caught up with rising star Gary Paffett at the Autosport International show, and the young Briton discussed his introduction to the DTM in 2003 with Mercedes, and his hopes for 2004 in the final section of this extensive two-part Q&A.

Gary... I get the impression that the Mercedes and the DTM are a car and championship you are really enjoying?

Gary Paffett:
The Mercedes is a great car to race. It is very advanced, very quick, and the racing is good fun. At places like the Norisring and Hockenheim, you are doing something like 160mph down the straights, and to be braking at the hundred metres board for a hairpin in something that big is awesome.

The people you are racing against are very experienced drivers, and they don't do stupid things - I think I was maybe the only one who did do something stupid in one race! Other than that you have very good racing, and I think it is the best Touring Car package around.

So what does 2004 and hold in store for you?

We have a contract to race in the DTM with Mercedes again, and I'm really hoping that will be in one of the new cars - hopefully a full works car with HWA. I saw last year that you are always going to be just off the pace in an old car - it can be as much as a second or a second and a half, and that is just too much of a deficit to make up.

I've done a lot of development testing recently in one of the new cars, so it looks really promising. I'm just waiting for Mercedes to confirm it publicly, but we are pretty confident that we are going to be in one of four new cars alongside Schneider, Alesi and Albers.

So what are going to be your goals for the season?

First of to start trying to win races - and at least get on the podium. Christijan Albers showed last year what you can do. My performances in the old car were equivalent to what he had done in an old car, and he finished second in the championship last year.

Everything is possible, I have to go out there in a positive frame of mind and put behind me the fact that Schneider has all those years of experience. You have drivers like Alesi, Aiello, and Frentzen, and you have to put the big names out your mind and get on and do a job. They are people you have watched racing and idolised - and now you are racing them and trying to beat them.

So is it a buzz for Gary Paffett to see your name up on the timesheets with those household names?

It is, especially in the Lausitzring race when I tested well. They started off saying we were going to use the first corner of the oval, which you were approaching at 160mph and taking with only a slight lift for the corner. The speeds were incredible, and it was very different to what we had done before.

In the second test session I was sixth quickest overall, and everyone at Mercedes were looking at the time thinking 'what is he doing?' In the first split - the part of the circuit I was really loving - I was third quickest overall, and I was feeling it was going to be a really good weekend. I think only Aiello and Abt were quicker than me, and they ended up destroying their cars!

The day before qualifying they decided the corner wasn't safe we weren't going to use it - so we were back to 18th on the grid again.

It looks very good for next year and podiums are what we are looking for to start with - and race wins for later in the year. The championship has to be a serious aim. You have three major constructors, Mercedes were dominant in 2003, but Opel, and Audi with Joest Racing running a work effort, means it will be a tough season.

Now you have the association with Mercedes the DTM has to be your main priority, but do you have ticking away at the back of your mind some of the other areas of motorsport that Mercedes are involved in?

Of course - this year I had the option with Mercedes to do the DTM, so we could have done other things. We looked at Formula One to see what was available, but it seems like you need a spare couple of million pounds to get a drive. We could have raised a bit of that money, but it doesn't seem to have worked for some of the drivers who have gone down that route.

I'd like to get onto Formula One, but this year Mercedes and the DTM looks a much better long term option. I still have good and close links with McLaren, and we've spoken to them about possibly doing some testing - and they seemed quite positive that we would be able to get out in one of their cars this year.

There should be a lot more change and opportunity with teams in Formula One in 2005, and I think what is what we are aiming for.



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