Norisring 2004: Paffett back in the fight
27 June 2004
The winner of this year's season-opening DTM race is back with a vengeance, as Britain's Gary Paffett bounced back from the disappointment of having his Lausitzring victory taken away from him to win the fifth round in Nuremberg.
The works Mercedes driver was in emphatic form in front of a record 132,000 spectators, edging team-mate and defending champion Christijan Albers into second after 72 laps around the unique 2.3km street circuit.
Paffett started from second on the grid, alongside Mercedes' veteran Jean Alesi, but it was Albers, who had qualified third, who squeezed between them to take the lead on lap one. The Dutchman continued to lead until the first round of mandatory pit-stops, where Paffett took full advantage of a problem for his rival's car. The Briton stopped on lap eight, being turned around in 4.6secs, while Albers followed one lap later. Despite a fairly rapid turn around, the erstwhile leader stalled the engine due to clutch problem dropping behind both Paffett and Alesi by the time he rejoined. Reigning champion Bernd Schneider had slotted into fourth off the line, and retained the position through the stops.
The race was all about Mercedes at the front and, although Alesi eventually dropped back following an on-track incident, Paffett retained the lead through the second set of pit-stops to come ahead of Albers and Schneider, who inherited a rare podium finish.
“I'm really happy - this is the perfect response to what happened at the Lausitzring three weeks ago," Paffett grinned, "My team performed two great pit-stops, which were the basis for my victory.
"I started well, but Christijan started better. I tried not to push too hard in order not to put an large amount of pressure on the brakes and tyres, and my car was excellent. There were no problems whatsoever.“
Alesi's error was not enough to eliminate him, but a lap 64 trip into the tyre wall at the Grundig hairpin, the result of locked brakes, saw him come home tenth.
“I would have liked to have been on the podium too," the Frenchman sighed, "but a problem in the brake system prevented that today.”
Schneider swooped on his team-mate's misfortune to take third place, fending off a trio of Audis that secured the next three berths. Swede Mattias Ekström battled his way into fourth position from a ninth place start, picking up crucial points towards his championship challenge.
"My first pit stop wasn't perfect, and on top of that I stalled the engine," the Audi man reported, "Aside from this, the race went without any problem - the car was perfect, and the performance of my brakes was consistently good through to the end. I'm completely satisfied with my fourth place here as, after my qualifying result, we expected to fall a lot further behind Christijan. A mere three points is good."
Team-mate's Martin Tomczyk and Tom Kristensen rounded off the Audi scorers, with the Dane, in particular, thrilling the crowd with an impressive fight to catch up with the front of the field after falling back to 17th place as a result of an early crash with fellow Audi runner Christian Abt.
"I'd rather not comment on the collision with Christian," Kristensen insisted, "Aside from that, my race was really good and, once more, I've learnt a lot about the DTM. I gave my level best and overtook every car that was directly in front of me. The pit stops, too, were super."
Opel drivers Peter Dumbreck and Manuel Reuter snatched the remaining points with positions seven and eight. The Scot was delayed when he spun at the Dutzendteich hairpin attempting to pass the Mercedes of Stefan Mücke, but recovered quickly and engaged in a fantastic late battle with Kristensen, before crossing the line in seventh position.
"I had a very good start and had to take a certain amount of risk in order to advance - that's why I chose the line on the outside," Dumbreck revealed, "I then held off a bit during the first lap so that there wasn't too much pressure on the tyres and the brakes, but our speed - particularly on new tyres - was absolutely okay.“
A number of drivers featured in the points only to lose out when the final reckoning came around.
Stefan Mücke's Mercedes CLK was in the points for about two thirds of the race but, from lap ten, had suffered gearbox problems and, by lap 65, had only sixth gear left.
Timo Scheider had even worse luck, losing out on another points finish when a defective propshaft ended a race he had started in fifth position. Audi's Christian Abt was running in the points until a similar failure forced him to retire shortly before the end.
Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela finished the race in positions nine and eleven but, elsewhere there was less fortune for series newcomers. Heinz-Harald Frentzen crashed out of the race on lap six after losing control when his wheels locked up under braking. To make matters worse, the German took Opel team-mate Marcel Fässler with him. Laurent Aiello was forced to retire from the race with a driveshaft problem, while Mercedes' 'lesser lights' also ran into trouble.
Halfway through the championship, Albers now heads the overall standings on 42 points, three ahead of Ekström. Paffett has caught back up with the front of the field after a string of disappointments, and now lies on 25 points.