Mattias Ekström has announced he is to leave the DTM Series after 17 years in the touring car championship.
It comes as a result of the Swede’s decision to focus solely on the FIA World Rallycross Championship which Ekström has competed in since 2014.
Ekström joined the DTM in 2001 with the Audi customer team ABT Sportline with whom he remained throughout his tenure in the series.
His first season in the series was highlighted by two second place finishes and eighth in the championship overall. An impressive showing in his second season saw the Swede finish third in the championship, with three race wins to his name.
The breakthrough came in 2004 when Esktröm became a fully fledged factory driver and won his first championship beating Gary Paffett and Christijan Albers to the title. The Swede took four race wins, more than he had accumulated over the past three seasons – it was a strong season for the Audi man who finished every race with sixth his worst result.
Ekström waited three years to be crowned champion again in 2007, taking only one race victory but was helped by taking five third place finishes. The Audi driver was caught up in a controversial moment at the Circuit de Catalunya after Daniel la Rosa collided with him. As a result of this and Mika Haikknen making contact with Martin Tomczyk all Audi cars withdrew from the race with nine laps to go and the Mercedes drivers were disqualified (despite both having retired), fined and given a 10-place grid penalty for the next round.
After his second title winning year, Ekström went on to claim 13 further race wins to bring his overall total to 25 – more than even “Mr DTM” Bernd Schneider.
In his final year, it was second in the championship – for the fourth time – for Ekström. Having led the championship for much of the season it was the runners up spot for the Swede who came so close to his elusive third title.
Over the four seasons he undertook WRX and DTM commitments, Ekström ended the seasons second (twice), third, and seventh a true testament to the determination of the man.
To see Ekström as a driver with “only” two championships – joint second most with Timo Scheider and Marco Wittmann, behind Schneider who has four – discredits the raw talent and pace he has shown over the past 17 years, to have finished in the top eight of every championship he has taken part in demonstrates this fact.
Ekström has gained the reputation of being one of the most versatile drivers around, and it is this versatility that has earnt him the respect and admiration from fans and drivers alike.
The absence of Ekström will be felt in DTM but the DTM’s loss is WRX’s gain, though this is likely to not be the last that is seen of Ekström in DTM.