Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
- Tomczyk and Spengler leading title race
- Drama for Tomczyk - only 15th position
- Miguel Molina takes maiden DTM pole
The Motorsport Arena Oschersleben hosts round eight of the German Touringcar Masters (DTM) 2011 championship this weekend. The 3.696 km long track is situated in Sachsen-Anhalt’s Magdeburger Börde region and offers a variety of short straights and narrow twisty turns, hairpins and chicanes and it will therefore be a challenge for all drivers to find the right setup for their car. After Martin Tomczyk’s (Audi Sport team Phoenix) excellent win at Brands Hatch two weeks ago, it is increasingly more likely this year’s championship will be decided by the two front runners, Tomczyk and Bruno Spengler (Mercedes Benz Bank AMG).
Spengler became seventh during the last race and therefore lost his lead to Tomczyk, who has 50 points, Spengler follows him with 49 points, while Timo Schneider (Audi Sport Team Abt) is third, which he shares with Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) as both have 29 points. Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes), Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) and Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes) are fifth, sixth and seventh with 25, 23 and 21 points respectively. With 30 points still to be earned, the complete top seven mathematically still have the chance to win the championship.
Audi has now won five out of the seven races and leader Tomczyk is optimistic ahead of what could be a crucial race this weekend, “I'm arriving at the next race as the hunted. Oschersleben has always been a great weekend for Audi in the past. Of course I'm hoping it'll be the same again this year. There are many long corners that have always suited our Audi A4 DTM well.” To defend their lead Audi will try to get as many of Audi A4 cars ahead of the Mercedes of Spengler during Saturday’s qualifying.
Of course Mercedes and certainly Spengler are poised to grab back the lead from Audi. Norbert Haug, Vice-President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, “We certainly haven't achieved our potential in the last few races. Our goal in Oschersleben is to deliver our potential and reclaim the championship lead with Spengler. The track is short and challenging, and we secured a one-two there last year.”
Second place man Spengler likes the track, “It is technically very demanding and poses one of the biggest challenges to driver fitness. There are lots of turns and not many straights to relax on, so high fitness levels are one of the keys to a successful result.” About his second place he commented, “I have retaken the overall lead once this season already, and that's my aim in these last three races, because the only thing that counts in the end is who heads on top of the table after the last race of the season.”
Friday and Saturday Practice
Felipe Albuquerque (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) took the honors for Audi during the Friday morning free practice and lapped the circuit in 1m22.722s. Rockenfeller, Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior) and Scheider made it a perfect Friday for Audi, as they took second, third and fourth place for the Ingolstadt-based team. David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes) was the quickest of the Mercedes drivers and posted a time of 1m23m378s, which was 0.656s slower than the leader. Tomczyk took seventh place, but was sandwiched between Green and Ekstrom who took sixth and eighth position on the time sheets. Maro Engel (GQ AMG Mercedes) was ninth and Spengler 10th with a time of 1m23.700s, almost one second off the pace.
On Saturday it was Albuquerque again who topped the time sheets with 1m22.306s, just 0.056s faster than his marque colleague Molina who took second place. Spengler improved his Friday’s 10th place and was the fastest Mercedes driver taking third place, Rockenfeller was fourth and Schumacher fifth, while Scheider and Oliver Jarvis (Audi Sport Team Abt) followed in sixth and seventh. Tomczyk took eighth place with a time of 1m22.674s, which was 0.368s slower than the leader. Gary Paffett (Tomas Sabo AMG Mercedes) took ninth and Swede Ekstrom rounded out the top ten. The big question on Saturday morning was of course whether Tomczyk’s pace was his real pace or not, if true, it could mean he was in for a difficult qualifying session.
At the first qualifying session Coulthard and Molina were out first, while others waited patiently in the garage for their fast run. Next out was Rockenfeller and after five minutes the German was fastest with a time of 1m22.843s. With still 10 minutes to go more and more drivers took to the track and a few laps later Schumacher was leading, followed by Albuquerque, Molina, Rockenfeller, Jarvis and Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes). One driver who’s name was missing on the time sheets was Paffett, he was still in the garage while mechanics frantically worked on his Mercedes to solve the electronic problems.
With just seven minutes to go Spengler scored the quickest time, returned to the garage and stayed there for the rest of the session, confident his time would not be beaten. Another drama unfolded as Tomczyk had problems with his Audi and only had managed to grab 14th place at the time. He went out again for a second run on new tyres, gave it all he had, bounced through the chicanes and used all the kerbs, but to no avail, he clearly was struggling with his car and could not improve his time and even fell back one place, ended the first session in 15th position, and was out of qualifying. Tomczyk had problems earlier this weekend but his 15th place was a bad result that came at the worst possible moment, as it will be almost impossible for him to defend his leading position in the championship during tomorrow’s race.
Out for Q2 were Coulthard, Tomczyk, Susie Stoddart (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes), Rahel Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix) and Paffett, who wasn’t even classified as he hadn’t even been able to put in a timed lap.
Tomczyk was bitterly disappointed with his 15th place, “It’s an extreme shame to have been eliminated so early in qualifying. We made some changes between the free practice and qualifying. The car was responding very strangely and difficult to drive. It’s too bad to have a poor qualifying result particularly on this track as at Oschersleben the grid positions are crucial for the race result.” And tomorrow? “We’ll be working through the night to contain the damage and to finish in the points,” the German said.
During Q2 it was again Spengler who led the remaining 14 drivers, the Canadian just came ‘straight out of the box’ onto the circuit and set the quickest time with a lap of 1m22.026, returned to the pits and again stayed there until the end of the session. With six minutes to go Spengler was still leading, followed by Schumacher, Scheider, Green, Jarvis and Molina. Ekstrom had not been completely at ease at Oschersleben, he was in the drop-out zone in Q2 and had to improve his time quickly. He went out again and took eighth place on his first lap, decided to do another lap but stayed in eighth position when the flag was waved to end the second session at Oschersleben.
Thus Engel, Rockenfeller, Albuquerque, Coulthard, Christian Vietoris (Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes) and van der Zande did not make it into Q3.
The first out during the third session was Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) who set the time to beat with a lap of 1m23.859s, not very fast and he was therefore soon passed by Green who recorded a time of 1m22.212s and took first place from the Italian. Spengler was still very patiently waiting in the garage to do his run, but it almost went pear shaped for the Canadian when he finally left the pits for his one and only run.
After just a few hundreds of meters into his out lap, he reported to his team he had no power and suspected his Mercedes engine was misfiring, could it be he had the same problem Paffett experienced earlier? At the pit wall Mercedes Motorsport Director Norbert Haug held his breath, and with only three minutes remaining Spengler was still shouting over the radio, “No power, no power!” He nevertheless stayed out and started his fast lap, and miraculously took fourth place, while Molina was leading the pack. Spengler was still in the danger zone with his fourth place, he decided to do another lap and eventually it seemed his engine problems were over, as he took first position from Molina with a time of 1m21.801, just 0.009s faster than the Spaniard.
This time Scheider, Green, Schumacher and Mortara had to leave their car in the garage when it was time for the final top-four shootout to determine who would be leaving from pole tomorrow. Three Audis and one Mercedes had to battle for the pole, as usual the last man was onto the track first, in this case it was Ekstrom who drove a clean lap and recorded a time of 1m22.023, a good time, but others would go faster. Jarvis was next and he immediately was two-tenths of a second faster in the first sector, lost a bit of time in the second sector but took over first place after he crossed the finish line.
Third man on the track was Molina, he made no bones about it and was faster in the first two sectors and was overall 0.175s faster than Jarvis and took over the Briton’s first place. Spengler was the last man who could improve his time, if he was to grab pole he could not afford to make any mistakes. He was quick in the first sector, only 0,073s faster than Molina, in the second sector he was still 0.071s faster, but when he finally crossed the finish line he missed the pole by just one thousandth of a second, it can’t get any closer than that.
Of course Molina was ecstatic to score his first pole position, "Perfect! It couldn’t be better. My first pole position! Achieving a pole in the DTM is really difficult as the competition is strong. There are so many experienced drivers. I’m happy that Audi has given me the chance to compete here."
Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich had mixed feeling about the qualifying result. “It’s nice to have three Audi cars among the top four and that Miguel (Molina) has managed to take the pole position - a perfect performance by him and his team.” About Tomczyks’s misfortunes he commented, “It hurts that Martin [Tomczyk] was already eliminated in Q1. This will make it very difficult for him tomorrow with respect to the championship. But we’re looking ahead and will try and make the best of the situation in the race."
Spengler, who later said his engine problems were fixed just in time, was still optimistic although he lost the pole to Molina, “I'm happy - qualifying today was a lot of fun. My C-Class ran brilliantly - many thanks to my team for preparing the car so well. I made a small mistake on the penultimate corner that probably cost me pole.” About the race tomorrw he said, “I’m satisfied. I start on the inside, which is not a disadvantage in Oschersleben. Tomorrow, I want to get off the line quickly and then we see how the race develops.”
Jarvis was satisfied with his third place, “A tremendous qualifying session, we can be very pleased with third place. We squeezed the best out of the car. It’s nice to be back in front after three difficult races.”
Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport meanwhile had done his homework, “At this circuit, a thousandth of a second equates to 5.6 centimetres - over a total lap distance of 3.696 km. It can’t get any closer, otherwise the timing system wouldn’t be able to separate the two drivers.” And added, “Bruno has got a very good opportunity to score a strong result tomorrow. DTM has certainly got spectators talking as a result of this extremely tight finish to the battle for pole position - never before in the history of this great racing series have first and second places on the grid been separated by just one thousandth of a second.”
Molina scored his maiden DTM pole at Oschersleben with a great performance, he made no mistakes and he will be starting the race from pole position tomorrow. A perfect qualifying for Audi as they have six cars in the top ten, buy more interesting is of course Tomczyk’s poor result, and although he qualified 15th, he will be starting from 14th spot because Vietoris was handed a five-place grid penalty after overtaking under yellow at Brands Hatch two weeks ago. Although Tomczyk can expect a little help of the other Audis ahead of him, he has also no less than seven Mercedes competitors ahead of him, including Spengler who can take it relatively easy tomorrow and also like Schumacher has saved an extra set of tyres by staying in the garage very long during Q1 and Q2.