DTM 2017: Norisring – Analysis
The Norisring is traditionally a happy hunting ground for the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM Team. With 18 victories so far, the brand with the three-pointed star has been the most successful at the street circuit in Nuremberg. After their winning streak came to an end last year at the Dutzendteich, Head of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM Ulrich Fritz was aiming to start a new series of wins during the fourth race weekend of the 2017 season. Unfortunately, his wish was not entirely fulfilled - but the two Pink Panthers, nevertheless, decided to turn the 2.3-km circuit into their new hunting territory.
Saturday: Bad day for the team
And yet, they were initially very cautious about approaching their new territory around the Dutzendteich. 'This has been a very bad day for us,' said Head of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM Ulrich Fritz after the first race. 'Losing two cars on the first lap was really tough. Then Edo was put into a spin while in a good position. We need to take a closer look at our cars. Maybe they had targets on the back of them? There's no other way of explaining it.'
There had previously been several contacts between other cars and Lucas Auer & Robert Wickens in the initial start phase of the race. 'It felt like I left plenty of space for everyone else on the inside of Turn 1,' said Robert. 'I was on the outside, but on the exit, I got hit so hard. To be honest, the whole car is wrecked.' A similar fate met Lucas just as quickly. 'I had a small contact and ran wide in the first corner,' he told us. 'After that, I wanted to come back, and then there was a chain reaction.'
The only small rays of light during that day were Edoardo Mortara and Gary Paffett, who still managed to achieve points-scoring finishings albeit in only P8 and P10. 'We had definitely intended to do more today,' said Fritz candidly. A great deal more would have been possible in Mortara's case if he hadn't been put into a spin by Mike Rockenfeller. Edo: 'Unfortunately, Rocky spun me round on Turn 1. It was a typical Norisring incident. These things can happen. I would obviously have liked to score more points, but it's not that easy at the moment.' Nevertheless, the Team Principal set out strategy for Sunday: 'We will certainly hit back tomorrow.' No sooner said than done!
Sunday: The day of the Pink Panthers
Qualifying went much better for the team from the word go. Robert Wickens qualified on the front row, and Lucas Auer was also up front in sixth place on the grid. Things then went even better after the start, as Robert went into the lead and Lucas also moved up three positions. He then came into the pits for fresh tyres at the end of the first lap, intending to put in a long stint. The team's tactic was very successful, and Lucas was in P1 after the round of pit stops.
But then, things went totally crazy with safety car periods, a bad smash, a race stoppage and a fantastic photo-finish. 'That was amazing - what a race!' said Lucas, who ultimately crossed the finish line in second place. 'It was a master performance.' But it wasn't just the team that turned in a strong performance, Lucas also had to go to the limit of endurance. 'On the last ten laps, I got a cramp and had to brake with my right foot.'
Edoardo Mortara in the second BWT Mercedes-AMG C 63 DTM almost made things perfect for the two Pink Panthers. The Italian crept up on Mattias Ekström and Marco Wittmann over the final lap. They were behind Lucas in P3 and P4. As the two rivals scrapped tooth and nail in the last turn, Edo saw his chance and grabbed the last place on the podium over the last few metres at the finish line - his first for Mercedes.
'When you're in a fight like that with two other guys, it's like a drag race from the last turn to the finish line,' said a very happy Edo. 'It was tough, but ultimately, it went my way and I had my nose in front. Third place from 16th on the grid is simply unbelievable. This is a fantastic result for the team and for me. Hopefully, there will be more of these in the future.' Ulrich Fritz was simply lost for words to describe this race after all the drama. 'It's not easy to sum up in words exactly what happened here,' he said. 'The photo-finish in particular was absolutely amazing. Ending up on the podium with Luggi and Edo today is incredible and makes up for yesterday.'
Get well soon, Rocky!
Despite being bowled over by the final result, the team had to catch their breath just after the half-way stage. Gary was in a scrap with Jamie Green in the Audi at the re-start after the safety car period. Gary lost control of his car on a bump after a contact with Green and hit the barriers with some force. He then shot across the track and crashed into the side of Mike Rockenfeller's Audi as he hurtled along, helpless at the wheel of his stricken car. The race was stopped for half-an-hour. The two drivers were able to get out of their cars unaided and were subsequently examined in hospital.
'That was a bad smash, but I'm fine,' said Gary later that evening after the race. 'I'm sorry that Rocky got hit and injured as a result. I hope he'll get well soon. My special thanks go to all the medics - both at the racetrack and in the hospital. They took excellent care of me.'
Ulrich Fritz was also very concerned about Rockenfeller. 'First of all, get well soon, Rocky. Hopefully he'll be just fine again soon. We obviously don't want to see anything like that in motor racing,' he told us. 'Luckily, Gary is only bruised according to an initial examination.'
The DTM circus will now head abroad for the second time this year on the weekend of 21st - 23rd July to Wolokolamsk, some 80 kilometres north-west of the Russian capital Moscow. The races at the 3.931-km Moscow Raceway will mark the half-way stage of the 2017 season.