The Circuit Park Zandvoort was the setting for the penultimate round of the 2013 DTM Championship as a new DTM champion was crowned - Mike "Rocky" Rockenfeller.
The drivers had to make the best of the tyres and the strategies as the DMSB decided to outlaw the Drag Reduction System that has been used from the beginning of the year. The 4.307km track is known for its abrasive surface and long, fast and sweeping corners and limited opportunites to overtake.
With a track that has seen Formula One in years past, where Niki Lauda was the last driver to win the Dutch GP in 1985, the DTM has raced amongst the dunes for the last 11 years. BMW Motorsport may have done a pit stop in their Lederhosen as a part of their build-up to bring luck to the team and to their lead driver in the hunt for the Drivers’ Championship, but it was a forgone conclusion by the sea.
However, during the sole 90-minute practice session that the drivers have to get the best set-up possible, it was BMW Motorsport’s Augusto Farfus that made it count just five minutes from the end, as the Brazilian driver eclipsed the time that was set by last year’s race winner, Audi Sport’s Edoardo Mortara, who led the session for its majority. But the session was not without incident as both the Italian and French driver Adrien Tambay went off at one point, the former spinning off at Tarzanbocht, whilst Tambay went off at the Audi S. Both drivers did have to return to the pits for repair work to be carried out.
It could have been a very different story had the incident during the customary rollout the drivers have the night before, as Farfus narrowly avoided making contact with points leader Mike Rockenfeller after being released from his pit box. The Team RBM driver was fined 2000 Euros for the “unsafe release,” but no penalty on the grid was issued. “Rocky” was sixth fastest, behind Tambay, Marco Wittmann and Martin Tomczyk, who completed the top five.
The Brits that make up just a small part of the field, BMW’s Andy Priaulx, Mercedes’ Gary Paffett and Audi’s Jamie Green placed 11th, 18th and 14th respectively, with the 3-time WTCC Champion looking for a return to form that he had in the middle part of the season. Defending champion Bruno Spengler was 7th, just ahead of two-time champion Timo Scheider in 7th and 8th place, with Christian Vietoris rounding out the top ten.
The sun was out in force as Qualifying got underway for the first session, with the track temperature raised enough and a slight breeze for all to exploit the maximum out of their cars and the track itself.
Rockenfeller took to the track first in Q1 ahead of fellow Team Phoenix stablemate, Miguel Molina, as Augusto Farfus was the man to beat early on, with “Rocky” being eight tenths behind the Brazilian. BMW had a hold on the top three slots early on with Wittmann and Priaulx also helping the cause to reduce the chances for the German points leader to make his efforts count.
Mercedes-Benz, however had a woeful qualifying yet again, as four of their six drivers were eliminated early on as Vietoris, Daniel Juncadella, Robert Wickens and Roberto Merhi could not get the cars dialed in when required, along with both Green and Tomczyk. The Stuttgart outfit, along with the other brands, has clearly had their ups and downs this season, when it comes to making the changes at the right time, but that is motor racing.
Even in Q1, the drivers didn’t feel completely comfortable with their times, as Farfus still went out for another run. Joey Hand was clearly showing some fantastic form around some of the corners to storm to P2, with Paffett able to keep himself in the top ten to go to Q2. Molina himself was the victim of an unsafe release situation into the path of Timo Glock, and was given the same fine as Farfus had received the other day.
Q2 saw the field even tighter than the first session, as the track seemed to come to all the drivers a lot quicker due to the tyres getting better traction and grip. Nine tenths of a second separated the top 16, which showed the time that could make the difference between progressing and being eliminated.
Dirk Werner went wide during his fast lap, and ended up giving the mechanics some work before the race, as his off-track excursion ripped the left rear wheel arch off his M3 DTM. Werner's time was not good enough to go to Q3, along with his Team Schnitzer teammate Spengler again suffering in Qualifying, having been eliminated as well, but not knowing what the cause of the problem was.
Paffett was eliminated in P12, just behind Mattias Ekstrom, who was just 0.002 seconds away from getting into Q3, just behind Molina. Times started to get better and better once again, as drivers were swapping positions hand over fist, as the fight intensified towards Q4. The majority of the field that were left in the fight were using older tyres, with lap times over a second off the pace set earlier in the day.
Hand put it all on the line, but out-braked himself into turn 9, dropping a lot of time as a result, meaning he did not get into Q4 for the first time in his DTM career. Tambay and Albuquerque were on the cusp of also making it into the top 4 for the final shootout, but it was Wittman, Scheider, Rockenfeller and Farfus that would fight it out for pole position.
Rockenfeller was first out, and set a benchmark of 1:31.235, which was clearly going to be beaten, with Wittmann going out next. The former DTM test driver was the man to really up the ante, as he went over four tenths faster than the current points leader. Scheider, who has won pole position four times at Zandvoort was potentially one driver to watch as he went for it, but again, lost a lot of time over the last sector to end up a second and a half down, showing ho cruel the track can be if a mistake is made, as it bites back with a vengeance. Farfus was last to attempt a run at Wittmann, but had to settle for second place on the grid, as race day was set to see whether or not the title would be settled in the Netherlands…
The sun was shining on the North Sea coast, as the racing was set to get underway over 44 laps of the Circuit Park Zandvoort, as the fans were expecting the inevitability of a champion being crowned, as well as a good race.
The cars got to the starting line after the drivers’ parade and the formation lap as is customary with every DTM race, before the drivers climbed into their cars and went about their own races. The revs were raised before the five lights went out, with Rockenfeller making a lightening start that was originally under investigation, as Farfus got into the lead into Tarzanbocht, with Wittmann being rather slow off the start. Rockenfeller kept fighting hard until he passed the youngster half way around the first lap to keep his strategy going.
Farfus, meanwhile, had opened up a gap to the rest of the field, and was clearly pushing for all he was worth to get the win. “Rocky” was under investigation for his possible “jump-start,” but he was not issued any sort of penalty, as the stewards deemed it was legal.
Farfus seemed to lose time, as his hard strategy on the options started to falter, as the Brazilian decided to pit on Lap 13, as Rockenfeller was easily closing the gap, before he himself pitted just a couple of laps later long with BMW’s Hand.
Molina and Albuquerque were on a rather different strategy as they pushed the tyres in not so much an aggressive manner as the top flight of the field, before switching onto the standard Hankook tyres for the next two stints. It was a guessing game for the second part of the race with Farfus trying to make it count, having got into the lead after both Rockenfeller and the Brazilian had made both their pit stops.
The order remained relatively unchanged until lap 38, where Green touched Werner on the right rear, sending the German spinning out at Tarzanbocht sideways into the gravel, which sent the Brit sideways into the corner. However, Green was lucky to survive and finished 13th, with Werner’s stricken M3 DTM bringing out the Safety Car.
The light went out with just two laps left, as racing got back underway, but the man of the moment was Audi’s Mattias Ekstrom, who was running on the option tyres, was able to shoot past several drivers as the field was bunched up together behind the Safety Car until lap 42.
Ekstrom was gunning for more than just a podium place, as the Safety Car allowed him to save the best for last when it came to the option tyres, with pole sitter Marco Wittmann being his last victim before the chequered flag was waved to end the race.
Farfus’ valiant effort to win was more than just credible, but due to his consistency and the efforts of Team Phoenix, Rockenfeller finished in 2nd place ahead of Scheider, and clinched the title, with the gap between both drivers being 26 points going into Hockenheim for the final race of the season. Tambay made it four for four, as he secured more points for an improvement in comparison to last year, where the French driver secured his first points of his DTM career in the Netherlands last year. He was ahead of Hand, Albuquerque, Paffett and Molina, as the Spaniard was the last man to score points this weekend past.
So, a new champion was crowned by the North Sea coast, as Audi made further strides to sweeping the board, as BMW’s trio of titles have already felt a pinch, but will Audi Sport make it a hat trick of titles going into Hockenheim in just over a fortnight. Munich will need to fight their corner to keep what they earned last season, whereas Ingolstadt wants to take back the glory and the spoils.
The 2013 DTM season concludes at Hockenheimring Baden-Württemberg on 20 October.