Paffett takes dominant victory in season opener

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Gary Paffett scored a dominant opening victory in the Hockenheim sunshine as the 2010 DTM season burst into life. With his Mercedes team dominating the opening round, Paffett led home Bruno Spengler, Jamie Green and Paul Di Resta for a 'Silver Arrows' 1-2-3-4.

Martin Tomczyk got the jump on Paffett after the Briton ran wide for the second time on lap one, and the first few corners were dominated by the sight of chunks of carbon fibre flying off the 470 bhp machines, most of which came from the Mercedes of Di Resta who had a very feisty opening tour. Oliver Jarvis was an early casualty as he was forced to retire after contact caused by a clumsy move by Mercedes Maro Engel, who outbraked himself and ploughed into the right front corner of Jarvis' A4.

Double champion Timo Scheider, who had qualified in a lowly ninth, got the jump on Mike Rockenfeller at the start and then survived a crude attempt by 'Rocky' to take the place back on lap 7. Alex Premat had made a great start from eleventh, climbing to sixth and running there until the pit stops began, with Mattias Ekstrom the first to blink, followed in quick succession by Spengler from fifth and Scheider.

Tomczyk had spent the time until the first pit stop window opening a small gap on Paffett, although his luck was to change on lap 11, when a tyre failure at turn one caused him to spin and handed the Mclaren test driver the lead, simultaneously promoting Green, who had been having a great race in the first of the older specification cars, to second.

Paffett came in for his first stop on lap 12 and came out ahead of the early stopping Ekstrom, who was briefly held up by Scot Susie Stoddart, whilst at the front, Premat, who was second on the road, became the second Audi driver to suffer tyre delamination on his left rear, after Tomczyk's earlier problem, although fortunately for Premat, his failure occurred on the second half of the lap, leading to him losing less time than his colleague.

Green continued to lead on his long first stint, and when he came in on lap 21, it was clear his 17 second lead would not be enough to keep Paffett at bay, but it was a battle of the two extremes of strategy, to see if his super long stint would trump Ekstrom who had come in early. The answer was no, Green came out behind Paffett and Ekstrom, and ahead of Spengler in fourth and di Resta fifth, although still comfortably the leading older spec car.

Ekstrom returned to the pits on lap 23, leaving him with a sixteen lap final stint in an A4, which must have been a worry considering the fortunes of his Audi team mates in the tyre usage stakes, meanwhile Paffett covered him by stopping on the next lap, although he needn't have worried himself with Ekstrom, who it was announced was under belated investigation for his first stop being taken before the opening of the pit stop window, meaning he was forced to return to the pits to make another stop so that he had completed the mandatory two stops during the window.

Further back, Ralf Schumacher had enjoyed a strong run through the field, David Coulthard had spent the afternoon learning about life in the lower reaches of the DTM, and Rockenfeller had finally managed to find a way past the lacklustre Scheider, as did Ekstrom after he returned from his extra stop behind the champion.
After the second round of stops were complete Paffett emerged with a comfortable lead over Green, who had Spengler in hot pursuit and di Resta in a distant fourth. The top Audi driver was Rockenfeller in an '08 car ahead of Ekstrom, Scheider and Spanish newcomer, Miguel Molina who had had a solid if unremarkable drive from thirteenth on the grid.

Green lost his second to Spengler with 7 to go, while further back Coulthard was battling not only Franky Cheng, but also a fast disintegrating door unit, to hold on to his thirteenth position.

Di Resta mounted a late charge on Green's third place but he couldn't get close enough to his compatriot and team mate, and it was refreshing to see that Norbert Haug was allowing them to fight fairly, it would have been harsh to ask Green to surrender a podium spot after being probably the driver of the day. Race winner Paffett dramatically stopped on the slowing down lap, leading to fears that he would be disqualified for running out of fuel, as had happened to him in the past, as DTM officials take a sample of fuel for testing at the end of the race from each car, and failing to be able to provide this leads to the driver being excluded. It transpired that he and Spengler had stopped due to their fuel situation being deemed so marginal that they thought it preferable to stop on circuit and be towed back, to ensure there was enough fuel for scrutineers to test.

Haug's opposite number, Audi's Wolfgang Ulrich looked glum faced, and as well he should, on a disastrous day for Audi, made even worse by the statistic that the last five champions have come from the stable that won the opening round, Could Mercedes baron spell be about to end? On this evidence, you would have to say it will be very difficult to stop the 'Silver Arrows' and Paffett in particular.

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Dai McCann is a regular contributor of feature articles and opinion pieces to TCF, and can be found on Twitter: @daimccann and @ifitsgot4wheels
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