This weekend the DTM Series once again ventures outside of Germany as it takes on the penultimate round of the 2017 season at the Red Bull Ring.
Heading to Austria only two of the 18 runners are mathematically out of the title, but ten drivers realistically have a chance to win the championship. Theoretically the title can be sealed at the Red Bull Ring, however this relies on a number of circumstances meaning it is most likely going to the finale showdown at the Hockenheimring.
Audi and BMW have each won four DTM races since the Austrian track joined the calendar in 2011 – with Mercedes yet to take to the top step there.
Championship leader Mattias Ekström claimed a dominant victory in the wet back in 2015 in a race that was shrouded in controversy.
Former Audi-man Timo Scheider punted Robert Wickens and Pascal Wehrlein into the gravel forcing them out of the race and despite originally crossing the line in sixth place, Scheider was disqualified from the race classification.
Ekström heads the championship on 136 points, nine points ahead of Lucas Auer who in turn is three points ahead of Rene Rast.
The Swedish driver clinched his last pole position in the DTM in the Styrian mountains and holds the racing lap record as well.
“I love Spielberg,” said Ekström. “The setting is unique and you feel the high quality standards everywhere. Racing at the Red Bull Ring is always a fantastic experience. The rhythm and the vertical differences of the track are huge fun and the extreme braking ranges allow thrilling overtaking maneuvers.”
Although he is leading the championship, Ekström is still yet to claim a race victory this season and will be keen to rectify that.
Ekström’s stable-mate Rast is currently third in the standings and also has fond memories of the Red Bull Ring.
“In 2014, I won a race in the ADAC GT Masters in an Audi R8 LMS there, although nobody expected it. At that time, we were clearly heavier than the competition. Due to the vertical differences, you can feel the weight particularly at Spielberg.”
Weights have been a hot topic of discussion in the series of late, notably at the Nurburgring as the Ingolstadt manufacturer came into the weekend 25kg heavier than the BMW machines. The teams had met at Zandvoort to discuss the scrapping of the performance weights but this was vetoed – after further discussions a decision was reacted following the round at the Nurburgring.
Second placed man in the championship Auer, will be keen to leapfrog Ekström in what is the Mercedes driver’s home race.
“I’m obviously looking forward to my home race at Spielberg. I’ve put in an incredible number of laps at Spielberg, and it’s a track that is especially good for spectators. I think the circuit is pretty much the best in Europe, where everyone can feel comfortable. There is good food, a great show and superb seating with a perfect view of the track. From a sporting perspective, we’ll have to wait and see how things work out for us. With the new cars and tyres this year, it’s difficult to make any forecasts. I’m feeling confident, though, despite the fact that it was difficult for us last year – which is no secret. But let’s see what the weather does.”
Mercedes will also be boosted after claiming the two victories last time out at the Nurburgring, with Saturday’s being a 1-2-3-4.
Reigning champion Marco Wittmann sits in fourth place of the championship and lead BMW driver. The German had a mixed weekend in the Eifel scoring four points on Saturday and 18 on Sunday.
“I have really high expectations for Spielberg. I have always liked the circuit and I have already won some races there. It is a nice track and the landscape is lovely too so I am hoping for a good weekend. We were able to fight back a bit at the Nürburgring and we would like to continue this trend at Spielberg. It is also a special event for me, as we are competing in Red Bull’s homeland.”
Last season Wittmann started Race 1 from pole and followed it up with victory. Audi’s Jamie Green claimed pole for Race 2 but victory went to Timo Glock.
The drivers head out onto track for their first practice at 16:45 local time.