Mercedes-Benz star Gary Paffett acknowledges that leaving Brands Hatch this weekend in the lead of the DTM title chase will be a pretty tall order – but he is determined to end the meeting stood proudly atop the podium and even more in contention for the crown than ever.
Back in current-spec machinery for the first time since lifting the laurels in the hotly-contested pan-European tin-top series in 2005, Paffett knows he has comfortably his finest opportunity of adding to that glory this year – and he is making full use of it.
A brace of triumphs from the opening six outings of the campaign have left him sitting a challenging third in the drivers' standings behind the Audi pairing of defending DTM Champion Timo Scheider and two-time previous title-winner Mattias Ekström arriving on home turf at Brands – and the 28-year-old admits that he is well in the fight.
“It's gone pretty well,” he told Crash.net
. “I've won two races, which has been fantastic. Okay, we've had a couple of races where we've not been as competitive as we wanted to be, but in general we've been fast and we're fighting for the lead of the championship.
“[Racing on home soil] is fantastic, especially being able to just drive down the road to the track instead of getting on an aeroplane. I get to stay in my own familiar surroundings. Going back to somewhere I've been racing at and have known for a long time is a big comfort, and the crowd and fans at Brands always give me a big lift.”
As to his objective there this year – having twelve months ago both qualified and finished eighth around the Kent track's Indy layout – Paffett is unequivocal, clearly eager to add to his 2009 victory count. Saying that, with the DTM being so tough to call this season from circuit-to-circuit and often little to choose between its two protagonists Audi and Mercedes, the McLaren-Mercedes test driver and former McLaren/Autosport BRDC Young Driver of the Year
is taking nothing for granted.
“It's very difficult to read this year,” he stressed. “We've gone to circuits that on paper should suit Mercedes and Audi have won, and we've gone to circuits that on paper should suit Audi and we've won. You can't predict which car is going to be quicker; you just have to wait until you get there and then see where you are. We've done some more work on the set-up of the car, though, and hopefully we'll be on the pace.
“It could be difficult [to leave Brands with the championship lead] – six points is a lot to catch up in just one meeting – but certainly we've got a chance of winning the race and at least closing the gap. That has to be the main aim for the weekend. We obviously hope for a spectacular performance, but we've been beaten in the last two races, and we really need to get back on top of that and start fighting the Audis and winning races again. Hopefully we can get back on top of the podium this weekend.
“As to the championship itself, we've got the car this year to do it, and there are some races coming up that we should be competitive at. I think we've got a very strong chance.”