With top speeds approaching 250km/h and around a 170km/h average speed, the stage was set at Circuit Park Zandvoort for the penultimate qualifying session of the 2013 DTM Championship, as pole position for the potentially deciding moment for crowning a new champion this weekend. The 4.307km track, which is just a short walk away from the beach, has a tradition of being a natural race track and a challenge with its flowing corners and challenging cambers.
BMW rookie Marco Wittmann secured the top spot of the grid for the first time in his DTM career by 0.085 seconds, ahead of Augusto Farfus and Mike Rockenfeller for Sunday’s race, with all having tried to do their upmost to extract the full performance from their V8-powered chariots. With some fast and bumpy straights, it was time for the drivers to get into their cars and hit the track for Q1, as the points leader exited the pits first.
Farfus was first to strike in Q1, as Rockenfeller suffered a slight mistake in his first flying lap with a difference of eight tenths between the two title challengers, as to who would succeed Bruno Spengler this year. it soon became a BMW triple threat as Marco Wittmann and Andy Priaulx were also hitting the 1:31 lap times, before Timo Scheider got himself into third with a sterling effort on a 1:31.877. Timo Glock, however, was the first to have a slight off-track excursion, before going into the top five.
Mercedes again struggled with qualifying early on, as no cars were in the top fifteen, as the field was split by just 1.4 seconds. Joey Hand then sprung up into second, with Paffett going up to P8, with the American a tenth away from his team mate. With just three minutes to go, the teams and drivers were not taking any chances with playing it safe. Albuquerque went up into P5 with just a minute to go, as Spengler was found to be in the drop zone until he went into P12 but eventually went though. Paffett got himself into the top ten by a whisker, keeping his hopes alive for himself and Mercedes.
However, the early casualties saw over half the Mercedes squad eliminated as Christian Vietoris, Daniel Juncadella, Robert Wickens and Roberto Merhi, along with Audi’s Jamie Green and BMW’s Martin Tomczyk were out after a traffic-laden affair. This will obviously give the “Three-Pointed Star” a lot to think about overnight to get the optimum set-up, with several drivers wondering why the cars are not performing as they should. Vietoris said he felt it was “very strange,” confirming the fact that the use of DRS was “dangerous,” but couldn’t really explain why the performance was an issue.
Miguel Molina was into the hunt for going further up the grid, but was released into the path of Glock, but made it into Q2. This could also see the Ingolstadt driver receive the same fine as Farfus, depending on the decision of the DMSB. Farfus was upping the game for the fight for pole position yet again as the Brazilian went faster by nearly half a second, with Tambay and Scheider hot on his heels within three tenths in the early part of Q2.
The fight to stay in Q2 was very tight, as the times changed hand over fist, with less than 9 tenths separating the top 16 meaning the best lap counted. Dirk Werner was one of the casualties, ripping off the left rear wheel arch on his M3 DTM with a wide off -track excursion, with Bruno Spengler not really sure what happened for another bad qualifying, which has put the 2012 Champion on the back foot even further with the two-place grid penalty for his collision with Wickens at Oschersleben. Paffett could have been in the top ten, but it was a matter of mere time that stopped the Brit from getting into Q3.
Ekstrom missed out of Q2 by a matter of just 0.002 seconds, as Molina punted the Swede out of the top ten, with Pascal Wehrlein and Priaulx being eliminated out of the session. Joey Hand led another BMW invasion of the top three as Q3 got underway for the battle for the final 1-lap shootout, with Glock and Wittmann not far in consideration of lap times. Tambay was the sole Audi in the top 4, as “Rocky” set a purple time in Sector 1, as he wound the car up to full speed on fresh rubber, with Farfus responding in kind. Farfus took the fight to the field, but Scheider responded and was within one tenth.
The times dropped rapidly, as drivers were using old Hankook tyres that were over a second slower, before the fight was on, which saw Tambay get into the top four. But it was Rockenfeller, Wittmann, Scheider and Farfus that would go for the 1-lap showdown in the fight for pole, with Hand, 2012 race winner Mortara, Albuquerque,Tambay and Molina out in a session where the top ten was split by just 9 tenths.
Rockenfeller set the benchmark with a credible 1:31.235, which was clearly not enough, as Marco Wittmann was the dark horse, with a lot of people expecting Scheider to have made it count for the fifth time. The youngster was efficient and make it count and went over four tenths faster. Scheider however was 1.5 seconds slower than Wittmann, as when a mistake is made at Zandvoort, the track bites back. Farfus was the last to go out and didn’t have an answer for his young stablemate, just over a tenth behind.
You could not have scripted the storyline this weekend as qualifying just showed. Wittmann is the man to get ahead of when the lights go out, as Rocky and Farfus have to make their clear intentions known, as 44 laps can make or break the hopes and dreams of those fighting for the title. We’ll see tomorrow what happens in the race amongst the dunes….