'Rocky' salvages podium for Audi
1 January 1901
On a day where the results were dominated by British drivers in old-spec Mercedes, Audi rookie Mike Rockenfeller came through a typically turbulent race to claim his maiden DTM podium second time out.
Audi's youngest factory driver, aged 23, fought a thrilling duel with the two-time F1 world champion Mika Häkkinen, which he decided in his favour on the second-to-last lap, clinching not only third place for himself, but also the best result for Audi Team Rosberg since the launch of the new-look DTM in 2000.
As early as at the start, sportscar convert Rockenfeller caused a sensation when he out-gunned poleman Häkkinen to take the lead into turn one, remaining out front until his first pit-stop on lap 13. The S-line A4 then conceded the advantage to Häkkinen during his first tyre change, but put so much pressure on the Finn that he ultimately made a mistake in the final phase of the race, allowing 'Rocky' to push past him in a spectacular manoeuvre that decided the podium.
"I'm incredibly happy!" Rockenfeller admitted afterwards, "This was only my second DTM race, and a lot of things are still new to me, but I made it onto the podium.
"I was determined to take the lead at the start and it worked. The car was very good, and I was running in front for a long time. When I was behind Mika, I gave everything, but it's difficult to be running so close behind a rival. I was a tiny bit faster and able to overtake him in the end – and that was fantastic! The team performed two great pit-stops. Whether the strategy was the best or not, I don't know, but we had decided it that way and were rewarded by a podium position.”
After several seasons in the comparative wilderness, the result was also a great morale booster for Team Rosberg.
"I'm speechless!" team director Arno Zensen admitted, "This was the best result Team Rosberg has ever achieved in the DTM. The squad did an incredibly good job, and Rocky was superb. Thank you very much for this!"
Despite conceding the top two spots to Gary Paffett and Paul di Resta, Audi occupied six positions in the top ten, cementing its early season position ahead of rivals Mercedes.
"This was a very unusual race, in which strategies were crucial," head of Audi motorsport, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, commented, "Also, a lot today depended on where you ended up in traffic after a pit-stop.
"That Mike dared the attack against Mika towards the end of the race proves the qualities he possesses. I'm proud of his performance, and he has every right to be proud of it himself. I'm happy to have him with us. Congratulations to Mercedes, but we continue to lead the championship – and that's what counts!”