Englishman Gary Paffett took advantage of a puncture on Mattias EkstrÃ¶m's Audi to clinch victory and move to within seven points of the series lead with one round to go.
The weekend was the first time the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) had raced on the French Dijon-Prenois circuit, with a reported 26,000 fans packed into the historic circuit of the 52 lap race.
Paffett, driving a 2009 model Mercedes C-class, started the race from eighth, but quickly found his way up to fifth after passing fellow Brit and three-pointed start pilot Jamie Green on the second lap. Paffett, who pitted at the same time as EkstrÃ¶m, then took advantage of making his first of two mandatory pitstops early, on lap 13, and slowly, together they began leapfrogging those ahead as they pulled in for their stops.
By lap 22, as the first round of stops wound out EkstrÃ¶m had inherited with lead, with a very slender lead from Paffett, the orange nose of the Mercedes almost wedged under Audi's rear wing, up and down the sweeps of the track, like some sort of J20 chaser to the energy drink ahead. The two once more pitted together for their second stops, Paffett almost pushing the Swede into the narrow pitlane, although again he remained behind as the pair re-entered the track.
That was until six laps from the end.
Going down the front straight EkstrÃ¶m suddenly dived right into the pitlane, Paffett doing well to only clip the tail of the car, sending one of the aerodynamic plains somersaulting skywards as he flicked past, and the Audi pit crew completed a stop that would drop EkstrÃ¶m to 11th and out of the points.
All that remained was for him to stay trouble free for the final six laps, and so he did, taking Mercedes' fifth win of the nine races so far this season. It was, in truth, a dominating day for the Stuttgart brand, with their cars filling the top five spots, Paffett heading Paul di Resta, Bruno Spengler, Jamie Green and Ralf Schumacher before Timo Scheider brought home the first Audi.
“I am really happy and I thank my team for our great performance today,” said Paffett. ”It was a tough and long race, but the fight with Mattias EkstrÃ¶m was always fun”, while Green spoke for the entire squad “A great race for me and for the entire Mercedes-Benz team. The C-Class was perfect.”
But, as good a day as it was for Mercedes, it was as bad, if not worse, for Audi. EkstrÃ¶m's race deciding puncture was only one of several that dogged their drivers all race. Oliver Jarvis, Tom Kristenson and Scheider all suffered remarkably similar left rear punctures as the cars and tyres perhaps struggled with the fast clockwise layout. That all came after three of their drivers had conspired to put two cars out of the race early on.
Katherine Legge tapped Christian Bakkerud into the turn one gravel, before his Kolles teammate Johnannes Seidlitz span on his own, careering backwards into Bakkerud's recovering car, wiping the rear off both A4's in an image to make Ingolstadt cringe towards what Audi Motorsport head Dr. Wolfgang Ulrich could only describe as a “disappointing result”.
Scheider's salvaged sixth keeps Paffett seven points behind with a single race, at Hockenheim, and a maximum ten points remaining. The margin is two more than Scheider had twelve months ago before he won the last round to seal the title, but still gives Paffett a chance of adding to his 2005 crown, despite Norbert Haug proclaiming “I am still convinced that the battle for the title is already over for us.”
The final round takes place on the weekend of the 23rd-25th October.