By Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Mercedes on top of qualifying at Zandvoort
- Mattias Ekstrom starts from 16th position
- Bruno Spengler favorite for Sunday’s race
For round two of the German Touring Car Masters (DTM), the nine Mercedes and nine Audi drivers arrived at the circuit of Zandvoort in the Netherlands, a small beach resort on the shores of the North Sea, a town with a rich motor sport history that dates back all the way to the 1950s. The 4,307 km long circuit is situated in the dunes, where drivers will race for 41 laps or a total of 176,587 km -- last year Timo Scheider set a new record lap time of 1m32.967s.
Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt), is a fan of the circuit, “Zandvoort is coming up. That’s clearly my favorite track. Three times I’ve been on pole there. I’m really looking forward to it. Last year, I unfortunately bungled the start. But then I had an incredible race and made up ground again to third place. Now I want to finally settle my unfinished business and clinch victory - for Audi and for myself. That would finally give me the satisfaction of having won on my favorite track for once.”
Gary Paffett (Thomas Sabo AMG Mercedes) has won the race three times, in 2005, 2009 and 2010. “Zandvoort is a nice track -- it’s very tight and offers some challenges for the drivers, including a number of very fast corners, which I really enjoy. I’ve already won three times in Zandvoort, including the last two races there; this year, I’m aiming to make it a hat trick with three in a row. The platform for that will be to qualify strongly, which is crucial in Zandvoort because there are so few overtaking opportunities in the race.”
Once again there is a lot to learn, and if possible, create a little worry for the others
It will be a home race for Dutchman Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes). For the 25-year old driver it will be his second DTM race ever, as he made his debut this season during the first round at Hockenheim. He is hoping for the support of his home crowd, and he enjoys his new career in DTM. “It's great fun and very busy, but that is the right way for it to be,” he said. Asked about his goal this weekend he replied: "Once again there is a lot to learn, and if possible, create a little worry for the others. That's basically my goal for the year. If we manage that, I will be a happy man."
Friday and Saturday Practice
During Friday practice Audi took the top four positions on the time-sheets: Scheider was fastest with 1m32.708s, and was followed by Martin Tomczyk (Audi Sport Team Phoenix), Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) and Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg). Surprise of the day was without a doubt David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes), who set the fifth time and was the fastest Mercedes driver of the day. Fastest rookie was Christian Vietoris (Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes), who claimed sixth position.
Another surprise was local hero van der Zande, who made good use of his knowledge of the circuit and landed a encouraging seventh place in his Mercedes, outpacing number eight Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes), ninth place was for Paffett, and Oliver Jarvis (Audi Sport Team Abt) completed the top ten. Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes), who finished third at Hockenheim, was the disappointment of the day, he took 17th place, lapping the circuit 1.847s slower than Scheider. Swiss rookie Rahel Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) set the slowest time of the day and scored 18th place, 2.763s slower than Scheider.
During second free practice session on Saturday morning, it was again Scheider who set the fastest pace, he lapped the circuit in 1m31.718s, almost one second faster than on Friday. Briton Green was the fastest Mercedes driver and took second position, 0.183s slower than Scheider. Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) and Miguel Molina took third and fourth position respectively, while Mortara and Tomczyk took fifth and sixth place.
Canadian championship leader Bruno Spengler (Mercedes-Benz Bank AMG) took seventh position. Fastest rookie on Saturday was Portuguese driver Filipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) who took eighth position, 0.436s behind Scheider. Schumacher improved his pace on Saturday and scored a still somewhat disappointing tenth time. This time it was Coulthard who recorded the slowest lap, his Mercedes went off track in the Kuhmo corner with only 20 minutes to go, and after that he was not able to improve on his time and finished on a very disappointing 18th and last place, 1.738s behind Scheider.
Ideal conditions during qualifying on Saturday, with an air temperature of 13C and a track temperature of 20C. During Q1 drivers had 16 minutes to qualify for Q2, Frey and Coulthard are the first to set a lap time. Scheider, one of the favorites for tomorrow’s race, seemed to be struggling with his Audi, but towards the end of the session he found the right pace again and took eighth position overall. Paffet, Green and Montara were the fastest three drivers, and were followed by Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes), Albuquerque was the fastest rookie and was followed by Rockenfeller who took sixth place.
Certainly off the pace was Swede Mattias Ekstrom, who was bumped out of Q2 by van der Zande and Coulthard, who took 13th and 14th position respectively. Ekstrom, who still has a few problems with his hand, had no real explanation for his poor result, “I’m very surprised, we didn’t have the pace we were expecting to have, I don’t know why, I have to speak with my engineer.” And added, “The car didn’t feel right, but it also wasn’t that bad that it could explain this disappointing result. We have seen this year everything has to be perfect, if not, you lose a lot of time.” Asked whether it was possible to score some points tomorrow he commented. “I think so, you have to be realistic, if I have a fast car tomorrow -- and I think I will -- I can certainly get up front.”
Susie Stoddart (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes), Vietoris and Frey also didn’t make it into Q2. Coulthard was lucky to make it into Q2 as he beat Stoddart with one thousand of a second, or just 4.6 centimeters difference. “She is really quick, hat off for her” the Scot said. “This track is really great to drive, especially the middle section with the hills and dunes.”
Thus 14 drivers lined up for Q2, Tomczyk was the first to set a fast lap, but Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes) ran wide in the famous Tarzan corner, he managed to get out of the gravel trap, but when he braked for the next few corners, all the gravel and dirt that had accumulated in the diffuser spilled onto the tack, making the track very treacherous for the drivers behind him. Tomczyk, Green, Spengler and Rockenfeller were the pace setters during Q2, while Schumacher managed to hold on to seventh position which earned him a place in Q3. Scheider, a favorite for pole position, barely made it into Q3 with his eighth and last place.
Molina, Albuquerque, van der Zande, Jarvis, Engel and Coulthard didn’t qualify for Q3 and had to park their car in the garage. During Q3, drivers were not in a hurry to set a time, and with only two minutes to go, only four drivers had set a time. During those last two minutes Green, Spengler, Tomczyk and Rockenfeller proved to be the fastest drivers, and took the top four positions and were promoted to the top four shoot-out, while Paffett, Scheider, Mortara and Schumacher didn’t make it into Q4
It was again incredibly close here at Zanvoort
Schumacher “It was a turbulent qualifying session, initially we had a few problems with the car, I’m therefore happy with the result. I didn’t have the right amount of grip, and if you look at the Q3 times you will see it was again incredibly close here at Zanvoort,” the German ex-Formula One driver said. Did his third place in Hockenheim make it any easier for him today? “No, it really doesn’t make it any easier, every race weekend is different and you have to prove yourself again, maybe there is more pressure on me now, but I still enjoy it.”
Asked about his goal for tomorrow he replied: “Of course I want to score points, if I can make a good start, then I can gain a few places straight away. But overtaking -- except in the pit lane -- is difficult here, so we have to see what happens.”
First on track to set his qualifying time in the Q4 shoot-out was Rockenfeller, who drove a very smooth lap and used every inch of the track and set a time of 1m32.017s, just a whisker faster than Tomczyk, who ended in fourth position with 1m32.063s. The real battle was between Spengler and Green, Spengler drove an aggressive qualifying lap, which ultimately proved to be the right approach, as he beat Jamie Green with a time of 1m331.805s, just 0.135s faster then the Briton who ended second with 1m31.940s.
Audi took third and fourth place, and best placed Audi driver Rockenfeller was happy with the result. “For me, qualifying went really well. Third place was the best we could achieve today. However, I am sure that we can do better in the race on Sunday,” the German said.
Again the difference between the first four was just a little over two-tenths of a second which once more proved DTM is a very competitive top class racing series. Pole winner Spengler was of course happy with his achievement today. “Qualifying was fun, although it wasn’t easy. Fortunately, I was able to improve from one qualifying heat to another. Today is a great day,” the Zandvoort pole sitter said. “My last run in Q4 went well, although I made a few small mistakes in the first three corners, my middle sector was great, and I didn’t make any big mistakes. Thank you to the team! Today is a great day for me and my team.””
Of course Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Norbert Haug was also pleased with the result. “It’s a dream scenario when the battle for pole is fought within one team, as Bruno and Jamie did today. It was like a thriller with two main protagonists in the Dutch dunes. Today saw a fantastic performance from both drivers,” the German said.
Tomorrow, the Audi drivers will give us strong opposition
“Tomorrow, the Audi drivers will give us strong opposition. Gary Paffett showed last time out in Hockenheim that you can climb from 18th on the grid to sixth place at the finish – and be just 6.5 seconds behind the winner at the chequered flag. That means Ekström is capable of a similar performance. But, of course, he also has many better placed team-mates, including four on the first four rows.”
Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich was happy although none of his drivers were able to take pole position, “I’m happy for ‘Rocky’ and Martin [Tomczyk]. ‘Rocky’ has been showing a great performance so far throughout the weekend. He’s been consistently fast and in qualifying was the one we could depend on. Martin has again been very strong in his year-old car throughout the weekend and confirmed this in qualifying as well. Naturally, it’s a bit disappointing not to have a car on the front row. But last year we did, but didn’t win the race. Now we want to try and turn last year’s race result around too."
Now that Paffett, Scheider and Ekstrom are far behind Spengler on tomorrow’s start grid, Spengler is of course the favorite to win the race. The grand finale is tomorrow at the circuit of Zandvoort, the race will start at 14:00 local time, and once again 18 driver will fight for the victory, read more about it at Motorsport.com on Sunday afternoon.