DTM 2018: Nürburgring – Analysis
The battle for the DTM championship could hardly get more exciting, as Paul Di Resta had a mere nine-point lead on Gary Paffett ahead of the third-to-last race weekend of the season. But the tide had turned in Gary's favour after the first race at the Nürburgring and he then led the drivers' standings by eight points from Paul. The two title contenders are now separated by only two points after the second race. We take a look back at the thrilling roller-coaster of a ride in the Eifel...
Race 1: Gary pulls ahead
Gary was definitely best placed in the run-up to the first race of the weekend. The 2005 champion qualified second on the grid for the 15th race of the season but was only marginally down, just 0.028 seconds, on the pole time set by Audi driver René Rast. The Top Three all qualified within a tenth of a second and eight-tenths covered the entire field of 18 drivers. Paul in P8 on the grid had a deficit of only three tenths of a second on the pole-sitter. Advantage, Gary.
He defended second place at the start and held on to that position until Lap 14 when he lost out to BMW driver Bruno Spengler. After his pit stop on Lap 17, he laid claim to P3 and a podium, crossing the line just less than seven seconds behind race winner René Rast.
'A podium is a good result for me today,' said Gary, speaking about his eighth podium finish of the season, his fourth at the Nürburgring. 'My aim is to score as many points as possible in every race. I'm obviously a bit disappointed to have started from the front row and then only finished third. That's not what I was hoping for. But René and BMW were very strong today.'
Paul, though, was very disappointed after the first race of the weekend. 'That was a disappointing day for me,' he said, summing up his feelings about P8. 'Starting from eighth was by no means ideal, but it would still have been possible to come away with a decent result. In that way, I could have extended my run of Top Ten finishes and minimised the loss of points to Gary.'
But Saturday was not a good day for Paul Di Resta. He worked his way up well from eighth on the grid and was even within striking distance of a podium finish just before the end of the first stint. But after BMW driver Philipp Eng had overtaken him in a fight for fourth place, Eng made him spin and drop back to the rear of the field. 'After that, the race was over for me,' said a disappointed Paul. This was only the second time in 15 races that he had not been able to finish in the points.
Race 2: Paul catches up
The tables had turned after Saturday's race, as suddenly, Gary was at the head of the championship table again. Sunday's qualifying was similar to Saturday's with Gary again setting second-fastest time behind René Rast - but now, the gap was just six thousandths of a second!
Meanwhile, Paul's qualifying was not optimal. True, he was only four tenths down on Rast's pole time, but in a field that was even more tightly bunched than it had been on Saturday, that was only good enough for grid slot eleven. In the DTM, every little detail really does matter in qualifying.
But Lady Luck favoured Paul on Sunday. After the first lap, the Scot was already in seventh place and preparing to gain even more places. After eight laps, Paul was already fourth and knocking on the door of the podium. On Lap 21, he pitted from second place and was still second behind race leader René Rast once the other drivers' pit stops had been taken into account.
Over the remaining race laps, he clawed his way up the field to within 2.7 seconds of the weekend's two-time race winner, Rast, but could not overtake him. 'After the disappointment of yesterday, these are very important points for me today,' said Paul about his P2. 'I'm now looking forward to the next race weekend at Spielberg. The championship remains wide open.'
Gary did not have a particularly good start to his race. 'I had a bit too much wheel spin and lost a place to Lucas. After that, Timo Glock forced me off the track in Turn 5,' said Gary. Once Glock had made Lucas Auer spin, Gary was back in P2 behind Rast and matching him for pace.
And then came the moment that decided Gary's race: 'Unfortunately, we had a bad pit stop and then there was traffic in the pit lane, so I had to wait until the other cars had gone past. This dropped me down from second to seventh place,' Gary told us. 'Unfortunately, we lost some vital positions with Gary's pit stop,' added Team Principal Ulrich Fritz. 'He drove superbly after that and limited the damage as a result.'
Gary did everything he could in the second stint to gain as many places as possible, during which, he posted a time of 1:23.875 minutes on Lap 23, the fastest of the race, enabling him to overtake Philipp Eng and Joel Eriksson and finish in fifth place. But it was not possible to achieve any more than that: 'Towards the end, my tyres were starting to degrade, and I was unable to catch up with Bruno Spengler.'
Battle for title wide open
After 16 of the season's 20 races, the title fight in the DTM could hardly be more exciting. In the drivers' championship, Gary has a two-point lead on Paul after the race weekend in the Eifel. With two race weekends and four races still to come, the battle between the two former DTM champions is wide open, as there are still 112 points up for grabs in this season's four remaining qualifying sessions and four races.
While Gary and Paul may be battling it out for the top spot in the standings, Mercedes-AMG Motorsport PETRONAS (306 points) have pulled out quite a lead in the team classification. Mercedes-AMG Motorsport REMUS (262 points) are in second place, and SILBERPFEIL Energy Mercedes-AMG Motorsport (248 points) are third. In the manufacturers' classification, Mercedes-AMG (801 points) are in first place with a 270-point lead on BMW (531 points).
DTM racing will continue in two weeks' time, 21 - 23 September, when Spielberg in Austria hosts the DTM, but before then, there will be both a great deal to write about the thrilling title fight between Gary and Paul plus a lot of work for the team at Affalterbach to do in order to have the cars well set up and prepared for the penultimate race weekend of the season.
While the team were able to improve the pace of the Mercedes-AMG C 63 DTM from Saturday to Sunday this weekend, there is always still room for improvement in a hard-fought championship series like the DTM. The team had to get accustomed to the new regulatory minimum tyre pressures at the Nürburgring.
'Our setup was simply not quite right,' said Team Principal Ulrich Fritz after the race on Saturday. Things looked better following Sunday's second race, but nevertheless, team boss Fritz was very clear: 'We must now carefully analyse the data for the two races and find solutions for Spielberg in order to return stronger once again.' The title fight could not get more exciting or thrilling.