Paffett strikes back: win and DTM Championship lead
For the 77,000 motor racing fans that had travelled to Zandvoort, Netherlands, the eighth round of the season turned out to be the true summer highlight. Following thrilling battles and a great chase from his fourth grid position, Gary Paffett won the 36-lap race (155.052 kilometres) in his AMG-Mercedes C-Class. “A great weekend and a fantastic win,” beamed the winner. Thanks to his fourth win of the season, the 24-year old regained the championship lead another time. His closest rival in the battle for the title, Mattias Ekström (Audi A4 DTM), finished runner-up and holds now second position in the championship, just one point behind Paffett. The third man on the podium was also delighted. Behind the wheel of his Opel Vectra GTS V8, Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished third, just as he had done in Brno, thus securing his second podium finish in the season. At the end of the day, the Zandvoort round represented the first race since the one held at the EuroSpeedway back in 2003 where all the three brands succeeded in making it to the podium.
Reigning DTM Champion Mattias Ekström made a perfect start. The Swede passed both Paffett and Swiss Marcel Fässler (GMAC Team Opel) and continued in third position. During the first set of the obligatory pit stops, however, Paffett re-passed the Audi driver. And this order did not change until the championship rivals had taken the chequered flag.
Opel driver Marcel Fässler and Denmark’s Tom Kristensen (Audi Sport Team Abt) were involved in a tough but fair battle that ended only when the race was over. Just seconds before crossing the finish line, Le Mans record winner Kristensen succeeded in passing Fässler for fourth place.
Jamie Green and Martin Tomczyk performed a great chase. Green did not get off the line and dropped back to the end of the field but delivered a fighting performance, gained position by position and finished seventh to score two points. Martin Tomczyk, who had been 15th on the grid, also delivered in fine style to finish sixth, ahead of the Briton. Pole-sitter Bernd Schneider (Vodafone AMG Mercedes) however, had to settle for eighth place in spite of two fast pit stops and a good start. Following a braking mistake, the DTM Record Champion touched Rinaldo Capello (Audi Sport Team Joest) and was penalised with a drive-thru penalty. The former Formula One aces, Mika Häkkinen and Jean Alesi, also had to endure a disappointing race. The Frenchman had to retire on lap three due to a puncture, and on lap nine, two-time Formula One World Champion Mika Häkkinen collided with Manuel Reuter and went off the track. At the end of the day, he had to settle for 12th place.
Following the third abroad race of the season, Gary Paffett (60 points) holds the championship lead ahead of Mattias Ekström (59 points) and Tom Kristensen (41). The thrilling battle for the title will be continued in three weeks time, (16th to 18th September), when the EuroSpeedway Lausitz will be the venue of the ninth round of the season.
Race quotesGary Paffett (Winner, DaimlerChrysler Bank AMG-Mercedes): “A great weekend and a fantastic win. My early first pit stop turned out to be the key factor on my way to winning the race, as it offered me the opportunity to pass Ekström. The car was just perfect and it wasn’t too difficult to win the race, afterwards.”
Mattias Ekström (2nd place, Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline): “I made a good start and could move up to third position. It seemed as if the race would take a positive course, for me, but unfortunately, I made my first pit stop too late and Paffett could pass me. That’s how it is with strategies: sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. To win you have to perform a perfect race, and mine wasn’t perfect, today.”
Heinz-Harald Frentzen (3rd place, Stern Team OPC): “This was one of the toughest races in my career. Never before I sweat that much. Every single lap was like a qualifying lap – absolutely at the limit. When Schneider pitted early for his first stop, we changed our strategy to stay out quite a while longer. At the end of the day, this offered Ekström the chance of passing me but I could rejoin the race ahead of Schneider to finish third.”
Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Director Norbert Haug: “I have to thank the AMG crew. The car’s set-up was just perfect. So far, Zandvoort has never been a good venue for us, but today we delivered a convincing performance. Gary Paffett deserved to win the race. Currently, things are running quite well for us. And I’d like to also congratulate Opel. Today they have proven what their car is able to achieve.”
Audi Motorsport Director Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich: “In the beginning it didn’t look as if we would witness a battle between Mattias Ekström and Gary Paffett. The battle for the title is extremely close. That’s how motor racing should be. And the battle between Tom Kristensen and Marcel Fässler also was just fascinating.”
Opel Motorsport Director Volker Strycek: “I’m truly delighted with the result. Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished third although his engine came close to stalling, during the pit stop. Marcel Fässler also delivered a great race. Our car performed in fine style. Gary Paffett was incredibly fast.