Audi's Mattias EkstrÃ¶m snatched a last gasp pole position at Zandvoort for the eighth round of the DTM, demoting Mercedes' Gary Paffett who had held the spot for all of the super pole shootout. EkstrÃ¶m's pole time was 1:34.051, just over a tenth...
Audi's Mattias Ekstr?m snatched a last gasp pole position at Zandvoort for the eighth round of the DTM, demoting Mercedes' Gary Paffett who had held the spot for all of the super pole shootout. Ekstr?m's pole time was 1:34.051, just over a tenth up on Paffett.
After spending Friday practices and Saturday morning looking somewhat off the pace, Mercedes improved in qualifying with Bernd Schneider completing the top three.
The first half-hour qualifying session saw big names such as Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Opel), Jean Alesi (Mercedes) and former champion Laurent Aiello (Opel) all miss out on the super pole.
It was very close, though; Emanuele Pirro (Audi) in 11th was just eight hundredths behind Paffett to miss out. The usually on-the-pace Peter Dumbreck (Opel) had a couple of off track excursions and ended up down in 15th.
The individually timed laps had the dominant looking Audi squad with four cars and Mercedes and Opel with three apiece. Paffett was first to take his single flyer in the super pole and initially it looked to be fairly average.
The track had gone off since the morning practice and previous qualifying session. It was hot and sunny at Zandvoort and the circuit, being right next to the beach, is prone to sand drifting onto the track.
Along with Paffett and Ekstr?m, Christijan Albers (Mercedes) is a championship contender but his timed flyer was only good enough for seventh. With his main rivals on the front row, it was definitely not the result Albers was looking for.
Marcel F?ssler was the first of the three Opel runners and was slower than Albers. Manuel Reuter and Timo Scheider, the other two Opel drivers, were equally off the pace, the trio finishing eighth, ninth and 10th, all well over a second off pole.
Christian Abt was the first Audi on track but despite Audi's previous scorching pace in practices, he couldn't shift Paffett from pole and eventually finished fifth.
The next two Audis also couldn't beat the Mercedes man; Martin Tomczyk went one better than Abt for fourth and Tom Kristensen's result was grid slot number six.
Schneider was the closest yet to Paffett's time but still a couple of tenths off and until Ekstr?m had his lap, it was a Mercedes front row. But Ekstr?m wasn't having that and hurtled round to take Audi's fourth pole of the season by 0.117.
"My car was really good, but in the super pole the grip level was a lot lower than during the qualifying," said Ekstr?m. "After two, three corners I started to get a bit worried. I gave everything, and that was enough for taking pole."
Paffett only just managed to scrape into the super pole session after making a mistake in qualifying and was happy with the final result. "My lap in the single-lap qualifying was almost perfect," he said. "After tenth place in qualifying the second place on the grid is a great result and a good basis for the race."
Schneider was equally satisfied with his third grid spot. "The car handled very well," he commented. "I made a mistake under braking at the first corner, but I didn't lose much time and I'm quite happy with my third place."
While Audi continued to look strong, Mercedes had improved since the practices although both Paffett and Albers looked like they were struggling with the car. Opel just struggled full stop; however, the cars were good over distance runs on Friday so they can't be counted out in the race.
"It's certainly good having three Opel drivers in the top 10. However, we were expecting to be further towards the front," said Opel boss Volker Strycek. "Nevertheless, we are confident going into the race thanks to our very good and consistent times from yesterday's and today's training sessions - we'll do our utmost."
The battle up front between Ekstr?m and Paffett should be a good one in the race. Schneider is a force to be reckoned with but as Paffett is a title contender and Schneider only has the slimmest of mathematical chances, Mercedes will probably want the reigning champion running interference for his teammate.
Albers has a big gap to close if he wants to stay in touch with his main rivals and three Audis ahead of him on the grid is not going to help his cause. However, the DTM is near enough impossible to predict and while Zandvoort's grid line up looks promising for Audi, anything could happen.