DTM » 3 May 2004
Estoril 2004: Albers edges Ekstrom.
The second round of the 2004 DTM season produced a dramatic finish as last year's championship runner-up Christijan Albers grabbed his first win of the season by less than a second from Audi's Mattias Ekström.
The Dutchman was made to wait for his first victory of the year as, for more than half the race, Ekström was biting at the Mercedes' tail. Audi's pace was already well-known at the Portuguese circuit, and Albers knew that the slightest slip could be enough to let his Swedish rival through - and away.
"This victory was one I had to fight really hard for," he admitted, "Audi was very, very strong today, and I had problems with my last set of tyres. That was why Ekström came closer and closer. Fortunately, I managed to keep him behind me."
The duel had been a three-way battle early on, as the Hockenheim podium trio of Albers, Ekstrom and Gary Paffett battled for supremacy in the run-up to the first round of pit-stops. However, the decisive move was made early on the ninth lap as, right at the end of the finishing straight, Albers overhauled both leader Paffett and Ekström, attacking around the outside.
"Very seldom have I ever seen overtaking manoeuvres like those made by of Christijan, Gary and Mattias Ekström," Mercedes' sporting director Norbert Haug said afterwards.
Ekström was happy enough with his second place, but was just a little peeved about missing victory by such a small margin.
"Today, we would have deserved first place," the Swede reckoned, "My car was better than Christijan's but, unfortunately, I didn't get by him. I hoped that he would make a big mistake - which was what I would have needed - but he simply made none. The most frustrating thing is that I went right into traffic after my pit-stop and my edge was gone."
Paffett's challenge faded as a result of an unscheduled pit-stop to fix a damaged tyre, dropping the Hockenheim race winner back to an unrepresentative 13th at the chequered flag, although he clocked the fastest lap of the race - at 1min 35.528secs - before the end.
“After my first stop, I was hit in the left front corner in the battle with Ekström, and this damaged my tyre," the gutted Briton sighed, "After a good qualifying and a good start to the race, I'm disappointed - because I could have won.”
Third place eventually went to another Audi, and the current domination held by the DTM's crop of youngsters was maintained by Martin Tomczyk, who crossed the line 3.898secs behind the lead battle. After a number of strong runs that had been negated by incidents, the result was a fillip for the young German.
"Finally, in my fourth year, I cut the knot," he said of his maiden podium, "I am absolutely happy. This feels great."
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