Gary Paffett departed the Nürburgring with a slim two-point advantage in the DTM standings after another strong weekend saw the Mercedes-AMG driver collect two front row starts before finishing the weekend’s races in 3rd and 5th place.
After falling behind in the championship battle due to a scoreless weekend in Misano, Gary Paffett was hungry to return to DTM action and headed to the familiar Nürburgring determined to regain the lead of the drivers’ standings.
The weekend got underway on Friday and mixed weather conditions were the first challenge for the teams to battle at the Nürburgring. Starting on wet weather tyres, the track eventually started to dry towards the end of the first practice session but Gary was unable to get a comprehensive lap time in on the dry tyres and finished the first practice in 18th place.
Beaming sunshine arrived on Saturday, along with the perfect conditions for racing, and Gary kicked off the first race day by finishing the morning’s practice session in 7th place as he finally recorded some lap times around the 3.629-kilometre circuit at full speed.
Continuing his strong qualifying form, Gary secured another front-row start as he missed out on pole by just 0.028-seconds and had to settle for 2nd place for race one at the Nürburgring - collecting two championship points in doing so.
At the start of race one, Gary got a strong start off the line and forced Rene Rast to come across and defend. Taking to the outside, Bruno Spengler looked to have his nose down the inside of turn one but Gary placed his car perfectly to stop any real challenge from the BMW driver.
Keeping his second place through the early stages of his race, Gary began to drop back from race leader Rene Rast and began to come under pressure from Bruno Spengler. Lap 14 saw Spengler make his move as he dived past at turn one to demote Gary to third place.
Gary then followed the race leader, Rast, into the pits two laps later, with Spengler coming in for his mandatory pitstop two laps later and, when he returned to the track, Gary had his best opportunity to retake second place.
Briefly threatening the BMW, Gary eventually dropped back and as the race drew closer to its conclusion, Timo Glock attempted to overtake Gary into the final chicane but his overly optimistic move didn’t prevail and Gary took the chequered flag in third place.
Recording his eighth podium of the year, Gary also retook the lead of the championship standings by eight points but was a little ‘disappointed’ he couldn’t have picked up a stronger finish - especially with title rival Di Resta finishing in last place.
"A podium is a good result for me today. My aim is to score as many points as possible in every race. I'm obviously a bit disappointed to have started from the front row and then only finished third. That's not what I was hoping for. But René (Rast) and BMW were very strong today. We now have to improve and find more pace. Then we can hopefully have a better day tomorrow."
Looking to improve on Saturday’s pace, Gary and his Mercedes-AMG team got to work in a busy free practice three and looked to find the perfect balance for the second race of the weekend. Finishing the session in 11th place, Gary’s lap time did not reflect the true potential of the car and he soon showed the full strength of the Mercedes in qualifying.
In one of the closest qualifying sessions of the year, Gary again just missed out on pole position as 0.006-seconds separated himself from Rene Rast - with two-tenths dividing the top-six places. Securing second place, Gary collected two more championship points and lined up on the front row for the seventh time in 2018.
Race two saw Gary get too much wheel spin off the line and he came under pressure from the fast starters of Lucas Auer and Timo Glock, with Auer’s late braking demoting Gary to third place. Gary was also in a battle with Glock, who he had managed to keep behind through the opening corners, but at the cut-through hairpin, Glock pushed Gary wide off the track and Gary fell back to 4th place.
Scrubbing the dirt off his tyres, Gary was able to catch back up to the race leaders of Rast, Auer and Glock. Gary was then handed a stroke of fortune as Glock dived down the inside of Auer, sending Auer into a spin and opening the door for Gary to pass the both of them.
Now back in his starting position of second place, Gary was beginning to pressurise Rene Rast for the lead of the race and his speed was evidently quicker than the Audi driver’s but he could not find a clean way past.
Gary’s race then took a turn for the worse at the pitstop as a slow stop saw him get stuck in traffic in the pitlane, losing a handful of places and valuable time. Back in the midfield now, Gary put on a valiant effort and managed to navigate his way back up to fifth place from which he took the chequered flag.
"I didn't get off to the best of starts. I had a bit too much wheel spin and lost a place to Lucas. After that, Timo Glock forced me off the track in turn five. After Glock had spun Lucas around, I was back in second place and felt OK there. I had good pace and was faster than René Rast, but I was unable to get past him.”
“Unfortunately, we had a bad pit stop and then there was traffic in the pit lane, so I had to wait until the other cars had gone past. This dropped me down from second to seventh place. After that, I gave it everything I'd got and managed to regain two places. But towards the end, my tyres were starting to degrade, and I was unable to catch up with Bruno Spengler."
Gary finished his weekend at the Nürburgring back in the lead of the Drivers’ Championship and heads to the penultimate round of the season in Austria (21st - 23rd September) with a two-point advantage to Paul Di Resta.