Gary Paffett recorded the most successful race weekend of his career as the DTM championship leader secured pole position for both of the weekend’s races in Zandvoort before finishing in first and second place respectively to move 27 points clear, heading into the summer break.
Saturday saw Gary complete his hattrick as he took pole, the win and the fastest lap in the first race of the weekend in Zandvoort
Gary then dominated Sunday’s qualifying as he took pole position by over four tenths - with his gap to second place the same size as from second to sixteenth
Finishing in second place in race two, Gary moved 27 points clear at the top of the DTM standings
49 points from a possible 56 marked Gary’s most successful weekend in the DTM since the switch to two-race weekends in 2015
Heading to his favourite circuit on the DTM calendar, Circuit Zandvoort, Gary Paffett was feeling confident as he travelled to Holland looking to stretch out his championship lead at a circuit where he boasts the title as the most successful active-driver.
With wind and sand from the beach making the practice session a tricky affair, Gary battled through the difficult conditions to finish the first session of the weekend in third place with a 1:32.517 lap time, just 0.121-seconds off the fastest time.
Gary built on his impressive Friday performance with a strong morning practice session where he finished in second place behind fellow Mercedes-AMG Motorsport driver, Pascal Wehrlein - with only half a tenth separating the teammates.
In qualifying, it was Gary’s turn to lead the Mercedes stable as he stormed to pole position in the first qualifying session of the weekend - picking up three points in the process. With just six-hundredths separating the top-two, Gary claimed the 14th pole position of his DTM career with a time of 1m30.778s. Mercedes outlined its strength at the Dutch circuit as the Brit spearheaded a quartet of Mercedes-AMG drivers in Saturday’s qualifying at Circuit Zandvoort.
At the lights for the start of race one in Zandvoort, Gary was able to get a strong start from his pole grid slot and controlled the race from the head of the pack. At the start of the race, it looked like it would be the choice on strategy that would contribute to the outcome of the race - with Gary leading Mercedes teammates Wehrlein and Paul Di Resta.
Wehrlein was the first to stop from the lead pack, but a problem on his stop saw him lose time and helped Gary to stretch out his lead further. When Gary eventually pitted, he was able to rejoin the race unchallenged and controlled the race from first place until the end of the race.
Recording the fastest lap of the race, Gary completed a hattrick on Saturday, securing pole, win and the fastest lap. Gary’s third win of the season also marked his fourth win at Zandvoort and also the 23rd win of Gary’s career in his 174th DTM race, tying Mattias Ekström in third in the all-time win statistics.
"It's been a fantastic day for me. 28 points in one day is just perfect. We've had a great car all season, and it was the same again today in qualifying and the race. I got off to a really good start and subsequently controlled the race, which allowed us to pull out a lead. The strategy was also very good, and the pit stop was mega. The guys put in a great performance today. When the safety car came out, the situation got tricky again. After all, you never know what's going to happen in an Indy restart. But it all worked out brilliantly, and I got my 23rd victory. I'm tied with Mattias [Ekström] on the third most DTM victories - incredible! Many thanks to Mercedes for all the support over the years."
Finishing the first session of the day in seventh place, Gary used the sessions to make tweaks to his car setup after feeling there was still more performance to extract from his Mercedes - despite dominating Saturday’s track action.
With an extremely quick Mercedes underneath him, Gary was able to put together one of the strongest qualifying performances of his career as he took pole position for the second time in Zandvoort and the fifteenth time in his DTM career. Taking pole position by a huge margin of 0.446-seconds, Gary’s gap to second place was the larger than the gap from second place to sixteenth - a remarkable achievement in the ultra-competitive series.
For the start of race two, Gary again got a good start off the line and commanded the start of the race. Rene Rast pitted at the end of the first lap from his third place as he gambled on strategy at Zandvoort where track position is key and overtaking is notoriously difficult.
When Gary took his mandatory stop, he came out behind the early stopping Rene Rast and Gary used the quarter of the race to catch Rast. However, when Spengler found himself beached in the gravel at turn one, the safety car was brought out and Gary looked to capitalise on his fresher tyres.
However, at the Indy-style safety car restart, Gary lost ground to Rast and was coming under pressure from Di Resta but managed to keep his Mercedes brand-mate at bay through turn one.
Despite the fresher tyres, Gary could not find a way past Rast and eventually crossed the finishing line in second place for his second podium of the weekend. The second place was also the sixth time that Gary has claimed a podium at Zandvoort and brings his total haul of finishes in the Top Three in the DTM to 44.
"I'm really happy - that was an almost perfect weekend for me. Two pole positions, a win and a second place - you can hardly ask for more. René deserved the win today. He was unlucky yesterday with the safety car and had good pace this weekend. When he was behind me on the grid today, I knew that he was going to be a tough opponent. They took a risk with the early pit stop, but the tyres held up, and it was enough for them. The first half of the season has been incredible. Things have not always gone perfectly for us, but we are leading the championship, and so far, I am mega happy with the performance. I'm really grateful to my team for that. Next up is my home race at Brands Hatch. I'm looking forward to it."
The DTM now pauses for its summer break with Gary leading the drivers' standings with 148 points after the five race weekends held so far. Mercedes-AMG Motorsport head both the team and the constructors' standings with racing resuming at Brands Hatch (11th - 12th August).