He may admit that it is now 'too late', but Paul di Resta finally kick-started his 2009 DTM season firmly into gear with a popular home victory for Mercedes-Benz on home soil at Brands Hatch – as Audi rival Timo Scheider edged ever-closer to retaining his drivers' crown.
As the front row of di Resta and Scheider made textbook getaways and leapt into the lead when the starting lights went out – heading off into the distance to resume their 2008 Brands Hatch duel – Mercedes' Bruno Spengler out-dragged Audi's Tom Kristensen into Paddock Hill Bend to pinch third, and following a first corner touch causing a deterioration in handling, the Dane would go on to frustrate the ambitions of Martin Tomczyk and Gary Paffett throughout the opening laps. Further back, Alex Prémat received the race's first penalty of the race for jumping the start.
Tomczyk was the first to break free from behind his team-mate, with Kristensen slowing on the exit of Druids to allow the patently faster car by, before brusquely chopping back across the bows of the pursuing Paffett, who by now had countryman Jamie Green with him for company as the two Mercedes' ganged up on the ailing Audi. Former double champion Mattias Ekström would join the party before much longer as well, making it two Mercedes' in an Audi sandwich, but the Swede's Team Abt Sportsline team-mate was away and gone, chasing down the leading trio of di Resta, Scheider and Spengler.
In a role reversal of the hunter vs hunted situation of last year between di Resta and Scheider, the German closed to as near as four tenths of a second as he piled the pressure on during the early stages, but a disastrous first pit-stop saw the 30-year-old lose time behind the Kolles Futurecom-TME machine of Christian Bakkerud both entering and leaving the pits, as the Dane ran side-by-side with the championship leader and rather clumsily almost pushed his fellow Audi driver onto the grass on the exit, for which he would earn himself a drive-through penalty.
Following Spengler's first pit visit, Tomczyk was freed up unleash a series of hot laps and home in on di Resta, who was increasingly finding himself under assault from Audis as he endeavoured to keep his nose in front. The order once the stops had shaken out was di Resta with a reduced advantage over Spengler and the flying Tomczyk, with the delayed Scheider now the best part of ten seconds back in fourth.
Behind them, a brave move had enabled Paffett to dive down the inside of the defensive Kristensen at Druids 20 laps in, with Green doing likewise a handful of laps later in a similarly fair but forceful move. There was less joy, though, for Ekström, who lost track position to both Oliver Jarvis and Ralf Schumacher during the stops, though he would swiftly regain them as the Briton moved aside and the German was handed a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit-lane.
Jarvis would subsequently be sent into a very smoky spin by Jamie Green – for which the latter would similarly earn himself a drive-through on an afternoon of indiscretions and penalties – as up front Spengler was playing a perfect role in allowing di Resta to stretch his lead out to almost six seconds by holding up both Tomczyk and the closing Scheider, though the latter would encounter further troubles with a tardy second pit-stop that cost him even more time.
As Spengler ran wide at Paddock just before half-distance, however, Tomczyk pounced, putting two wheels off the track as he made his move and setting off in pursuit of di Resta. Ekström, too, was flying a little way behind, as the Swede attempted to take something away from a generally disappointing weekend. The 2004 and 2007 title-winner would gain a spot at Spengler's expense as the French-Canadian slowly slipped down the order, whilst Scheider was on the march again, reducing di Resta's lead from 7.5 seconds to 5.8 seconds as the laps counted down.
With 20 laps left to run, the safety car then appeared for the first time for a hefty 'off' for Mathias Lauda at Paddock, only a handful of corners after the young Austrian had similarly visited the gravel trap at Druids, only with rather more serious consequences for his C-Class on the second occasion – though happily the son of triple Formula 1 World Champion Niki lauda was himself uninjured. The first retirement of the race, the incident also served to close the leaders right up, though Katherine Legge in the second Kolles Futurecom-TME car sat between them.
At the re-start, it was Scheider rather than di Resta who was found wanting, as the West Lothian-born ace sprinted away from his rival. Legge received a drive-through penalty for releasing Scheider and Tomczyk but not fourth-placed Paffett, who now had the charging Ekström right on his tail. Just 1.6 seconds separated the two leaders with 13 laps remaining, but no sooner had the action got underway again than it was halted once more, with a substantial accident for the luckless Kristensen at McLaren, as 'Mr Le Mans' speared off the track and ended his race firmly embedded in the circuit's tyre barriers.
At the same time, Markus Winkelhock spun at Druids further down the order, sending Schumacher sideways and broadside into Maro Engel, who he literally T-boned and bulldozed out of his way in his efforts to rejoin the track, though how such behaviour will be viewed by the pair's employer Mercedes remains to be seen. The ensuing chaos brought the safety car out for a second time, and with the clock rapidly ticking down, by the time the action resumed there was long enough just for two more laps.
As di Resta paced himself onto the chequered flag for a famous triumph, Scheider backed off and settled for second and a further step towards holding onto his hard-fought title, with Tomczyk making it three podium finishes in succession in third. Paffett just held off the attacking Ekström for fourth, with Spengler, Mike Rockenfeller and Jarvis rounding out the points-scorers, the latter benefitting from the late-race mêlée
just ahead of him to leapfrog his rivals and snatch the final marker.
To see the race result in full, click here