Gary Paffett: “Tyres are the biggest challenge”
This week, DTM is staying at Vallelunga, Italy, for the second round of preparation tests for the 2017 season. In our Q&A, Mercedes-AMG-Motorsport DTM driver Gary Paffett talks about his debut about the circuit located north of Rome, the core areas of the tests and the new generation of the DTM tyres.
Gary, this was your first time out in Vallelunga. How did you prepare for the new circuit?
I’ve been around for so long now that I very rarely find myself at a new track. It’s been quite a while since I had to learn a new track layout, so I prepared a bit with a computer game. There were no such luxuries in my early days, you know. This is why it’s so much easier now to learn new circuits. I also went over the track with the engineers when I first got here. What’s more, Robert drove the car the day before me, so I was able to check out his data. It’s important to drive on the limit where possible in order to make the best use of our time here during testing, which is why I prepared myself very carefully for the track.
Homologation of the new Mercedes-AMG C 63 DTM has now been accomplished, so what is the team’s main focus here in Vallelunga?
This isn’t the final version of the car here in Vallelunga, the one we’ll be using for the season opener at Hockenheim. Like most teams, we’re still in an interim phase. The main task at the moment is to understand the tyres and mechanical components.
Since you raised the topic, Hankook are introducing a new generation of tyre for 2017 that should prove a tricky challenge for drivers. Will a good ‘nurser’ of tyres be fazed by this prospect?
We’ve been wanting softer tyres for some time now, since they improve performance on the first lap and in qualifying. The car is also nicer to drive, plus, the tyres degrade faster, which should lead to greater differences in speed in the race. That will, hopefully, lead to more battles and overtaking manoeuvres. It’ s what fans want to see. For the driver, it means a different style of driving. There’s a little more grip, but you have to be careful how you use it. If you’re over eager on the attack, then the tyres will degrade too much, and ultimately, you won’t have a deal of potential left. You have to keep a good eye on the tyres and feel for the point at which they start to degrade. When you’re sitting in the car, you don’t have precise data, like tyre temperature, in front of you. You have to try to feel that. This is why test driving is so important. We learn more about tyre behaviour with every long run. The biggest challenge this year will be to understand the tyres and get the most out of them in the race.