By Berthold Bouman, DTM Correspondent
On a dry and sunny Red Bull Ring, the fastest circuit on the 2011 calendar, Martin Tomczyk (Audi Port Team Phoenix) won round three of the German Touringcar Masters (DTM) in Spielberg, Austria. The German had started the race from pole position which he acquired during a chaotic and rainy qualifying session yesterday, and convincingly led the race from start to finish. The only driver who could keep up was Ralf Schumacher (Salzgitter AMG Mercedes), but the younger brother of seven-times Formula One Champion Michael Schumacher was never in a position to challenge Tomczyk for the lead.
“I pushed at the start in order to gain enough of a distance from the others,” Tomczyk said right after the race. “I was able to benefit from this gap at the end even though Ralf (Schumacher) came relatively close on the dying laps of the race. I’m simply happy today - we’ve earned this victory.”
Audi Head of Motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich, “I think that we have already seen in the first two races that Martin is coping very well and is in a good mood. I am really happy for him. No matter if in the wet or in the dry, Martin was always the fastest driver here.”
For Schumacher, it was his best performance ever in DTM. During the last race at Zandvoort he took third place, and today he crossed the finish line in second position. Schumacher was certainly happy with his best result ever, “Second place and my second podium are a good result for me. I tried everything to get past Martin Tomczyk, but I couldn’t do it in the end. I was fast all weekend here in Spielberg and hope I can continue this form in the coming races.”
Briton Oliver Jarvis (Audi Sport Team Abt) finished third, after successfully shaking off Bruno Spengler (Mercedes-Benz Bank AMG) who had carved his way through the field after he had started from 12th position on the grid. “We had a test between Zandvoort and Spielberg which we made good use of," said Jarvis. "Now I’m working together with my engineer much better.”
Unlike the rest of the weekend, the race took place in almost perfect weather conditions, with a blue sky and without a single drop of rain. Tomczyk was fastest at the start and was the first to dive into Turn 1. Behind him things went wrong for Eduardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg), he was sandwiched between Schumacher and Maro Engel (GQ AMC Mercedes) and spun after he was hit by Engel.
Spengler impressed everyone with his fourth place, “This was a great race. After starting from twelfth, I am very satisfied with fourth place.” And he added, “The set-up on my C-Class was perfect and the car was really quick. I was able to do consistently quick lap times – that was the key to the race. Thanks to my team for a great strategy and a great job!”
Championship leader Spengler started from 12th position, but made a miracle start and after just one lap he was already in eighth position behind Gary Paffett (Thomas Sabo AMG Mercedes). After one lap Tomczyk was leading, and was followed by Jarvis, Schumacher, Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline), Timo Scheider (Audi Sport Team Abt) and Jamie Green (AMG Mercedes).
Not a good start for Rahel Frey (Audi Sport Team Phoenix), as she jumped the start and was handed a drive-through penalty. The race officials also decided to give a drive-through penalty to Engel, who had caused an ‘avoidable accident’ with Mortara in Turn 1.
After four laps Tomczyk, Jarvis and Schumacher had already created a gap to the number four, Rockenfeller, and leader Tomczyk confirmed he was the man to beat by setting the fastest lap. Meanwhile Spengler had closed in on Paffett and was trying hard to overtake him, he finally succeeded on lap seven and took seventh position from the Briton.
Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline) was completely off the pace, and although the Audi mechanics had worked until midnight to repair the damage his car sustained after he had crashed in the pit lane entrance during qualifying, the Swede complained about heavy understeer. On lap nine he was the slowest driver on track, and when he came in for his first pit stop, things again went pear shaped. He left the pit area, but his right front wheel had not been fastened properly and he had to stop at the end of the pit lane when his front wheel almost fell off.
His pit crew tried to secure the wheel at the pit lane exit, but officials told them they had to push the car back into the pit area, and Ekstrom then just decided to call it a day.
This was a weekend to forget for me
”From the beginning to the end this was a weekend to forget for me,” a disappointed Ekstrom said. “I’d been pinning high expectations on the race at the Red Bull Ring. I’ll give everything to make sure that things will be going better again two weeks from now at the Lausitzring.”
Paffett also seemed to lose his pace, as Dutch rookie Renger van der Zande (Stern AMG Mercedes) was challenging him for eighth position. The first pit stop window was between lap 10 and 29, and Rockenfeller, Green, Christian Vietoris (Junge Sterne AMG Mercedes) and Susie Stoddart (TV Spielfilm AMG Mercedes) were the first drivers to come in for their first pit stop of the day. Van der Zande had by then overtaken Paffett and together with David Coulthard (Deutsche Post AMG Mercedes) the Dutchman made his first stop.
On lap 14 Schumacher came in for his stop, and although it was not a perfect pit stop, he nevertheless rejoined the race behind Tomczyk, but more important: ahead of Jarvis. This pit stop proved to be crucial, as Schumacher never lost his second place to Jarvis again, Schumacher’s strategy was just a little bit better than Jarvis’.
By lap 16 Spengler was leading the race, followed by Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Abt Junior) and Mortara, but all three still had to make their first stop. Spengler was obviously trying to stay out as long as he could to gain some time on the real leaders of the race, who were behind him.
The race became more exciting after the second round of pit stops. Tomczyk was still four seconds ahead of Schumacher when the latter came in for his second stop on lap 23. Soon Scheider, Green and Rockenfeller also pitted for the second time, and Green emerged from the pit lane ahead of Rockenfeller.
It was now time for Tomczyk to make his second and final stop, a stop that had to be perfect, or he would lose the lead to Schumacher. His pit crew made no mistakes and the German in his bright yellow Audi rejoined the race again ahead of Schumacher.
Spengler, on an alternative strategy, then finally came in for his stop, and rejoined the race in fourth place behind Jarvis and ahead of Paffett, who had after his stop had found the right race pace again.
After the second round of stops Tomczyk was leading, Schumacher was in second position, and Jarvis and Spengler were in third and fourth place. Further down the field Coulthard was in ninth position just one second behind Paffett, and Green and Rockenfeller were fighting for 11th place.
Schumacher was now gaining two-tenths of a second per lap on Tomczyk, while behind the leading duo Spengler was closing in on Jarvis as well. Rockenfeller was in fifth position and had to fend off Green who was getting closer and closer with now only eight laps to go. Behind them there was a fourth battle going on between Scheider and Paffett for seventh place.
Closer to the end of the race it was almost as if the top eight were happy with their positions, as Schumacher was the only one who still gained on Tomczyk. With only three laps still to go, Schumacher was just 0.7 seconds behind the Audi, but Tomczyk responded quickly by improving his lap time. With only 2 laps to go Schumacher settled for second place and Tomczyk crossed the finish line first, followed by Schumacher, Jarvis, Spengler, Rockenfeller, Green, Scheider and Paffett.
Ralf Schumacher’s car had the speed to win today
Norbert Haug, Vice-President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport was impressed with both Schumacher and Spengler, “Ralf Schumacher’s car had the speed to win today and after his third place at Hockenheim, he was able to secure second place here; he was just 0.4 seconds behind winner Martin Tomczyk for Audi, to whom I offer my warmest congratulations. For me, Bruno was today’s man of the race and drove from 12th place to fourth, only just missing out on the podium.”
Coulthard just missed out on the points and finished in ninth position, followed by van der Zande, who was the fastest rookie at the Red Bull Ring. Van der Zande was optimistic about the future, “The weekend was good for my confidence and I was just a whisker behind David at the finish, which is a positive result for me. The test day before the weekend really helped. I’m getting on better with the car and it would be great to secure my first championship points soon.”
Spengler is still leading the championship with 23 points, Tomczyk is now second with 20 points, while Rockenfeller and Schumacher share third place with 14 points.