Albers wins qualifying lottery at Lausitz

Albers wins qualifying lottery at Lausitz

Qualifying for the fourth round of the DTM championship at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz was initially a rain-soaked lottery, then a clever game of chance as the track dried during the super pole session. Mercedes' championship leader Christijan Albers...

Qualifying for the fourth round of the DTM championship at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz was initially a rain-soaked lottery, then a clever game of chance as the track dried during the super pole session. Mercedes' championship leader Christijan Albers got the better of both, posting 1:45.026 in the individually timed laps to gain pole position for Sunday's race -- his maiden DTM pole. Audi's Mattias Ekstr?m took second on the grid and Mercedes' Jean Alesi third.

Christijan Albers.
Photo by ITR e.V..

First qualifying started in chaotic style as the rain lashed down, cars spinning off left right and centre on the soaking wet track. Ekstr?m and teammate Martin Tomcyzk were the only ones to have clocked times before the session was red flagged within ten minutes. Ekstr?m's first effort was 2:01.328, some twenty seconds slower than the morning practice times in the dry.

Opel's Jeroen Bleekemolen spun off into the gravel, followed immediately by teammate Laurent Aiello at the same corner, narrowly missing a pile up. The session was stopped while the cars were retrieved but the chaos continued as soon as it restarted. Bernd Schneider missed turn one into the infield and the Mercedes splashed its way down the emergency exit, then Christian Abt's Audi barreled into the mud and grass.

Next up was Albers, spinning off the track, then Peter Dumbreck also missed turn one, the Opel flying over the exit lane -- off! It surely was entertaining to watch. Tomczyk hurtled through the gravel and along the grass but managed to keep it going. Tom Kristensen's Audi went off, Bleekemolen got back out on track and promptly spun again, Opel's Marcel F?ssler dived into the gravel -- it was madness!

The rain eased towards the end and although it wasn't exactly a dry line that appeared, it was a slightly less wet one. With only a few minutes to go, the times changed so rapidly it was nearly impossible to guess who would make the super pole. Schneider was fastest, then Albers, then Alesi, then Schneider again, with Dumbreck, Mercedes' Gary Paffett, Opel's Timo Scheider and Ekstr?m in the mix as well.

Finally the first 20 minutes was over, although some cars were still out on track as the chequered flag waved. Three different sets of results were displayed, revised by the minute as cars came over the line, and the final shakedown was Albers from Schneider and Alesi for a Mercedes one, two, three. Ekstr?m landed fourth, Dumbreck fifth and Aiello sixth.

However, Aiello's time was disallowed because it was set under yellow flag conditions. That moved F?ssler up to tenth and ahead of the Swiss were Abt, the Opel of Manuel Reuter, Paffett and Scheider. The rain continued to hold off and the super pole was a whole different scenario.

F?ssler and Abt had the job of sponges, going out early while the track was still quite wet. F?ssler posted 1:57.274, on the pace of the last times in the first session. However, the track got better and better and so did the times. Abt got well out of shape on the grass in the first sector and ended up slower than the Opel.

Reuter bought the time down by seven tenths, Paffett by well over a second. Scheider and Schneider widened it to two seconds then Dumbreck was over two seconds faster than Bernd. The last sector was still quite wet in places but the majority of the track had a clear dry line. Everyone had been on wet tyres but surely a gamble on slicks would be in the offing?

It was Ekstr?m who first took the chance on slicks and it paid off -- he took provisional pole from Dumbreck, over six seconds faster! Six seconds! That's an absolutely enormous gap by DTM standards -- and Ekstr?m even took the time to weave down the back straight to create more grip.

Alesi must have been spitting -- already on his out lap when Ekstr?m was on his flyer, Mercedes had decided to keep the Frenchman on wets. He clearly struggled for grip and was four seconds down on the Audi, although still good enough for second fastest at the time.

Mercedes was quick to put last man out Albers on slicks, and he booted the Mercedes round nearly half a second quicker again than Ekstr?m, taking pole and relegating Mattias to second and Alesi to third. As a good example of the conditions improving every lap, and the advantage of slick tyres, F?ssler's original time ended up a huge 12 seconds off pole.

"I saw that Mattias Ekstr?m was doing very well with slicks," said Albers. "The first and second sections were already dry, it was only the end that was still very wet. I'm really chuffed about pole position as I didn't do so well here last year."

Ekstr?m wasn't too disappointed with second: "The super pole was all about trying to keep the car on the track amid these difficult conditions," said the Swede. "Although pole position could have been possible if it had been dry, I'm still pleased I'm starting from the first row."

Mercedes boss Norbert Haug perhaps rued the decision to keep Alesi on wet tyres: "We were considering putting slicks onto Jean Alesi's car," he explained. "After checking with the engineers we eventually opted for the safe option. That's why he's in third place."

It was a highly entertaining and exciting qualifying. Albers and Ekstr?m starting side by side on the front row promises to be interesting, as the pair have had a fair few battles on track already this season. Apart from Ekstr?m, Audi was caught out by the rain, but Opel did well with four cars in the top ten. The four HWA Mercedes drivers making the grade was no surprise but nothing is predictable for the race, least of all the weather.

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Series DTM
Drivers Jean Alesi , Tom Kristensen , Laurent Aiello , Peter Dumbreck , Bernd Schneider , Manuel Reuter , Christijan Albers , Timo Scheider , Norbert Haug , Christian Abt , Gary Paffett , Jeroen Bleekemolen