Mercedes driver Gary Paffett took a confident and dominant victory at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz in what was, by DTM standards, a fairly sedate event. Audi's Tom Kristensen had a good race to come home second and Mika HÃ¤kkinen scored his first DTM...
Mercedes driver Gary Paffett took a confident and dominant victory at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz in what was, by DTM standards, a fairly sedate event. Audi's Tom Kristensen had a good race to come home second and Mika H?kkinen scored his first DTM podium finish with third for Mercedes.
It was a clean start at the front and pole sitter Paffett led through the first corner. H?kkinen moved up one place to second ahead of the Mercedes of Jamie Green, while Bruno Spengler, in the year old Mercedes, and Kristensen also moved up one to fifth and sixth respectively. Jean Alesi had a good start, his Mercedes climbing from 11th to eighth.
Opel's Marcel F?ssler dropped back a few places and Audi's Martin Tomczyk got a puncture on the first lap and had to pit for a tyre change. Alexandros Margaritis suffered some damage to the right front of his Mercedes after contact at the first corner and also had to pit as he was throwing out smoke everywhere.
Alesi got past the Mercedes of Bernd Schneider for seventh and Ekstr?m started hassling Green. Schneider seemed to struggle right from the start and he and F?ssler were in early for their first pit stop on lap six. Paffett was pulling away at the front and was over two seconds ahead of H?kkinen.
Ekstr?m had a try at Green but was held off and Kristensen went side by side with Spengler at the last corner. The Audi had the speed over the year old Mercedes and pulled ahead down the main straight. Alesi left his pit stop with his refuelling cell still attached to the car, which flew off a couple of corner later, luckily not damaging anything.
Ekstr?m tried a bit too enthusiastically at Green and punted the Mercedes into the gravel, which earned him a drive-through penalty and Green was out of the race. Ekstr?m's Audi had slight damage to the front right bodywork, which got progressively worse as the race went on. Hakkinen h?d a slight delay in his stop when his car didn't come off the jack.
After the first round of stops Paffett was back in the lead and H?kkinen was held up by the Audi of Pierre Kaffer but dispatched him fairly quickly. Allan McNish's Audi hit F?ssler's Opel and they both spun off -- they managed to return to the pits and F?ssler rejoined the race, but it was game over for McNish.
By now Paffett was 10 seconds ahead of Kristensen at the front, with H?kkinen third, a formation that would hold until the chequered flag. Manuel Reuter's Opel spun into the gravel for no apparent reason and Alesi nearly got tangled up with Tomczyk when he came out of his second stop, but they escaped unscathed.
They caught up with the Audi of Frank Stippler and there was a battle for a few corners. Alesi and Tomczyk were side by side -- Alesi got ahead but went wide through the corner and Tomczyk snatched the advantage. There was some pushing and shoving and a little bit of contact, but no real damage was done.
After the shakedown of second pit stops the top three had retained formation. Schneider was losing pace further down the field and Opel's Laurent Aiello got past the Mercedes, followed by Tomczyk, then Schneider retired to the pits. Ekstr?m's Audi was still shedding bits of bodywork in fourth but it held together to the end.
On the last lap Spengler's Mercedes had a decidedly wobbly moment and he pulled off track -- terrible luck for Spengler as he was running sixth at the time. Paffett cruised home five seconds clear of Kristensen after easing off, as there was no reason to push it. H?kkinen was right behind Kristensen but not close enough to have a go before time ran out.
"It was great today," said Paffett. "The car was perfect, the pit stops were perfect, really excellent, it was a pretty faultless race. I didn't make too many mistakes and I didn't see too many cars behind me, so I didn't have to push it too hard."
"After I came out of my first pit stop the team told me I had a 10 second lead. Unless you have some kind of problem it's pretty hard to lose a lead like that."
Kristensen was quite happy. "A lot happened in the early laps, I gained some ground and lost some, so the team changed my pit stop strategy," he explained. "I had a really long middle stint and it worked in the end. I just stayed cool and bought it home and the tyres were okay."
H?kkinen was pleased with his podium finish, his first in over three years since he retired from F1. "I was definitely surprised at the performance," the Finn said about his car, which, like the other 2005 spec Mercedes', was carrying an additional 10 kg of weight due to being the winning manufacturer at Hockenheim.
"It was going quite good and I was pleased and I felt confident in the race. I was pushing the best I could and reaching the lap times I wanted. There was a slight problem in my pit stop but I wasn't worried about it. It's a great feeling, fantastic, it's great to taste the champagne again."
Ekstr?m did well to come home fourth despite his drive-through and the pair of Audi Joest drivers, Kaffer and Stippler, also had a good race to finish fifth and sixth. Alesi was seventh and the year-old Mercedes of Stefan M?cke had a rather anonymous time to earn one point in eighth. Aiello was the best Opel finisher in 10th.
The next race at Spa-Francorchamps should be interesting. The additional 10 kg ballast didn't hamper Mercedes very much at Lausitz but for Spa it will be up to 20 kg, while Audi remains the same weight as this weekend. Opel will be a further 10 kg lighter and the manufacturer certainly needs any help it can get.