“Rocky” Returns To The Top In Brands Hatch

by Alex Goldschmidt

The DTM was ready to see an epic battle for qualifying at the 1.929km Kent track, and there was a clear order of seeing just who was on the limit’s edge and who was off the pace. But one man stood above all, until he was removed from his ‘throne,” and replaced with another, due to a technical infringement.

With overcast skies once again, as the wind had picked up over the morning, the drivers were greeted with a bone-dry track, where all could push hard and reach speeds fast approaching 145 mph on the approach to Paddock Hill Bend. Mike Rockenfeller, just one of the three DTM drivers that will be dashing to the Nordschleife after their race in the United Kingdom, took to the track early to ensure clear air would provide a good platform for his pace.

The 2010 24 Heures Du Mans winner was on the pace from the very beginning, posting a 41.952 second lap time as Q1 got underway, with Miguel Molina not far behind. The Spanish driver, whose Audi RS 5 DTM has the “Audi Cup” livery this weekend, was getting quicker and quicker throughout the 16 minute session, as the pair of Audi drivers were exchanging fastest laps, but BMW Motorsport’s Martin Tomczyk got into the mix, and went top of the times with a 41.540 with just 4 and a half minutes left.

The bottom 5 drivers would be eliminated at the end of the session, as the session got even closer than last year, the field of 22 drivers vying for the top spot on the grid were only split by just 7 tenths of a second. As the clock ticked down, several drivers including 2012 race winner Gary Paffett and 2-time champion Mattias Ekstrom, were close to being eliminated but put in banker laps that helped their chances. As the session came to a close, Audi’s Jamie Green put in a lap time that would have eliminated his former team mate, but it was instantly disallowed due to exceeding track limits, which meant that the Leicester driver was in a lowly 18th place and out of the running.

Also eliminated from the first session were Christian Vietoris, Filipe Albuquerque, Roberto Merhi, Pascal Wehrlein and Daniel Juncadella, with Paffett and Robert Wickens being the only Stuttgart entries that would try to maximize the opportunity of a good starting position for the race.

Q2 saw more of a major dogfight between BMW and Audi, as Mercedes continued to struggle with the pace of their rivals. “Rocky” went out again at the very beginning, with both himself and Molina leading the way, with Tomczyk also coming out to play. Defending champion Bruno Spengler and Timo Glock were also showing good pace, but Molina upped his pace to record a 41.085 second lap with just 2 minutes left.

Paffett was running 9th, but the 2005 DTM champion seemed to have no answer, as the times kept tumbling even further with Wickens also seeming to find it difficult to get the maximum from the C-Class AMG Coupe. Clearly, there is some work to do at Stuttgart, especially with the fact that Audi Sport have shown that they are back to their best. Both Mercedes drivers were eliminated after Q2, along with Glock, Ekstrom, Dirk Werner and Audi’s “Iron Man,” Adrien Tambay.

Q3 saw Munich and Ingolstadt take the fight to each other, as the 11-minute session saw the fight increase in intensity, as Tomczyk went three tenths quicker than Rockenfeller with a 41.189 second lap time, with Wittmann in close pursuit. Edoardo Mortara’s efforts were in vain, as “Mr. Speed” went wide at Paddock Hill Bend, touching the gravel, as his efforts were in vain, seeing him eliminated at the end of the session.

Tomczyk and Rockenfeller were battling hard, leaving the rest of the field behind, as there was a margin of just 0.057 seconds between the pair. Timo Scheider, who won here in 2008, was also showing good form coming into the session, but his initial effort, that would have kept him in the running for the final shootout, was disallowed, another victim of the stringent track limit enforcement.

Andy Priaulx had been showing great pace all the way through qualifying, as his Crowne Plaza M3 DTM had been set up pretty well, and he seemed to be more than making up for what had happened to the Guernsey driver last time out in Hockenheim. It seemed that the Guernsey flag that was flying directly in front of his pit box before practice that morning was a welcome source of inspiration for the 3-time WTCC Champion. He was even in the hunt for the final shoot out with just two minutes left, before finally placing 8th at the end of Q3.

So after Spengler, Scheider, Wittmann and Molina were eliminated, we were down to the final four, with the Q4 one-lap shoot out being between three BMW M3 DTMs and a lone Audi RS 5 DTM. Sacramento’s Joey Hand went first, and set the bar with a 41.460 second lap time, but his BMW seemed to be a bit sideways at the exit of Clearways, compromising his run.

The current points leader, Brazil’s Augusto Farfus, made his way and clearly had a better run on his American team mate, as his clean run of a 41.197 second time, put the man from Curitiba in the hunt for his first pole of the season. Then Rockefeller bettered that time by just 0.004 seconds on his flying lap, but before Tomczyk secured what was his 9th career pole position and his first with Team RMG with a 41.158, putting Munich in the optimum place for another win.

However, after scrutineering, Tomczyk’s BMW M3 DTM was found to be underweight by 2.5 kilograms, which is half a kilo above the allowance given by the technical regulations. The Bavarian driver was thereby excluded from Qualifying and demoted to the back of the grid, giving Rockenfeller his second career pole position, as his first was here back in 2011, when Tomczyk won the race in the wet that year.

BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt could only accept the decision, and said that experiences like this have to be learned from: “It is obviously a shame to lose out on pole position as a result of a mistake like this. You are always at the limit in motor racing.”

Team RMG’s Team Principal Stefan Reinhold made clear his apologie regarding the accidental error that had occurred: “Our team appears to have made a mistake. I would like to apologize to Martin Tomczyk for that. We will now perform a detailed analysis to see how this could possibly have happened.”

Tomczyk himself, is aware of the challenge that Brands Hatch provides, when it comes to fighting back up the grid, but he said there is a chance of a good fight ahead, but no real chance of overtaking: “That is a major disappointment for me. The season-opener in Hockenheim showed that it is possible to fight back from 22nd on the grid and finish in the points.”

“Rocky” said that he would prefer to fight hard to gain Pole Position, rather than lose it in this way, but was happy with his chances for the race: “After we had a very good race performance at Hockenheim, I’m confident for tomorrow.”

Top Briton Priaulx was really happy with P8, which now becomes P7 for the 98-lap race, explained just what transpired over his action-packed 3 sessions: “That was a really good step in the right direction for me and I was pretty happy with the car. Unfortunately I had to use two sets of tyres in Q2, as I had a quick lap that was disallowed because I went outside the track limits. I only had one run in Q3, but I was happy with my time. I had a little bit of rear locking in the hairpin, which cost me the tenth of a second I needed to go through. I am really determined to put on a good show on Sunday for my fans here at Brands Hatch.”

So, Audi is in the perfect position to score a welcome victory to set off their 2013 DTM season in the right way, with the optimized Audi RS5 DTM showing real promise at a circuit where they have won before. Now the talking stops and the on-track fight begins. The race is on to see just who will triumph “auf der Insel” this afternoon…

Rockenfeller riding the rollercoaster ride that is Brands Hatch (Image credit: Octane Photographic/Chris Enion)

Rockenfeller riding the rollercoaster ride that is Brands Hatch (Image credit: Octane Photographic/Chris Enion)

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