Brno: Audi preview
Mattias Ekstr?m claimed victory for Audi at Zandvoort after the race was red-flagged on lap 23 then restarted, due to a shockingly huge crash for Peter Dumbreck. The Opel came to grief at the last corner and there was a very long delay while the debris was cleared and the grid reformed. Dumbreck was shaken but uninjured.
Ekstr?m drove a fine race and teammate Martin Tomczyk equaled his best performance of the season to make it an Audi one-two after the ten-lap sprint at the restart. Mercedes' Christijan Albers fought from seventh on the grid to come home third.
Ekstr?m led from pole at the start while Mercedes' Gary Paffett dropped one place to teammate Bernd Schneider, who took second at the first corner. The first few laps were fairly sedate, the Mercedes of Jean Alesi harassing Jeroen Bleekemolen's Opel, but the top ten order remained static.
Ekstr?m was edging away from Schneider and Paffett closing on Bernd, while Christian Abt was holding up Audi teammate Tom Kristensen, who was obviously faster. Heinz-Harald Frentzen was in trouble early on, although he didn't appear to have any contact with another car or any inanimate object. His Opel retired after half a dozen laps.
Audi's Martin Tomczyk started the first round of pit stops and Paffett lost out. Ekstr?m and Schneider retained formation but Paffett's stop was overly long and dropped him back a couple of places. He then had the Audis of Kristensen and Abt to negotiate, who had swapped places. Paffett got past Abt with a bit of pushing and arguing.
Albers was next to challenge the Audi and shoved Abt into the dust, earning himself a black and white warning flag, but he escaped a penalty. Meanwhile, Dumbreck had negotiated the Opel of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Alesi followed suit, with a little more pushing and shoving. Paffett was now all over the back of Kristensen and Tomczyk was first to dive in for his second mandatory stop.
Schneider came out of his second stop and went head to head with Tomczyk. They slid round the next couple of corners side by side but Tomczyk made it out in front, a great bit of driving from both. Abt retired in the pits when his fire extinguisher went off in the car in his stop. Ekstr?m was way out on his own at the front and had plenty of time for his second stop.
Paffett was back to harassing Kristensen and pushed the Audi into a spin, earning himself a drive-through penalty. Kristensen very nearly got punted straight back off the track by Timo Scheider, the Opel just clipping a bit of bodywork off the back of the Audi as he shot past. Laurent Aiello was next to retire, his Opel halting in the pits to end his nightmare of a weekend.
Dumbreck's crash was a real shocker. It appeared to be a driver error: he came off the last corner heading into the pit straight at around 200 kmph and went into the tyre barrier. The car turned over several times and was completely totalled; the wheels flew off, the bodywork disintegrated and it came to rest in a mangled heap.
It was a worrying pause in the immediate aftermath. The car was so damaged it was initially difficult to identify because there wasn't much bodywork left. But the driver's safety cell did an immaculate job. That and the chassis shell were just about the only bits intact -- and thankfully so was Dumbreck.
He was moving in his seat when the emergency crew got to him and managed to get out. Unsurprisingly, he looked rather shaky but managed to walk to the ambulance and give the crowd a wave before being whisked away to be checked out. The red flag had come out immediately after he crashed, as it was such a bad impact and there was debris all over the track.
"The cause of the accident was that Peter was too fast and came a bit off his line," said Opel boss Volker Strycek after the race. "The problem was that the car practically got hooked into the stack of tyres and therefore flipped over several times. The crash would certainly have been much more serious had there not have been that tyre stack."
The rest of the pack had come to a halt on the grid and everyone took a deep breath and looked rather shocked. The marshals got to work on clearing the shattered remains of the Opel and there was a very long delay before the restart. As a precautionary measure all the cars had a change of tyres after passing through the debris from the crash.
The grid order for the restart was determined by a two-lap count back, so it was Ekstr?m from Tomczyk, Audi's Emanuele Pirro, Schneider, Paffett , Albers, Audi's Frank Biela, Reuter, Scheider, Kristensen.
It was a ten-lap charge for the line when the race resumed. There was further confusion over Paffett's penalty; he had just been into the pits to serve it when Dumbreck crashed. Did the lap count back mean he would have to serve the penalty all over again? Nobody seemed to know but he didn't, so presumably it was deemed unnecessary to repeat it.
Albers got the best restart and launched past Schneider and Paffett to take third behind the Audis. There was a lot of pushing and shoving further down the field but everybody managed to stay on track. Albers set about harassing Tomczyk but Martin grimly hung on, thwarting Christijan's attempts to get past and close on Ekstr?m.
Kristensen was on a mission, up to seventh and then taking Pirro for sixth, while Paffett put a charge on Schneider to take fourth. Kristensen then homed in on Schneider and they went side by side for a few corners, banging doors and trading paint but Schneider managed to hold the Audi off.
A few cars behind them, Alesi had moved up a couple of places but then locked up into the first corner A pair of Opels took advantage, Marcel F?ssler and Scheider diving past into 10th and 11th respectively. Alesi retaliated by retaking Scheider a few corners later but all three finished outside the points.
At the front, Albers just couldn't get the better of Tomczyk and had to settle for third as Ektr?m took the chequered flag. A fine race by the Audi duo and Albers did well to pick up the last podium position. Paffett came home fourth, which just keeps him in the championship fight.
"The toughest thing today was the race being stopped. A new start always harbours a new risk, but everything went perfectly," said Ekstr?m. "Today means a major step towards the Championship title, thanks - also - to Martin, whose second place-finish took valuable points away from those chasing me."
Tomczyk was delighted with the result: "The important thing was that in the first part of the race I was able to overtake Bernd Schneider right after his second pit stop," he commented. "The fighting was very tight but very fair as well. All the more delighted I am about this fantastic result."
As usual it was an exciting race for the DTM, although Dumbreck's crash we could have done without and he presumably feels the same way. But it's a tribute to the safety of the cars that he was intact and back talking to his race engineer not long afterwards.
As for the championship, it's still open but Ekstr?m is looking very strong after this win. He now has 61 points to Albers' 48, with two races to go. Third in the drivers' standings, Paffett is still in contention with 45 but Ekstr?m is now the favourite. Then next round is at the Automotdrom Brno, Czech Republic, on September 19th.