In his final race in the DTM, Gary Paffett ended an illustrious fifteen-year career by crossing the finishing line in Hockenheim to be crowned the 2018 DTM Champion.
Gary Paffett qualified in second place and ended the first race of the weekend in fourth place to move into the lead of the championship standings
Gary Paffett finished third in his very last race in the DTM to secure his tenth podium finish of the season, his 13th at Hockenheim and 48th of his DTM career
Gary secured his second DTM title, thirteen years after his first success in 2005
Mercedes-AMG Motorsport made it a triple celebration after claiming the team and manufacturers' honours to sign off their 30-year journey in the perfect way
Heading into the final race weekend of the season trailing Paul Di Resta by just four points and leading Rene Rast by 26 points, the scene was set for a thrilling finale with 56 points still left on offer in Hockenheim. The drivers’ title was not the only championship to be decided in the final race weekend as Gary’s Mercedes-AMG Motorsport PETRONAS team looked to secure the team’s title.
The weekend’s action in Germany got underway with the first practice session of the weekend on Friday and Gary seemed to focus on his race pace as he finished the session in 15th place but with plenty in the tank still to offer.
The first day of an emotional final weekend of the season saw Gary back in the mix at the top end of the leaderboard as he finished the morning’s practice session in 3rd place with just three-thousandths separating the top three places.
With points on offer for qualifying, Gary looked to carry his fantastic qualifying form into Saturday morning as he looked to add to his five poles and eight front-row starts across 2018 so far. Delivering yet another fantastic qualifying performance, Gary secured his ninth front-row start of the season as he qualified in second place for the first race of the weekend.
Picking up two more championship points with his result in qualifying, Gary closed the gap to Di Resta to just two points as Di Resta qualified down in 8th place and René Rast on the row behind in 4th.
Starting behind teammate Lucas Auer, Gary was soon in the lead of the race as his stablemate opened the door for him to push on in an attempt to secure maximum points in race one.
Keeping an eye on the title rivals, Rast had progressed up the order and soon passed Auer for second place and was soon cutting into Gary’s lead and was the first of the two to pit on lap 14.
Following suit on the next lap, Gary came into the pits and did extremely well to keep Rast behind on his slow out-lap. Reminiscent of the season-opener, Gary and Rast then enjoyed an enthralling battle for the lead of the race - with Rast passing Gary into turn eight.
However, Gary came back fighting and kept the pressure on the Audi driver and finally retook the lead of the race on lap 23. The titanic battle continued as Rast performed an aggressive move on Gary, touching his rear and was able to pass Gary into turn eight once again.
The fight for the lead was put on hold by the safety car which was brought out due to Farfus' door falling off of his car and onto the circuit - leaving debris on the track that had to be cleared.
At the restart, Gary was unable to make a move on Rast and his attention was focused on his mirrors. After using a lot of his tyre life on his scrap with Rast, Gary was having to step carefully and, after huge amounts of dust and dirt was left on the track, he struggled to get his tyres back to peak performance in the final laps of the race.
Having to take fewer risks, Gary was passed by Glock and then by Robin Frijns, and crossed the finishing line in 4th place to pick up 12 more points to move onto 239 points and into the lead of the championship with a six-point advantage on Di Resta (233 points), with race winner Rast just behind (224 points).
"The result was disappointing. We had great pace in the race and a margin on René in the first stint. He gained a lot on us in the pit stop and overtook me shortly after that with DRS. Then we had a bit of a battle, and I actually stopped using DRS. I was quite comfortable just sitting behind him, because I thought we had the pace to challenge him later in the race. I was in P2 without any threat from behind. Then the safety car came out for debris on the track, and after that it was very hard to wake my old tyres up. Then, on the restart, someone went off and the whole track was covered in dust. I nearly went off something like ten times because it was impossible to get any temperature back in the tyres."
The championship battle came down to the final day of the season, with Gary holding a six-point lead heading into Sunday’s action. Finishing in 9th in free practice, Gary headed into qualifying knowing that qualifying in front of Di Resta and Rast would be crucial in the championship standings.
As the session reached crunch time, Gary headed out for his final qualifying run in the DTM but on his flying lap, he ran wide at turn one and, after putting together a personal best first sector, his lap time was deleted. With the tyres notoriously only good for one lap, Gary continued to fight and pushed for a second timed lap.
In one of his best qualifying laps of the season, Gary battled used tyres and put everything on the line to qualify his Mercedes in 3rd place to pick up another championship point. Meanwhile, Rast qualified just head of Gary in 2nd place, with Di Resta back in 10th.
As the lights went out for the final time in Gary’s DTM career, it was Rast who made instant progress as he passed Wittmann for the lead of the race before turn one. With Rast now leading the race, Gary had to finish in 4th place or higher to be crowned champion and he was not willing to give up on 3rd place.
With stablemate Edo Mortara behind Gary in 4th, Gary was able to pull away with Wittmann and Rast as the three pulled out a healthy gap to the cars behind. With Gary patiently waiting behind Wittmann and Rast, he knew that he just had to keep position but suddenly his car didn’t feel the same.
Thinking a wheel had come loose, Gary took no risks and dived into the pits straight away for a new set of tyres - this forced Rast to react and he dived into the pits a lap later whilst Wittmann stayed out for a few more laps.
As Gary remained behind Rast after the stops, he was able to pass Wittmann and moved into 2nd place. However, Wittmann was soon on the back of Gary and Gary knew the fight was not worth it and let the BMW pass without a challenge.
Counting down the laps to the finish, Gary kept his Mercedes on the track and crossed the finishing line to be crowned the 2018 DTM Champion - winning the championship with a four-point lead.
"It's absolutely incredible. This is the best day of my life. The first title in 2005 came along so soon. I've spent the last 13 years working to get back to the top. It's taken a long time, but this year, the team gave me a great car. I've always enjoyed driving it in qualifying. I still can't quite believe it. I was out there on my own for most of the race and had plenty of time to think about the situation. Towards the end, I was thinking to myself 'Now there are only five laps to go in my DTM career' and then 'only 4, 3, 2, 1...'. At one point, I almost spun off because of that. But it's a fantastic feeling to have won the title. I've had such a great time with this team. Many thanks to every single member of the team for all the hard work they've put into the car. Anyway, we've done it now!"
Gary’s consistent championship-winning season, saw him not only win three races but also secure ten podiums, scoring points in all but three of the 20 races. He was also the best in qualifying this year with five pole positions and nine starts from the front row of the grid.
After making his DTM debut in the 2003 season, Gary has now completed 15 seasons for Mercedes since first joining the DTM, and so, has been in the cockpit of a DTM car with the three-pointed star for half of Mercedes-AMG Motorsport's 30 years in the DTM. During this time, he has secured 17 pole positions, 24 wins and 48 podiums - alongside his two championship titles and his four finishes as vice-champion.