Audi's Martin Tomczyk kept his cool in a race full of incidents at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya and took his maiden DTM victory from pole position. Championship leader Bernd Schneider had a fair few scraps to bring his Mercedes home second, preventing an Audi podium wipeout, while Heinz-Harald Frentzen managed to keep out of too much trouble and his Audi took the flag in third.
There were plenty of fights through the field on the 2.95 km short track and although turn one had caused some concern in regard to possible accidents, it was La Caixa corner that saw a lot of action. Tomczyk made a clean getaway from Audi teammates Frentzen and Tom Kristensen, while Schneider hung on to fourth.
Everyone got through the first corner, with a little pushing and shoving, but come the approach to La Caixa it went a bit pear-shaped towards the back of the field. To hazard a guess at the order of events: Christian Abt's year-old Audi appeared to clip the 2004 version of Nicolas Kiesa, which nosed into the barrier and bounced off.
Kiesa then collected teammate Vanina Ickx and the 2005 Audi of Pierre Kaffer. It seems that Stefan M?cke, Bruno Spengler and Jamie Green's Mercedes also got tangled up in it and the safety car was deployed. There was a lot of debris and even a wheel or two escaping the scene; Green was first in the pits and retired, along with Kaffer, Ickx and Kiesa.
After four laps the safety car went in and off they went again. Tomczyk led from Frentzen, Kristensen and Schneider, then came Frank Stippler's year-old Audi, Mika H?kkinen's Mercedes, the Audi of Mattias Ekstr?m and Timo Scheider's 2005 Audi rounded off the top eight. The 2005 Mercedes' of Alexandros Margaritis and Jean Alesi made up the top 10.
Schneider dived up the inside of Kristensen at La Caixa and got past for third, earning himself a couple of whacks from the Audi in return. Alesi rudely punted Scheider as they tussled, causing the younger man to take a trip to the pits, and H?kkinen got caught up in it and went off track -- again at La Caixa. Scheider managed to return but soon retired for good.
Schneider homed in on Frentzen and they pushed and elbowed for a while until Schneider took advantage when the Audi went wide and locked up. By then Spengler, who had started 19th, was up to ninth and the 2004 spec Mercedes of Mathias Lauda to 10th. Ekstr?m was closing on Kristensen and they both got past Frentzen somewhere unseen.
The points order was then Tomczyk, Schneider, Kristensen, Ekstr?m, Frentzen, Stippler, Margaritis and Spengler up to eighth until he was the first to take a scheduled pit stop. Kristensen got a black and white "behave yourself" flag, presumably for thumping Schneider, yet other incidents went by without comment. Perhaps there were just too many to keep track of who did what.
The formation at the front held for a while , with 2.3 seconds between Tomczyk and Schneider, then Ekstr?m shot past Kristensen down the inside of the pit straight and turn one. Was Kristensen experiencing problems? After all, he is a championship contender and Ekstr?m is not, so it was a little unusual to see Ekstr?m get past so easily.
Pit stops were coming and going and Alesi got a drive through penalty for causing a collision. It was not stated with whom but perhaps it was the Scheider incident. Schneider took his stop and had a slight delay on the air jack, which could well have lost him just enough time for Tomczyk to regain the lead once the Audi man took his stop. Spengler took his second stop while others were on their first, so the order was not straightforward.
By that time it was Ekstr?m and Daniel la Rosa's 2005 Mercedes at the head of the field but they had yet to stop. H?kkinen was trying to find a way past Alesi and Alesi appeared to slam on the anchors very abruptly, causing H?kkinen to take avoiding action, while on the pit wall Norbert Haug looked less than impressed. Kristensen spun but managed to keep going and dived into the pits.
Meanwhile, Ekstr?m had taken his stop, leaving la Rosa in the lead, and was harassing Schneider. He got past for third then Schneider went in for his second stop. Tomczyk made his second visit to the pits at the same time as de la Rosa made his first and they rejoined the track with la Rosa ahead. Tomczyk made short work of the Mercedes to get ahead.
Ekstr?m's second stop was slightly long and he rejoined behind Schneider so had to get past him all over again. He shoved the back of the Mercedes a couple of times until Schneider went a bit wide and the Audi went by. Ekstr?m earned a drive through penalty for his efforts so it was all for nothing anyway.
Virtual leader Frentzen took his second stop and rejoined behind Spengler. There was a bit of pushing and shoving and they went side by side then eventually Frentzen got ahead. It was another dubious bit of action but Frentzen escaped penalty. Kristensen, meanwhile, had another off track excursion through the gravel which dropped him to eighth.
Kristensen then fell to la Rosa, while Ekstr?m was homing in on Spengler. He had a go at La Caixa but locked up and had to back off. At the front Tomczyk also locked up and Schneider closed in, sensing a chance for victory. But it was wasted when the Mercedes went wide into the gravel and Schneider lost the ground he had gained.
In the closing laps Ekstr?m finally got past Spengler for fourth but there was not enough time left to aim for the podium. Tomczyk took his first DTM win in fine style and Schneider's second place, coupled with Kristensen's non-points finish, puts the defending champion 18 points ahead of his Audi rival in the standings with two races to go.
"I made a good start and drove away at the front," said Tomczyk. "Even after the Safety Car period my car handled perfectly. I drove my own race and hardly noticed what happened behind me. Maybe it was better like this, since it appeared to be very turbulent back there. At about half-distance I overtook several Mercedes drivers without any problems or contacts".
"The brakes lost a little efficiency towards the end, so I took things a little easier but still managed to lock my brakes twice which enabled Bernd (Schneider) to close up. However, he also made a mistake. Afterwards I was able to count down the laps to my first win."
Schneider was happy to extend his championship lead. "I started well, but after being hit by Tom Kristensen, my car was severely damaged at the rear and I struggled with oversteer," he commented. "During my second pitstop, my team reacted well and changed the tyre pressure, which reduced the problem a bit. I had never expected to post the fastest lap of the race with this car."
Frentzen thought it was an "interesting" race. "I'd hoped that Tom (Kristensen) would make a good start and make his way to the front. Afterwards the race was a little more complicated than I'd anticipated. I nevertheless drove on the limit and still managed to finish on the podium. It's a good result. The car ran very well for the entire weekend. A big thank you goes out to the complete team."
Ekstr?m drove a bold race but his drive-through -- he blamed the incident on Schneider -- cost him a podium finish. Spengler made a great effort to finish fifth after starting from the back row, while Stippler, la Rosa and Margaritis, in year-old cars, made up the points positions. Kristensen trailed home ninth and Abt rounded out the top 10.
The DTM is a good series but in recent years it's lost a little of its madness and unpredictability. That's not necessarily a bad thing but from a spectator point of view it's not as thrilling as it used to be. Barcelona was an exciting race and was reminiscent of those chaotic previous years, which made a welcome change.