hit on the rear and I turned. I thought it would have no major consequences, except that my car stopped -- but then I met David Coulthard!"
On the restart, di Resta stayed ahead of Spengler and Green, followed by the Mike Rockenfeller in now the top Audi, and Mercedes driver Gary Paffett, who had moved from ninth to fifth in the excitement of the first lap. Spengler was not able to apply pressure on di Resta at this point, and the latter slowly edged away through the first round of pit stops, building a three-second lead by the midway point of the race.
Lap 34 was the decisive one, though: as di Resta pulled into the pit lane, Spengler began to push hard, to take maximum advantage of the one lap of clear track he had. In the meantime, the Mercedes pit crew lost precious seconds with a stubborn rear wheel bolt on di Resta's car, and when the Canadian made his stop on the following lap, he was able to exit the pits in front of the erstwhile leader, di Resta.
"I had everything under control, but on my second pit stop I lost a lot of time and fell back to second place," di Resta explained. "After the pole position and such a good a race that's of course disappointing. But I'm second in the standings and the season is still long."
In the final stint Spengler seemed to be able to pull away with ease, and his winning margin was 4.542 seconds, with Green hot on di Resta's heels, just 0.181 seconds further back as the two crossed the line in near-formation.
Rockenfeller took fourth and five valuable points for Audi, three seconds adrift of the di Resta-Green battle. Driving a 2008-spec car, like Green, he was never quite able to match Green's pace, and instead spent much of the race fending of Paffett's advances. Once Paffett's pace dropped off in the final stint, Rockenfeller pulled a little bit closer to Green, and finished four seconds in front of Paffett.
"I had to fight hard with the two first sets of tires, because Gary (Paffett) was hanging behind me and applied a lot of pressure," Rockenfeller recounted. "By the third set of tires things went really well, I was able to drive away from Gary. The team has produced a great performance: both pit stops were great, and the strategy was perfect."
Martin Tomczyk, disqualified from second place last race at Valencia, fought back from another low grid position -- tenth this time -- to finish sixth, three seconds behind Paffett, but 1.8 in front of Suzie Stoddart, who was overjoyed to score her first career DTM points.
"Today's points are a way to thank all those who kept their faith in me and kept supporting me," she said after the race, referring to her five-year career in the DTM.
Scheider, who had taken the restart from the tail of the field, fought back and made good progress up into the midfield, but was not able to make up the gap to Stoddart: the gap between the two was a solid nine seconds at the chequered flag.
It was another Mercedes 1-2-3, then, and that also puts the Stuttgart marque into a 1-2-3 lead in the drivers' championship battle: Spengler leads with his 26 points, and di Resta and Paffett follow with 17 and 16, respectively. The top Audi driver, Ekstrom, is fourth with 13 points, and is followed by the duo of Green and Rockenfeller, tied at 12 points each.
The DTM teams and drivers now take a four-week break -- first of two such breaks this summer -- and will return to action at the Norisring on the first weekend of July.