By Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Spengler takes pole position for Mercedes
- Difficult return for Mike Rockenfeller
- Mattias Ekstrom fastest of the Audi drivers
Round five of the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) takes place at the Norisring Street Circuit in Nuremberg, Germany, a street circuit in the true sense of the word. But above all, it is a stop-and-go circuit, with two long straights, two very short hairpins, one chicane and only one smooth faster corner.
It is the only street circuit on the calendar, and also the shortest track overall. The circuit is only 2.3 km long and the DTM drivers have to lap it 82 times, and cross the finish line after completing a total distance of 88.6 km.
Bruno Spengler (Mercedes-Benz Bank AMG) has won this race before, and holds the current lap record, which he set in 2008 for Mercedes, it took him 48.446 seconds to lap the circuit. It will therefore be no surprise the Canadian is looking forward to this weekend, “The Norisring is one of my favorite circuits. I’ve celebrated two race wins there, and secured a total of five podiums.” An he added, “Therefore, I’m just delighted with having the chance of racing in Nuremberg again. As always, I will prepare assiduously and give my very best to once again secure a top result.”
Asked about his expectations for the race he replied: “In the championship I’m just a point behind the leader, Martin Tomczyk, and in a championship featuring racing as close as witnessed in the current DTM season you quickly can turn the tables.”
For Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix), who won the last two races, it will be important to keep up with his nearest rivals Spengler and Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt), but thinks it could be difficult in a year-old car. “Many people are asking me whether we’ll be able to continue our form. That’s hard to say because the Norisring has been a tough track for us in the past nine years,” the 29-year old German said. “Jamie [Green] has won there before in a year-old car. I’m hoping for us to be able to do that too. It wouldn’t be bad if a year-old Audi car won there for a change.”
For Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) it will be his first return to DTM after his horrific accident during the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and for Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) an opportunity to hopefully shake off the bad luck that has haunted him so far this season.
Friday and Saturday Practice
Due to the heavy rain earlier in the morning, the first free 90-minute practice session kicked off on a very wet circuit. Initially Audi drivers Filipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) and Tomczyk were fastest on the track, but after conditions had improved, Mercedes was fastest with Spengler, Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes) and Christian Vietoris (Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes). But not for long, soon the Audis were again topping the time sheets when the circuit dried out, and speaking of change of luck, it was Ekstrom who recorded a fastest time of 48.867s, and was followed by Oliver Jarvis (Sport Team Abt) who was just 0.015s slower than the Swede.
Fastest Mercedes driver was Engel, and he was followed by his Mercedes colleagues Vietoris and Spengler, while Susie Stoddart (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes) took sixth place. The first sixteen were within six-tenth of a second, only Rahal Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) and Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes) were way of the pace, especially Schumacher, who was on pole last year, recorded a poor performance, he was two seconds slower than Ekstrom, and two seconds is a lot on a 2.3 km long circuit.
Mercedes struck back on Saturday, Spengler was fastest with a time of 48.138, while Engel and Schumacher took second and third place for Mercedes. First Audi driver was again Ekstrom, he was just 0.055s slower than Spengler. Briton Jarvis took fifth place and was followed by two other Audi drivers: Tomczyk and Scheider.
Again the times showed how competitive DTM is, all 18 drivers were within 0.813s of the leader. Fastest rookie of the morning was Vietoris, who took ninth place, and directly behind him another rookie, Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) finished in tenth place. Rockenfeller was 13th, and David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes) was 18th and last, as his Mercedes encountered technical problems with his steering towards the end of the session and had to park his car on the circuit.
Qualifying started under a cloudy sky, Portugese Albuquerque kicked off the first qualifying session and was the first to set a time. Some rain had been forecasted and all drivers decided not to take any chances and quickly went out on the circuit to at least record one timed lap. With ten minutes still to go in Q1, Vietoris, Coulthard and Dutchman Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes) were leading the field. But soon the top drivers also emerged from the pit lane, and Mercedes drivers Spengler, Engel, Schumacher and Green were dicing for the top four positions.
With five minutes remaining Spengler, Engel, Schumacher, Mortara, Paffett and Ekstrom were leading the pack, Mercedes then ordered their drivers back into the pits as they didn’t want to waste their tyres. Championship leader Tomczyk went out for another quick lap as he was on a disappointing 14th place, but didn’t get any further than 12th place. Not a good qualifying for returnee Rockenfeller who also squeezed out a last fast lap during the final stages of Q1, but the German could not improve his time and landed a very disappointing 17th place on tomorrow’s start grid. Together with Rockenfeller, Stoddart, Albuquerque and Frey didn’t make it into the second session.
Rockenfeller was happy to be back but said, “I’ve got to honestly say that things couldn’t have gone much worse today than they did. Being on the last row after having been among the top five at all the other events this year is very frustrating. I had no grip whatsoever and was much too slow.”
Tomczyk was out first in Q2, a ten-minute qualifying session, and set the first time despite brushing the wall. Again the same Mercedes drivers were dicing for the top positions, but after a very fast and flawless lap it was Ekstrom again who took the leading position for Audi. With five minutes still to go Ekstrom was pushed back to sixth and Paffett was leading Q2, followed by Spengler, Green, Schumacher, Mortara and Ekstrom. With just a little over three minutes to go, it was the right time to pit for fresh tyres for the final push in Q2.
Tomczyk again pushed hard and brushed the wall once more, this time losing his right rearview mirror. Despite the German’s efforts he didn’t make it into Q3, neither did Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior), Jarvis, Vietoris, Coulthard and van der Zande.
For Tomczyk things didn’t work out as planned. “The tires didn’t work the way they had been so far this weekend. I wasn’t able to make use of grip from the first lap on, that’s why our strategy didn’t fit - but there was no way we could have known that before,” he explained.
The third qualifying session thus started with eight drivers, Spengler soon recorded the fastest lap, but Ekstrom showed his strong form once again and recorded a lap of 48.058s, at that moment the fastest time of the day. But the skies above the Norisring became darker, and soon it was raining, first a light drizzle, and then heavy rain. With now only five minutes to go, Schumacher went out to see if he could go faster, but reported over the radio to his team ‘forget it’ and came straight back into the pits.
The rain made it impossible to improve the lap times, and Schumacher, Engel, Scheider and Mortara did not make it to the final shoot-out.
Scheider about his seventh place on the grid, “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to improve any more afterwards when the first rain drops fell. Mattias [Ekström] on the other hand managed to do it and, for Norisring conditions, made a huge leap forward. I’ve got to analyze how that happened. Nothing’s lost with seventh place.”
We still have a good chance starting from fifth position
Schumacher was a little disappointed, “It was very close in qualifying. It’s a pity that I didn’t make it into the top four, but we had a difficult day on Friday and I had very little track time, so I’m glad that today went so well. It could have been much worse. We still have a good chance starting from fifth position.”
Just before Q4 the rain stopped and Paffett was the first of the remaining four to venture out on the track for his one-lap shoot-out. The track had become a bit treacherous as it was still wet, one tiny mistake and the chance to score a fast lap was gone. Paffett warmed up his tyres, started his lap, got really close to the ever present concrete walls and finished his lap in 48.418s.
Next was Spengler, he soon made no bones about it and was faster than Paffett in all sectors and although he locked up his front wheels at the hairpin, still recorded a lap of 48.222. The third of the Mercedes drivers in the shoot-out was Green, he was faster in the first two sectors, but made a small error and crossed the finish line in third place.
The only one left who could snatch the pole position from Spengler was Ekstrom, but he also made a major when he braked too late for the first hairpin, and lost three tenths of a second in the first sector, he would not recover and finished fourth, 0.371s behind Spengler.
Of course Spengler was excited with his pole position, “I’m very happy with my performance today. The lap times on this circuit are incredibly close, and it’s really important to start from pole here. I was already into a good rhythm during free practice, and if we can show the same pace in the race, I’m in with a very good chance of claiming my third win at the Norisring.”
Second place man Paffett lost pole with 0.196s, “Of course, I would prefer to be on pole, but second place is a very good result. My times were improving all the way through qualifying and my Thomas Sabo AMG Mercedes C-Class performed very well. I like the track and hope to have a good race.”
It was an absolute dream session: three C-Classes in the top three
For Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, a great day with four of his drivers in the top five. “It was an absolute dream session: three C-Classes in the top three grid positions. It was a super lap from Bruno to take pole position. We really couldn’t ask for more -- today was an A grade with distinction. My thanks to all of our teams, who have done a marvelous job here at the Norisring,” the German said.
Ekstrom was disappointed with fourth place, "Fourth place is okay but far from good. Q4 was disappointing. I braked too hard in front of the first turn and didn’t have enough grip. The tires and the brakes were simply still too cold. With a good start I could manage to overtake all three Mercedes cars in front of me in the race."
Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, "As expected, qualifying here was not about hundredths but thousandths of a second.” And added, "In Q2 the quickest eight were within just 0.114 seconds of each other - that says everything about how extremely close the performance in the field is. Mattias (Ekström) made it into Q4 and had the chance to clinch the pole position for Audi. This shows that the A4 DTM is competitive at the Norisring - even though our rivals have traditionally been particularly strong here. We’ll try and put them under pressure tomorrow and fight for victory despite our starting base not being all that good."