Mercedes driver Gary Paffett kept the championship fight very close by taking victory at Oschersleben ahead of Audi rival Mattias EkstrÃ¶m, the result reducing EkstrÃ¶m's lead over Paffett in the standings to a single point. EkstrÃ¶m battled to ...
Mercedes driver Gary Paffett kept the championship fight very close by taking victory at Oschersleben ahead of Audi rival Mattias Ekstr?m, the result reducing Ekstr?m's lead over Paffett in the standings to a single point. Ekstr?m battled to reach Paffett on track, closing him down every lap in the final stages, but the Mercedes man held the race lead to the chequered flag. Jamie Green made it a double podium finish for Mercedes with third.
Audi's pole-sitter Tom Kristensen stalled at the start and dropped all the way to 19th, leaving himself a long hard race to get back into the action. Green shot into the lead, followed by the Audi of Martin Tomczyk second and Paffett in third. Other gainers at the start were the Opels, with Laurent Aiello climbing to fourth and Marcel F?ssler to eighth, while Audi's Allan McNish and Frank Stippler improved to sixth and seventh.
Paffett quickly set about dispatching Tomczyk with a rather robust move that saw him barge past the Audi at turn four. The Mercedes of Bernd Schneider was harassing Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Opel for ninth and F?ssler kicked off the first batch of pit stops quite early. Half a dozen cars followed him in and Mika H?kkinen had a bit of problem when he tried to pull away before the left rear was attached.
Ekstr?m, who had remained fifth off the line, closed in on Aiello and made a nice tidy move through the chicane to take fourth. The Audi and the Opel were side by side but didn't touch once, which is pretty remarkable for the DTM.
H?kkinen's troublesome race ended when he skidded off onto the grass, the Mercedes bouncing hard and coming close to overturning, throwing off large bits of bodywork before coming to rest. He made an effort to get back to the pits but the car was leaking fluid and he pulled off to retire, leaving some debris on the track which bought out the yellow flag.
Paffett and Green dived in for their first stop together and Paffett sneaked out as Green came along, side by side up the pit lane until Paffett got ahead as they rejoined the track. At the front it was Tomczyk leading Ekstr?m until Martin took his first stop then Mattias was P1. Kristensen, who was working his way through the field, overtook Frentzen for fifth and the Opel driver went in for his first stop.
Mercedes' Alexandros Margaritis got a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pits and at the front Ekstr?m, McNish, Stippler and Kristensen were still to go in for their first stop. Ekstr?m finally went in on lap 18 and rejoined fourth behind Tomczyk, who politely let his teammate past to assist his title aspirations.
After the other late stoppers had been in and out, the running order was Paffett and Green from Ekstr?m and Tomczyk, followed by McNish and Stippler, the year-old Audis doing well. Ekstr?m was giving Green a hard time, harassing the Mercedes round the track but Green was doing a good job of keeping the faster Audi behind. Tomczyk was the first of the front runners to take his second stop.
Kristensen was still climbing the ranks, finding his way past Stippler and McNish for fourth. Ekstr?m finally got past Green when the Mercedes driver made a little mistake and went wide, allowing the Audi to take advantage and Ekstr?m hot-footed off in pursuit of Paffett as Green went in for his second stop.
Tomczyk took the kerbs rather too hard and the Audi's front suspension gave up, ditching him into gravel. He managed to crawl back to the pits but it was the end of his race. Quite a few cars came into the pits together for their second stops and after the shakeout it was Paffett ahead of Ekstr?m, followed by Green, Schneider and Kristensen.
Kristensen was all over the back of Schneider's Mercedes, hassling and putting the pressure on but Schneider is an old hand at this DTM game and resolutely kept the Audi at bay. Kristensen had a go down the inside once or twice only to have Schneider firmly close the door on him. Behind them, McNish was closing in, followed by Aiello.
At the front Ekstr?m was reeling Paffett in, the gap between them going from just over two seconds to just over one in a few laps but time was running out. Despite his best efforts, Ekstr?m just couldn't get close enough to his rival to do anything about him and seemed to concede defeat on the final lap, holding station in second to the finish line.
"My start was good, but Jamie's was better," said Paffett. "It was important for me to pass Tomczyk on lap two. Together with our team's fast pit stops this was the basis for my victory. Thanks to everybody, I'm really happy."
Ekstr?m was not displeased with second. "I'm satisfied with my result," he said. "If you want to move forward from the fifth position on the grid to second place, you mustn't make a single mistake, and the pit stops have to be perfect -- we successfully met both of these challenges today."
Green had a good race to finish third, his first DTM podium, and the battling duo of Schneider and Kristensen took the flag in fourth and fifth respectively. McNish also had a good day to take sixth and Opel earned some valuable points with Aiello seventh and a rather quiet F?ssler eighth.
Green was pleased with his podium: "I started really well; however, after my first pit stop I wasn't able to go Gary's speed. When Ekstr?m attacked I made a mistake and he went by. Anyway, I'm happy about my first DTM podium finish."
The result keeps the battle between Ekstr?m and Paffett for the title on near enough even footing and they are the main protagonists at the halfway stage of the season. Kristensen is still within striking distance, eight points behind Paffett, but the two youngsters are fighting all the way.
H?kkinen and Alesi are next in line but with 17 points apiece they are 17 behind Paffett and probably a little too far away to join the leaders. There's another three week break now until the sixth round at the Norisring on July 17th, when no doubt the battle will be rejoined just as fiercely.