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Lausitz 2004: Ekström wins after Paffett DSQ

7 June 2004


Audi's Mattias Ekström was declared the winner of the fourth round of the DTM, held at the Lausitzring on Sunday, after the original winner, Gary Paffett, was disqualified for a fuel irregularity.

Paffett's AMG Mercedes C-class came to a halt at the end of his in-lap, and the 23-year old got out of his car to return to the pits - and the welcome of his team - on foot. However, according to DMSB regulations, the driver should remain in his car until it reaches parc fermé in order to give stewards a chance to gauge the exact racing weight of the driver/car combination. In addition, at least 1.5 litres of fuel should be available to be taken from any competing car at any time during an event, and this was also not the case with Paffett's car.

The Briton was eventually disqualified five hours after the race had ended, and second-placed Ekström declared as the new winner. The remaining drivers were all moved up a place in the final results, but everything could change again as Paffett's team appealed against the stewards' decision.

Ekstrom, however, admitted that he was only second best on the day.

"Of course, I'm pleased about the points towards the championship but, to be fair, it was Gary who won on the circuit today," the Swede said, "His team obviously made a mistake.“

Mercedes-Benz motorsport boss Norbert Haug did not exactly agree with Ekstrom's assessment, and hoped that the stewards would reverse their decision.

"Gary won on the track and not by dint of forbidden advantages," he insisted, "His disqualification is a punishment that the team considers too severe. That's why we have appealed and I hope that a decision will be made in the interest of the sport.“

Christijan Albers came second in his AMG-Mercedes C-class, while last year's winner on the 4.534km course, Bernd Schneider, moved up to third. Opel driver Laurent Aiello made up a lot of lost ground, moving into fourth from 13th and finishing ahead of Frenchman Jean Alesi's Mercedes.

With a first corner accident unfolding in their mirrors, Ekstrom and Albers resumed their ongoing battle for supremacy, the Swede getting the upper hand on lap one, and Paffett also coming through to push his Mercedes team-mate down to third. The first corner incident, however, proved costly for Opel, with Peter Dumbreck losing places and Heinz-Harald Frentzen hitting the barrier before heading for the pits. Mercedes' veteran Bernd Maylander was also involved and limped back to the pits to retire

The start was a disastrous one for Opel but, ironically, it was precipitated by a collision between two Mercedes, as Paffett and Jean Alesi made contact. Dumbreck was knocked wide on to the grass, while Timo Scheider was forced to spin in avoidance and rejoin at the tail of the field.

The leading trio - the stars of the show so far this season - all headed for their mandatory pit-stop on lap five and, when the cycle unfolded, Ekstrom continued to head the field from Paffett. Albers, however, had lost ground with an off-track excursion just two laps after resuming, and was not close enough to take advantage of Paffett's first attempts to find his way past the leading Audi.

Ekstrom made his second pit call on lap twelve, allowing his British rival to lead for a lap before making his own second stop. Once again, Paffett rejoined the fray right on the Swede's tail, but had to tail him for another seven laps before finally forcing his way through at the first turn. The scrap had also allowed Albers to close back in, the Dutchman having had to pass Mercedes' reigning champion Bernd Schneider in the process of recovering his position.

With Paffett gradually breaking away from his pursuers, Ekstrom and Albers resumed the physical combat that had begun at round two in Portugal, making contact on more than one occasion but without altering the order.

"When I spotted Christijan and Bernd Schneider in my rear-view mirror, I knew that I'd have to fight hard to keep my second place," Ekstrom said, before being notified of Paffett's exclusion, "The duels with Albers were tough but fair - we've exchanged lots of blue and silver paint recently - but, in the DTM, every millimetre counts. If you want to be at the very front of the field, you have to drive hard and right at the limit. I think we put on a spectacular show for the audience today - even though this may have put quite a strain on the nerves of my pit crew!"

Behind them, Schneider headed a train comprising Laurent Aiello and Jean Alesi, but had the upper hand on his two veteran rivals and eased out to a three-second advantage by the chequered flag. The two 'As' continued to scrap right up to the flag - thrilling the packed 74,000 crowd almost as much as the battle for second spot - with Aiello grabbing fourth for Opel after resisting his compatriot to the flag.

"I'm very happy to finish in the top five having started from so far back," Aiello reckoned, "If I had a better starting position, with the car I had today I feel it would have been possible to win - the car was that good. It was a shame about the yellow flag situation in qualifying, because I didn't see one."

A second Opel, driven by Timo Scheider, also appeared to be on course for points before Paffett's exclusion, and heading Audi sportscar veteran Emanuele Pirro into the closing stages. However, a brush with the Audi of Martin Tomczyk proved costly after the event, with a 50-second penalty dropping the Opel to an unrepresentative 17th at the flag.

Scheider had stayed out for a long first run following the first corner incident, and caught the race leaders after their first pit-stops. He was able to comfortably keep up - and even close on the frontrunners before his stop - a pace that allowed him to jump up to a staggering eighth position by the halfway point. However, that late collision with Tomczyk proved costly. A similar incident with Markus Winkelhock's Mercedes meant that Dumbreck was forced to observe a drive-through penalty, and he finished down in twelfth.

Pirro, despite running a temperature and being involved in the collision right at the start of the race and dropping to the rear of the field, finished sixth, scoring three more points for Audi Sport Infineon Team Joest.

"I'm very happy about my result, because before the start I wasn't sure if I'd be able to stick it out," the Italian admitted, "I've been running a temperature and have had to take medication. The race was tough and, what's more, it started badly, as I was flung around right in the first corner. But then I found a good rhythm and was able to catch up one place after another."

Scheider's disappointment, however, enabled Marcel Fassler and Manuel Reuter to score their first points of the year, making it three Opels in the revised top eight.

Outside the point-scorers, Audi's Tom Kristensen came home tenth, after incurring a rather more bizarre penalty than his two Audi rivals. The Dane received a drive-through after a mechanic got his hand caught while lowering the car on the grid, and the A4 had to be lifted once more.

"If you start from 18th place and are given a drive-though penalty on top, you can't expect a better result than this," Kristensen sighed, "My car was very good, and I would've liked to score the points for Audi. Without the drive-through penalty, which I find rather difficult to understand, I'd have easily scored points. Yet, I have no choice but to accept this penalty."

Markus Winkelhock won the battle for year-old cars in his Original-Teile Mercedes CLK, having made a good start and avoided all incidents. The German was seventh after the first round of stops but, on lap eight, he was pushed into a spin by Dumbreck and eventually came home 14th.

Perhaps fittingly, Ekström and Albers now share the lead in the overall standings, on 34 points, while the disqualified Paffett remains third on 15. Alesi is fourth on twelve, and Tomczyk fifth on eleven.


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