By Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Matias Ekstrom crashes in qualifying
- Eduardo Mortara fastest rookie
- Martin Tomczyk grabs pole position
The German Touringcar Masters (DTM) has traveled to Spielberg, Austria for round three of the popular championship. The old Spielberg circuit has had a complete revamp and on May 15 it opened its doors again as the ‘Red Bull Ring Spielberg’.
Red Bull owner Dieter Mateschitz bought the 4.326 km long circuit after the grand stands had been demolished after an earlier attempt to renew the circuit and the reconstruction began in 2008, the circuit has a long and rich Formula One history, and this weekend the circuit will host its first major motor sport event again.
Vice-President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Norbert Haug about the new circuit, “It’s wonderful to see this circuit available for use again and to have it back on the DTM calendar. Following the renovation work, the whole venue is much improved, so the Red Bull Ring is certain to make its return to racing in front of a packed house.”
Scot David Coulthard is familiar with the circuit, “I competed in all seven Formula One Grands Prix there between 1997 and 2003, and I won the race in 2001 with McLaren-Mercedes. The test day on Thursday before the race is my chance to get the setup of my C-Class right for the track conditions, so that I can achieve the best possible result.”
Friday and Saturday Practice
Rookie Eduardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) set the fastest lap with 1m26.780s on Friday, two other rookies completed the top three, Christian Vietoris (Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes) and Filipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) became second and third respectively. On an initially dry track Couldhard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes) was in fourth, and Martin Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) in fifth place. Zandvoort winner Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) was six fastest on the Styrian circuit.
With now heavy rain falling down on the circuit, none of the drivers were able to improve their times and instead tried to get as much experience in the rain, as more rain for this weekend has been forecasted. Championship leader Canadian Bruno Spengler (Mercedes-Benz Bank AMG ) only scored a 16th place and due to the rain was almost 14 seconds behind Mortara.
On a dry track on Saturday Tomczyk ruled the circuit, and set the fastest time with 1m25.660s, Spaniard Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior) was just 0.006s slower and took second place. Audi was certainly in command on Saturday, as Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt), Mortara, Mattias Ekström (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline), Oliver Jarvis (Audi Sport Team Abt), Albuquerque and Rockenfeller took places three to eight.
Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes) was the fastest Mercedes driver on ninth place, while Gary Paffett (Thomas Sabo AMG Mercedes) completed the top ten. The session also showed how incredible tight the competition is, as the lap times of the first 16 drivers were within 0.775 of a second.
The weather conditions during qualifying were even worse, the rain came down hard and it was already expected a few drivers would not be able to keep their car on the track. When the lights turned green for Q1, several drivers attempted to set a quick time on slicks, but the track was too wet for slicks. Ekström became the first victim, first he ran wide at the last turn before the start/finish straight and one lap later when he turned into the pit lane entrance he lost control and slid helplessly into the barrier.
Next victim was Molina, who copied Ekström’s crash and also hit the barrier, narrowly missing Ekström who was still trying to get his car of the grass. Both were able to limp back to the garage, but for Ekström qualifying was over, his car was too badly damaged and the Swede will start the race tomorrow from 18th place. Molina initially also stayed in the garage, but at the end of the session he tried to set a decent time, but his car had also suffered damage and the Spaniard will leave the start grid tomorrow from 17th place.
Meanwhile, on the circuit, with seven minutes remaining, Gary Paffett had set the fastest time, followed by Scheider, Schumacher and Tomczyk. With only a few minutes to go, Spengler also ran into problems while entering the pit lane, but he managed to keep his car out of the barrier, but was not able to improve his time, and he ended the day on a very disappointing 16th position.
Susie Stoddart (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes), Rahal Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix), Molina and Ekström did not qualify for the next session.
Stoddart about her 15th place, “That was a difficult qualifying session. The rain meant I only had one shot at a half-decent lap, because the track conditions were only good during a short window. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. What’s more, my wiper stopped working, so I had limited visibility. Now I’m just concentrating on giving it my all tomorrow.”
At the start of Q2 the rain came down even harder, and most drivers hastily exited the pit lane to set a good time under now really atrocious conditions. But after two minutes race officials decided to red-flag the session and all cars returned to the pits to wait for the rain to subside. The safety car was sent on track to investigate the condition on different parts of the track as at certain places the track was truly flooded.
But the Austrian skies soon cleared and after 15 minutes the session was restarted, albeit for 18 and not 8 minutes, as due to the rain the officials had decided to combine Q2 and Q3. As the track was drying times improved every lap, and six minutes into the session Mortara was leading, followed by Rockenfeller, Jarvis, Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes) and Portuguese rookie Albuquerque.
With 12 minutes still to go Mortara, Tomczyk and Scheider were on top of the time sheets, but not much later it was Schumacher who surprised the spectators by taking second position. In an attempt to improve on his time, Mortara lost control in the last turn and his Audi slid backwards into the run-off area, but the Italian was lucky, didn’t hit anything, and was able to resume the session.
Seven minutes to go, the rain was falling down harder again, nevertheless it was Schumacher who again took second place. Drivers then pitted for a fresh set of wet weather tyres in an last attempt to improve their position on tomorrow’s start grid. This time it was Tomczyk who recorded the fastest time, while Schumacher, Mortara and Jarvis took second to fourth position, and the last qualifying shoot-out for the pole position was to be decided by these four drivers.
Not a good day for Spengler, he ended up on a very disappointing 12th position. “It won’t be easy from 12th position on the grid but all the cars are pretty tightly bunched. In these conditions, qualifying was a lottery - unfortunately I wasn’t among the winners. I’ll go all out in the race and do my best to secure maximum points.”
In these conditions, qualifying was a lottery
Ahead of the final shoot-out the track had dried a bit, but the circumstances were still difficult and very treacherous as well. Being the slowest of the lucky four, Jarvis was the first to set his one and only qualification shoot-out lap on the Red Bull Ring, but the Briton had massive problems and his Audi was all over the place, but he set a decent time of 1m40.353s. Schumacher was next, and like Jarvis, he was barely able to keep his Mercedes on the track, he took a lot of risks, his car was sliding from left to right, but to no avail, as he was not able to improve Jarvis’ time.
Next was Tomczyk, who seemed to be more in control of his car, and not surprisingly set the fasted time of the shoot-out with 1m40.001s. Last man who could have improved his time was Mortara, but his first sector time was already three-tenths of a second slower, he improved a little in the second sector, but after the third and last sector he was almost one second slower than Tomczyk, who will be starting the race from pole position tomorrow. Jarvis kept his second place, Schumacher was third and Mortara fourth.
Schumacher about his third place, “I’m happy with sixth place. We had planned for wet qualifying and our tactics worked out well – it was a great job from my team. I missed out on the top 4 by a fraction, but I am still very pleased.”
“The conditions were really extremely difficult,” Tomczyk said. It wasn’t easy to make the right decisions. But together we achieved a good result. My thanks go to the team that did a sensational job.”
Of course Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich was happy with today’ s result, “Martin [Tomczyk] again proved his potential. Oliver [Jarvis] is strong again after a difficult phase and Edo [Mortara] is an impressive newcomer. The great result that we achieved in the end is a certain compensation for the disappointment in the first few minutes when we lost both Red Bull cars, particularly since this happened on the occasion of the opening of the Red Bull Ring."
With Audi on first, second, fourth and fifth on the grid tomorrow, it will be interesting to see whether they can hold on to those positions during the race tomorrow. Schumacher is the best Mercedes driver and leaves the grid from third position, and Engel is the second best Mercedes driver and will start the race from sixth.
For Spengler it will be quite a job to score points, and for Ekström it will be even more difficult, as he will start from 18th and last place on the grid. But anything is possible as was the case today, the rain caused a few surprises, and for tomorrow there is also rain forecasted.