20th DTM race win: No way to stop Ekström in the rain
When the rain set in, nobody was able to stop old hand Mattias Ekström. In a highly entertaining race on Sunday during the DTM Festival at Hockenheim, the experienced Swede pulled clear from all his rivals with his Audi RS 5 and claimed his 20th race win in the 145th DTM race of his career. Fellow Audi driver Edoardo Mortara finished second after a controlled race, just ahead of Gary Paffett. The Brit drove a splendid race with his Mercedes-AMG C 63 to finish third, although he had started from the penultimate starting grid position.
“I had fun from lights to flag,” race winner Ekström said with a smile from ear to ear. “Driving in the rain is highly demanding. In conditions like these, experience certainly helps and after all, I am the oldest driver in the entire field.” Right after the start, still in dry conditions, the 36-year-old made it clear that he can be one of the real hot candidates for the title this season. Even before the first corner, Ekström, who had started second, overtook pole-sitter Mike Rockenfeller and then started a fierce battle with last year’s winner Marco Wittmann. On the opening lap, Wittmann (BMW M4 DTM) also overtook Audi driver Rockenfeller and went on to charge his way past Ekström to take the lead. However, it didn’t take long for the Swede to restore the order: on lap four, he overtook Wittmann on the inside in front of the Mercedes grandstand.
In the remainder of the race, Ekström’s victory was in jeopardy only once. When the rain set in on lap nine, he and his team missed out on the optimal time for a change to rain tyres. “Stopping on lap 13 was too late. I had to complete a very slippery lap and I lost a lot of time in the process,” Ekström explained why he dropped back behind fellow Audi driver Edoardo Mortara after his pit stop. The Italian had come into the pits one lap earlier, exactly at the right time. Mortara: “Prior to my stop, I called the pits over the radio and I told that I wanted to come in no matter what. There was some discussion, but I was able to have my tyres changed on the twelfth lap already and I could benefit from this advantage.” Mortara defended his lead for four laps, but on lap 18, there was nothing more he could do to keep Ekström at bay. The Swede quickly pulled clear from the Italian, lapping up to one second faster than the rest of the field at times and crossing the finish line in first place after 35 laps.
Gary Paffett made extraordinary progress after having been dropped to the back row of the grid following a technical mistake by his team in qualifying. However, the Brit showed his competitive spirit and charged his way up from the back. “Today, our rain set-up was very good. That already became apparent in the warm-up. Then we were unfortunate in qualifying and initially, the track was dry, so I was really very frustrated. Then, as the rain set in, my hopes were restored,” Paffett commented. He made up lap after lap. On lap 20, Bruno Spengler got a first-hand experience of the determination of the Mercedes-Benz driver. First of all, Paffett slightly tapped the rear of the BMW driver’s car and overtook him one lap later. However, his freshly inherited sixth place was by no means the end of his progress. Only after taking third place from Martin Tomczyk, the Brit’s ambitions were fulfilled. “I had massive respect for Martin. Not because of yesterday’s accident, but because he was simply the quickest one I have overtaken. But in spite of the extremely wet track, everything went well,” Paffett described the overtaking manoeuvre. Now, the Brit was in third place and he almost had overtaken Mortara as well. The Italian only had a margin of 0.8 seconds when crossing the finish line. Mortara: “Gary put me under plenty of pressure. Every lap, I asked my team and he was considerably quicker all the time. On top of that, the final lap was extremely slippery. Fortunately, it was still enough and I am very happy with that.”
On this day, BMW once again missed out on a podium finish, but only just. Martin Tomczyk finished fourth, Marco Wittmann was fifth. “It was a great race that really was fun. At the same time, it was one of the most demanding for me. In the rain, I had some issues with the tyre pressure. Therefore, I couldn’t hold on to a podium position and I had to let Gary Paffett pull away. We had a good anf fair battle. Congratulations to him and also to winner Mattias Ekström. I am very happy with fourth place. We are full of confidence going to the Lausitzring,” Tomczyk analysed.
For DTM novice Lucas Auer, nephew of ex-Formula 1 driver Gerhard Berger, the race weekend went anything but according to plan. Following his retirement on Saturday, the young Austrian didn’t even get to start the race on Sunday. On his way into the starting grid, Auer slid into the tyre stacks with his Mercedes-AMG C 63.
After two of 18 races, Audi driver Mortara is leading the drivers’ standings with 30 points. His victory allowed Ekström to move up into second place, equal on points with Green, the winner of the opening race. They both have 25 points as the Brit didn’t score any points on Sunday.
The second DTM race weekend of the 2015 DTM season is scheduled at Lausitzring, May 29-31.