Paffett wins at Istanbul – a black day for Ekström
In rainy conditions, 32,000 spectators travelled to the Istanbul Park for DTM’s inaugural Turkish round – and witnessed a remarkable performance of the Mercedes-Benz drivers. On Sunday, Gary Paffett (DaimlerChrysler Bank AMG-Mercedes) secured the win, in his AMG-Mercedes C-Class, followed by his brand-mates Mika Häkkinen, Bernd Schneider and Jamie Green. “This was a perfect weekend and a major step on the way to the title,” beamed the winner. At the same time, Mattias Ekström (Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline), the previous championship leader, had to settle for twelfth place in his Audi A4 DTM and left Istanbul empty-handed. The best Opel driver in the penultimate round of the season was Laurent Aiello who took his Opel Vectra GTS V8 to sixth place.
LRight at the start of the 32-lap race (170.816 kilometres), Mattias Ekström impressed by a fantastic start. From his fifth grid position, he passed Mercedes-Benz drivers Jamie Green and Bruno Spengler even before the field entered turn one. Yet, this success turned out to be short-lived. At the end of lap one, Ekström and Green battled for third position while approaching the pit-straight, and following a slight contact, Ekström dropped back to sixth position. During his two compulsory stops, the 27-year old Swede lost even more time and he was also hampered by problems on his car. It was the first time since the Donington round back in 2003 that Ekström failed to score points.
At the same time, his rival in the battle for the championship, Gary Paffett, impressed the crowds with a perfect performance, thus living up to his nickname ‘Gary Perfect’. In spite of the rain falling during the first third of the race and the accordingly difficult track conditions, he led from the start to the finish line. With just the season finale at Hockenheim to go, (21st to 23rd October), 24-year old Paffett (78 points) has won five races and holds a nine-point lead over Ekström (69 points), with Tom Kristensen (Audi Sport Team Abt, 51 points) following in third position. Due to this situation, it will be very difficult now for Ekström to defend his title. His only chance to do so would be to win the season finale with Paffett scoring no points at all. The last time the Briton left a DTM round empty-handed was 16 races ago: last year’s EuroSpeedway Lausitz round when he was excluded after the race.
Jean Alesi (AMG-Mercedes), who had to make an additional stop due to a refuelling problem during his first stop, finished seventh, and Bruno Spengler (Junge Gebrauchte von Mercedes) came eighth, thus scoring another point and again turning out to be the best driver of a 2004-spec car.
Race quotesGary Paffett (Winner, DaimlerChrysler Bank AMG-Mercedes): “My car was just great throughout the weekend. The team achieved a great result. It feels a kind of strange to suddenly hold a nine-point lead when there was never more than a one-point gap, in the past races. But I’m not yet the champion as anything can happen, in motor racing. It would be just great to win the title by also winning the race at Hockenheim.”
Mika Häkkinen (2nd place, Sport Edition AMG-Mercedes): “I’m feeling fantastically. Today’s mission was to secure the maximum success and we succeeded in doing so. For me, second place was the best I could achieve, today. The overall result of Mercedes-Benz is just great. That’s the way we want to continue.”
Bernd Schneider (3rd place, Vodafone AMG-Mercedes): “I’m very happy with the result as anything can happen, in these conditions. Following the warm-up, nobody was sure which set-up to choose. Yet, we made the right decision: perfect car, perfect strategy – a great weekend.”
Tom Kristensen (5th place, Audi Sport Team Abt): “My race was fun. I was involved in a lot of fair battles, on my way to the front. Yet, I had preferred Ekström to be in my position. Then, we would have been in a more promising position regarding the battle for the title, at Hockenheim. But those who know Audi will also know that we will strike back.”
Laurent Aiello (6th place, Team OPC): “This was a very thrilling and interesting race. But it was very difficult to pass the Mercedes cars. They were incredibly fast on the straights. Still, my car was able to successfully match the pace.”
Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Director Norbert Haug: “I’d like to congratulate the entire team on its great effort. Particularly as it was necessary to change the set-up, following this morning’s warm-up session. Quite obviously, this result has provided us a very promising initial position. Still, we have to score points in the following race to secure the championship – and it’s our goal to do so. It’s great that 32,000 spectators came to witness DTM’s inaugural race in Turkey, in spite of the bad weather.”
Audi Motorsport Director Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich: “I can’t be happy. Sometimes, just everything goes sour. We have not yet had the time to take a close look at Mattias Ekström’s car, but it must have been damaged during the contact with Jamie Green. Mattias informed us via the radio that the car’s handling was disastrous. Quite obviously, the result wasn’t good regarding the championship, yet, we will give our very best, in the season finale at Hockenheim.”
Opel Motorsport Director Volker Strycek: “This was the best we could achieve, although we had expected to do better, following the warm-up session. In the race, Mercedes-Benz was far quicker. But we turned out to be competitive compared to Audi. The ‘Istanbul Park’ is a great circuit and a great facility. A big thank you to the organisers.”