By Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Tom Kristensen subs for Mike Rockenfeller
- Disappointing performance of Schumacher
- Spengler takes his third pole of the season
The German Touringcar Masters (DTM) this time headed to the EuroSpeedway Lausitz for round four of the DTM championship. The circuit is situated in the eastern part of Germany, only 50 km from the borders of Poland and the Czech Republic, which also means the race attracts many thousands of Polish and Czech DTM fans.
The circuit itself has several configurations, the DTM race will this year be on the 3.478 km long course, and drivers have to cover 52 laps or a little over 185 km to get to the finish on Sunday.
Leader in the Drivers' Championship is still Canadian Bruno Spengler (Mercedes-Benz Bank AMG), winner of the first race at Hockenheim, with 23 points, and is followed by Martin Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix), winner of the race at the Red Bull Ring. Third place is shared by Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline), winner of the race at Zandvoort, and Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes), who both scored 14 points.
Tom Kristensen subs for Mike Rockenfeller
Tom Kristensen makes a temporarily DTM come-back at Lausitz, as he subs for Mike Rockenfeller, who had a heavy crash during the 24 Hours of Le Mans last weekend and is now recovering at his home in Switzerland. The now 43-year old and eight-time Le Mans winner will the drive the number nine car of the Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline this weekend.
Kristensen about his unexpected return, “First of all I’m sorry for ‘Rocky’ that he will miss this race. I wish him a speedy recovery. After being out of the DTM for two years it will certainly be very tough to come back.” And the Dane continued, “When Dr. Ullrich called me it was self-evident for me to help Audi Sport in this situation. I’m looking forward to seeing all the old friends again and will try to substitute Rocky ‘as well as possible’.
Friday and Saturday Practice
As well as possible is exactly what he did, during the first free practice on Friday afternoon he showed he is still the master of going faster by setting a fastest time of 1m19.412s. Second on Friday was Tomczyk who was just 0.026s slower than Kristensen, while Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt) took third place with just 0.056s behind the number one. Fastest Mercedes driver on Friday was rookie Christian Vietoris for the Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes team. Again the lap times were an indication of how close the competition is in DTM, the whole field except Rahal Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) were within 0.872 of a second.
After the 90-minute practice session on Saturday morning, it was again an all Audi top three, the circuit was a little faster and Tomczyk set a fastest time of 1m18.912s, exactly half a second faster than on Friday. Rookie Filipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) took second and Oliver Jarvis (Audi Sport Team Abt) third place. Best-placed Mercedes driver was Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes). Again competition was close, the first 17 drivers were within 0.862s, while Frey was 18th, 1.148s behind Tomczyk. No surprise from Kristensen this time, as he recorded the 13th fastest time.
On a cold but dry track all eyes were on Kristensen again to see if he could set another top-time in Rockenfeller’s Audi. On his first timed lap he missed a corner in the infield section and had to take the escape road, but could continue qualifying. Not many drivers on track during the first ten minutes, but with eight minutes to go Jarvis, Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline), Scheider and Tomczyk were the fastest drivers.
With only six minutes to go Spengler topped the time sheets, but after most drivers had improved their time, the Canadian was in 11th position just ahead of rookie Dutchman Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes). Four drivers failed to make it into Q2: David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes), Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes), Schumacher and Frey.
Most remarkable was Schumacher’s 17th position, the ex-Formula One driver had a great season start and landed two podium positions, but today certainly wasn’t his day. “Things didn’t go right today. I haven’t yet got the feeling for the track. The C-Class is definitely good for more, as my team-mates have shown. it won't be easy from P17 on the grid, but is possible in the race, particularly if it rains,” Schumacher said.
The remaining 14 cars then took part in Q2, again Kristensen was out first, and judging to how close he ran along the Lausitz walls, he tried as hard as he could. With only five minutes to go, Green was fastest and was followed by Spengler and Ekstrom. Drivers now came in for new tyres, but Spengler had to wait in the pit lane until his team had found the right set of tyres and lost valuable time.
Meanwhile Kristensen had tried too hard and had ended up in the gravel trap in one of the corners of the infield section of the track. He managed to get out the gravel and could continue in Q2, and ended up in seventh place. This time it was Ekstrom who recorded the fastest lap of 1m19.004s, and was followed by Gary Paffett (Thomas Sabo AMG Mercedes) who was just 0.040s behind the Swede, and Green took third position, just 0.003s behind Paffett, again an indication of how close DTM racing is.
Kristensen was satisfied with his performance today, “We mustn’t forget why I’m here: to stand in for Mike Rockenfeller. I’m hearing that he’s doing much better and hope that he’ll soon be really fit again.” But times have changed he remarked, “They’re now using different tires here. It’s crucial to get the sector times together. my car was jumping a bit in turn one. That impaired my line a little. And on my second lap I had a bit too much oversteer. But in the end it was a good qualifying session."
Six drivers did not make it into Q3: Scheider, Vietoris, Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior), Eduardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg), van der Zande and Susie Stoddart (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes). A disappointing result for Audi’s Scheider, his missed Q3 with just 0.015s.
A disappointed Scheider said, “The team and I took a risk in the morning and tried out a different set-up. We then changed our mind again and used what the other guys were driving with. Maybe the truth is somewhere in between. We lost a lot of time in the last sector. Of course that’s very disappointing."
The third qualifying session was completely different as all drivers elected to stay in for the first five minutes because they did not want to waste a good set of tyres. With only four and a half minutes to go, all remaining eight drives raced out of the pit lane, and only had one run to set their qualifying time, one little mistake and it was over. Initially Spengler was fastest, but with just 10 seconds to go, Green improved Spengler’s time and recorded a lap time of 1m18.493s and thus was fastest in Q3. He was followed by Green, Tomczyk and Ekstrom. The last four did not make it into the final shoot-out, and Paffett, Jarvis, Kristensen and Albuquerque had to park their car in the garage.
All four remaining drivers were on used tyres for the final shoot-out, and Ekstrom was first to go out. He ran very clean through the corners, but did not manage to make it a complete flawless lap. Next was Tomczyk who attacked Ekstrom´s time. He was 0.070s faster in the first section, but just 0.016s slower in the second section and after he had crossed the finish line his lap was 0.031s slower than Ekstrom’s.
Next was Mercedes driver Spengler, who had a more aggressive approach which in the end paid off, as he recorded the fastest lap during the shoot-out. Only Green was able to spoil the party for Spengler, but although he was faster in the first section, he made a small mistake blocking his front wheels in the second section, and could not improve on Spengler’s time.
Spengler took pole position, Green was second and Ekstrom and Tomczyk took third an fourth position respectively. A good day for Spengler who didn’t budge under the pressure and convincingly took his third pole position of the season.
Spengler, “That was a great qualifying session! I’m very satisfied with my performance, especially as we had a difficult day yesterday and not everything went to plan.” He also thanked his team, “We improved steadily in qualifying, and Q4 was really good. I must say a big thank to my team for their strategy of only posting one flying lap in Q3, meaning we had fresher tyres in Q4. I now hope to secure my second win of the season tomorrow.”
Green about his second place on the grid, “Second on the grid is a good result. I made mistakes in the last two sectors, and that cost me time. Even so, starting from the front row means I have a great chance of winning the race tomorrow. This track seems to suit the C-Class perfectly, and I’m really satisfied with my car.”
Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, had plenty of reasons to be happy with the result. “DTM has never been this close and this exciting. That makes Bruno’s pole today even more valuable and Jamie Green’s second place gives us a front row lockout. Fifth-placed Gary Paffett on the third row of the grid is also in a good position,” he said. He was optimistic about tomorrow’s race, “we hope will be a strong race that would give us six wins in a row, and hopefully, our twelfth victory in the fourteenth race at this circuit.”
Head of Audi Motorsport, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, “We’ve got five Audi cars in the top eight, which underlines a good team performance. And in the last section of qualifying it was simply not possible for us to keep the pace of Mercedes.” And his expectations for tomorrow? “Two cars on the second row of the grid and five in the top eight is a good base for the race. It’ll probably be difficult but we’ll try everything.”