Mattias Ekstrom gave Audi the first pole position of the new DTM season, but it was a closely-fought session that saw series returnees BMW joining Audi and Mercedes in the top three positions.
The Q3 segment consisting of the quickest ten drivers was made up of four Audis, two Mercedes and four BMWs, showing that the Bavarian marque was right on the pace with its M3 challenger.
Of the four BMWs only one made it through to the final four-way shootout for pole, but while reigning champion Martin Tomczyk, multiple DTM race winner Bruno Spengler and three-time world champion Andy Priaulx were all knocked out at that stage for the marque, it was GT racing convert Dirk Werner who represented BMW in the fight for pole.
His Q4 time was good enough for third on the grid, ahead of Audi man Edoardo Mortara. Jamie Green took second for Mercedes, but finished up two tenths shy of poleman Ekstrom.
“Being on pole in the new DTM was the best that could happen to us,” said Ekstrom. “It was warm today and that suited us well. We worked hard and did our homework – that paid off today. The season is just beginning. But it's great to start this way.”
Green seemed happy enough with a front row slot: “Obviously, I would prefer to be going into the new DTM era in pole position, but I'm also very satisfied with a place on the front row. Qualifying was a close-fought encounter and I was hard pushed to get into Q4. My Mercedes AMG C-Coupe handles like a dream, and it's great fun taking the development one step further with every outing. Today, we showed that the car is fast, and I'm sure that we are in with a good chance in tomorrow's race.”
Werner was unsurprisingly delighted to qualify third for his DTM debut.
“I am overwhelmed by this result,” he said. “I think BMW has made a great start to the season. I had a fantastic car in qualifying. That was the key to my success. This is a very special day for me. To be up there at the front of the field in the very first DTM qualifying of my career is unbelievable.”
Mike Rockenfeller was the quickest of those to miss out on Q4, and will line up fifth in his Audi. He finished up narrowly ahead of British duo Gary Paffett and Priaulx.
“Sixth on the grid isn't too bad, but obviously I would rather be starting from nearer the front,” said 2005 champion Paffett. “It looks very tight, with all three constructors apparently well matched, so it promises to be a very interesting season. We are in for an exciting race tomorrow, and I'm really up for it. Our car is fast and I'm aiming to do even better tomorrow.”
Priaulx commented: “I am really pleased and this result is for all my guys in BMW Team RBM and also at BMW Motorsport. They have made a massive effort to be here. The car was great. Tomorrow we just have to build on the performance and carry that good momentum into the race.”
Timo Scheider took eighth place for Audi, ahead of his long-standing rivals Spengler and Tomczyk.
Ralf Schumacher will start from 11th in his Mercedes after missing out on Q3, just ahead of debutants Adrien Tambay (Audi) and Robert Wickens (Mercedes). Filipe Albuquerque had set the pace in first practice on Friday, but could only manage 14th in qualifying, ahead of Christian Vietoris and BMW debutant Joey Hand.
Miguel Molina took two poles from the last three races of 2011, but the Audi man was knocked out in Q1 this time. He was joined in taking an early bath by David Coulthard (Mercedes), Augusto Farfus (BMW) and Roberto Merhi (Mercedes), with the female duo of Susie Wolff and Rahel Frey set to start from the back row of the grid.