Berthold Bouman, DTM correspondent
DTM 2012: new cars, new drivers, new regulations
The season opener of the 2012 German Touringcar Masters (DTM) championship will as usual take place at the Hockenheimring, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Drivers will be racing for 40 laps on the 4.574km long circuit, DTM Mercedes driver Paul di Resta scored the fastest lap on this circuit in 2008 with a time of 1m33.576s. All drivers will start in their brand new 2012 spec DTM cars, Audi has developed the Audi A5 DTM, Mercedes-Benz the DTM AMG Mercedes C-Coupé, and newcomer BMW the BMW M3 DTM.
The DTM series have also adapted a new points system, similar to Formula One. The winner is awarded 25 points, and points awarded for the positions two to ten are: 18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1. Ten races are on the 2012 calendar, and 22 drivers will appear at the start, eight for Audi, eight for Mercedes and six for BMW. The DTM circus will visit five countries: Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Great Britain and Spain. The complete 2012 calendar and drivers list can be found here.
DTM has banned refueling this season, but drivers will have to make two mandatory pit stops for new tyres, provided by Hankook. On Saturday there will be four qualifying segments, in each segment, Q1, Q2 and Q3, six drivers will be eliminated -- the remaining four drivers will compete in the fourth segment during a one lap shoot-out for pole position.
Friday and Saturday practice sessions
Fastest driver on Friday was Filipe Albuquerque for Audi Team Rosberg; he lapped the circuit in 1m34.508s. Great season start for Audi as they also took second to sixth place with Mike Rockenfeller (Phoenix Racing), Eduardo Mortara (Team Rosberg), Timo Scheider (Abt Sportsline), Miguel Molina (Phoenix Racing) and Mattias Ekstrom (Abt Sportsline) respectively. Fastest Mercedes driver was Gary Paffett (HWA) with a time of 1m34.839s, and he was followed by his marque colleague Robert Wickens (Mucke Motorsport) in seventh place, who was the fastest DTM rookie on Friday.
Fastest BMW driver was the experienced Briton Andy Priaulx (BMW Team RBM) who took 12th place, 0.881s slower than Albuquerque; he was followed by Bruno Spengler (BMW Team Schnitzer) in 13th place while the current DTM Champion Martin Tomczyk (BMW Team RMG) landed 14th position.
Quite a different story on Saturday morning, as BMW struck back and Spengler scored the fastest time with a lap of 1m33.512s, but it was a close call as Mortara took second place for Audi only 0.007s slower than the Canadian. His Audi colleagues Ekstrom, Rockenfeller and Albuquerque took third to fifth place.
Jamie Green was the fastest Mercedes driver on sixth spot with a time of 1m33.781s while second fastest BMW driver American Joey Hand (BMW Team RMG) took 10th place and was also fastest DTM rookie on Saturday morning. Tomczyk on 18th place was the last driver to set a time within one second of the fastest time set by Spengler. Both ladies Susie Wolff (Mercedes Persson Motorsport) and Rahel Frey (Audi Sport Team Abt) took 21st and 22nd position respectively.
Qualifying started on a dry and sunny Hockenheimring with an ambient temperature of 29C and a track temperature of 40C at the start of Q1, 22 drivers had only 16 minutes to score a good time which would earn them the right to participate in Q2.
Tomczyk was the first to set a time with a lap of 1m35.843s, but he was soon beaten by Ralf Schumacher (HWA Mercedes). The brother of famous seven-times F1 Champion Michael Schumacher could not consolidate first place and with 10 minutes to go it was Rockenfeller who led the pack, followed by Ekstrom, Vietoris, Paffett, Albuquerque, Adrian Tambay (Audi Sport Team Abt) and Molina, while Schumacher fell back to eighth position.
Spengler had not yet set a time in the BMW but he soon joined the pack with a lap of 1m34.441s, the fastest time of the moment, and thus the Canadian took first place over from Rockenfeller. With four minutes to go in Q1 Spengler was the fastest BMW driver in first place, Timo Scheider was the fastest Audi driver in second place and Green the fastest Mercedes driver on fourth spot.
With two minutes to go BMW driver Priaulx took over second place from Scheider, at the same moment Schumacher was visibly struggling with his Mercedes and didn’t get further than 14th place. Meanwhile Rockenfeller had again taken over first place from Spengler.
When the chequered flag was waved Molina, Coulthard, Augusto Farfus (BMW Team RBM), Roberto Merhi (Mercedes Persson Motorsport), Wolff and Frey were the six drivers who did not make it into the next qualifying segment.
Coulthard wasn’t too happy with the result, “Temperatures were very different in qualifying just now, compared to Friday’s practice sessions. I didn’t find it all that easy to quickly adapt to the change, nor was I totally satisfied with the car’s setup. We’re still working on it. Now I'm hoping for a decent result in my first DTM race.”
Just 11 minutes for the remaining 16 drivers in Q2, all went out quickly to set a time on the Hockenheim circuit that became faster and faster as more rubber was deposited on the German track. So far a great performance of newcomer BMW as all drivers bar Farfus were still in the running for Q3.
Spengler was again fastest with five minutes still on the clock before the end of the session, he was followed by Paffett, Mortara, Ekstrom, Green and Rockenfeller. With just seconds to go it was Priaulx who pushed Schumacher from 10th to 11th place and thus the German would together with Tambay, Wickens, Albuquerque, Vietoris and Hand not take part in Q3.
Vietoris made an error which cost him places, “For the whole of the weekend, I’ve had good speed in my C-Coupé, but I wasn’t able to get the full benefit it qualifying. Unfortunately, I made an error that probably cost me a place in the top 10.”
Still four BMW’s in the running and BMW chief Jens Marquardt must have been very pleased to see them pass the pit wall time after time in Q3. A hairy moment for Rockenfeller who ran wide at Turn 1 but nevertheless remained in control, and even set the fastest time of the moment. This time drivers stayed out longer to save tyres for tomorrow’s race, Green took first place from Rockenfeller with a lap of 1m33.822s with just four minutes left, while the rest was still in the garage.
Soon they emerged from the pits for just one quick run, Ekstrom was first and he took second place in his Audi. Big question was of course whether BMW was able to fight for the pole position, but Priaulx wasn’t fast enough and had to be satisfied fifth place, Tomczyk was also too slow, as was Spengler and much to everyone’s surprise it was DTM rookie Dirk Werner who took third place for BMW and together with Green, Ekstrom and Mortara qualified for the one lap shoot-out for pole position.
Priaulx was nevertheless satisfied with his performance, ” I am really pleased and this result is for all my guys in BMW Team RBM and also at BMW Motorsport. They have made a massive effort to be here. The car was great. Tomorrow we just have to build on the performance and carry that good momentum into the race.”
Final shoot-out for pole
First on track was Mortara, weaving his Audi to warm up the tyres before he crossed the finish line to start his fast lap. A big mistake in Turn 1 ruined the his first section and his whole lap, he knew it and shouted a good old fashioned “Sh*t!” over the radio as he knew he could not regain the time he had lost, but at least he would not be the only one to find his Waterloo at Turn 1.
Next was BMW driver Werner, a flawless first section for the German in the yellow BMW, but he braked way too late for the famous Spitzkehre, perhaps he was too nervous and he also knew his lap was ruined. He made another mistake and ran wide at the next corner and when he crossed the finish line he was even slower than Mortara.
The experienced Ekstrom was certainly not nervous, but he also almost braked too late for Turn 1, smoke emerged from his front tyres but he didn’t end up on the run-off area like Mortara, the second section was much better and the Swede scored the fastest time with a lap of 1m34.680s.
However he was not entirely happy as he had an encounter with Werner who was still on track after his lap when Ekstrom was on his fast lap. Werner didn’t cause any problems and quickly moved to not obstruct Ekstrom, but he was way too slow and should have been in the pits already when Ekstrom started his pole lap.
Green also made a huge mistake in Turn 1, had too brake hard and partially ended up on the run-off area and was immediately two tenths of a second slower than Ekstrom in the first section. Despite his mishap he didn’t give up and was very fast in the second section and was then 0.001 sec faster than Ekstrom, but his third section was slower again and thus it was Ekstrom who took pole position for the first DTM race of the season.
Ekstrom commented about his first pole of the season, “I couldn’t have wished for a better start into the new DTM. The first pole position for the A5 DTM on its debut - that’s simply superb! Audi Sport has built a fantastic car. We worked hard and did our homework - that paid off today.”
A really great result for BMW who had been able to fight with the top three drivers, they ended up with four drivers in the top ten, a great achievement. A great pole position for Audi again, and they also had four drivers in the top ten, which means Mercedes had two cars in the top ten.
Head of Audi Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich was of course also happy with the good start of the season, “Naturally, it’s great and a reward for the hard labor of the past few months that we clinched the first pole position in the new DTM era with the new Audi A5 DTM and that three of our cars are in the top five. The whole squad performed an almost super-human feat in order to put eight new cars on the grid here!”
Second placed Mercedes driver Green, “Obviously, I would prefer to be going into the new DTM era in pole position, but I’m also very satisfied with a place on the front row. Qualifying was a close-fought encounter and I was hard pushed to get into Q4. My Mercedes AMG C-Coupé handles like a dream!”
Third place man Werner stated, “I am overwhelmed by this result. I think BMW has made a great start to the season. I had a fantastic car in qualifying. That was the key to my success. This is a very special day for me. To be up there at the front of the field in the very first DTM qualifying of my career is unbelievable.”
BMW’s Marquardt was proud of his team, “It was a special moment for both me and the entire team to see our new car in its first qualifying session here in Hockenheim. Third place for Dirk Werner and four cars in the top-ten is a fantastic opening result, and far more than we expected.”
As for the race tomorrow, let’s stick to the words of Ullrich, “All three manufacturers are on an equal footing right from the beginning, only details are decisive. This is exactly what the fans want.”