The scene is set for a memorable DTM 2018 season finale at Hockenheim in less than two week’s time, as Gary Paffett’s ninth podium finish of the season ensures three drivers leave Spielberg still in contention for the drivers’ championship, with Gary trailing championship leader and Mercedes-AMG stablemate Paul Di Resta by just four points.
The weekend’s events in Spielberg provided further celebration for Gary and the whole Mercedes-AMG team as they wrapped up victory in both the team and the constructors’ championships. Claiming the constructors’ title, with one full race weekend ahead, marks Mercedes-AMG’s seventh victory in the classification in the brand’s 30 years in the DTM. Meanwhile victory in the team classification is also assured as only one of the three Mercedes-AMG Motorsport DTM teams can still win the championship at Hockenheim.
Heading into the weekend at the Red Bull Ring two points ahead of title rival and teammate, Paul Di Resta, a P10 finish on the Saturday and a pole position and P3 finish on Sunday ensured that Gary heads to the Hockenheim finale firmly in the fight for the drivers’ championship.
Difficult conditions confronted the DTM field in the hills of Austria on Saturday morning as the drivers contended with lashing rain and poor visibility. Red flags were shown just five minutes into the morning’s qualifying session as the onslaught of heavy rain continued. After a ten-minute break, the session resumed where after Gary had to settle for a P10 starting position.
“We were fast in the rain, but unfortunately, we didn't have the right setup for the end of the session in qualifying. Things looked good initially, but we were unable to extract anymore from our tyres towards the end and only finished tenth as a result. Of course, that was a lot further back compared to where we should have been.”
Lining up on the fifth row of the grid with his main title rival, Di Resta, in fourth, Gary knew that a good start to the race was critical. Unfortunately this was not to be the case for the Englishman as he was hit in the melee of both turn’s one and three. These contacts left Gary facing a huge rebuilding job as he dropped to the back of the grid with his car feeling the effects of the earlier incidents. Despite the damage and early disappointment, it was a case of damage limitation for Gary who did remarkably well to fight his way through the field to a P10 finish.
“The track was still wet at the start of the race. Bruno Spengler pushed me off track in the first turn and hit me and Duval in Turn 3. After that, my car was badly damaged, and I fell back to the of the field. When your car gets badly damaged, it's impossible to push forwards. All in all, a very disappointing day."
Victory on the Saturday was claimed by René Rast, whose third win on the spin ensured that both Gary and Paul remained cautious of their onrushing Audi counterpart within the drivers’ standings.
Race day two in Austria brought stabler conditions and Gary set about recovering the now nine point championship deficit to Di Resta. In typical style, Gary reacted to the previous day’s disappointment in perfect fashion. As has been the case all year, the Englishman delivered another faultless qualifying performance to secure his fifth pole position of the 2018 season and three valuable championship points in the process.
Those three points proved even more important to the Mercedes-AMG team as they mathematically confirmed their constructors’ title, an achievement Gary felt was justly deserved after their performances throughout the campaign.
“I was surprised when I was told that we had won the manufacturers’ title after qualifying. Our car has been the best throughout the season. Congratulations to the entire team. My crew has done a great job overnight after my car was damaged in yesterday’s race. I had a great lap. The race will be tough. I am fighting for the title with Paul and we are only seven points apart. That will be a close battle.”
Lining up from pole, a good start would be critical for Gary which he duly delivered as he pulled away from Nico Müller who sat alongside him on the front row. The pace of the Audi’s had been strong all weekend and it wasn’t long before the Swiss driver was applying pressure to the #2 Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM car.
Muller managed to take the lead on the exit of Remus on the third lap of the race, after which Gary applied real pressure to the back of the 26-year-old but was unable to make a move stick. The order remained the same until the leading group began to pit with the earliest of the group being the main beneficiary. Fresh from his Saturday success, René Rast passed both title rivals Paul Di Resta and Gary across two laps as the different pit strategies played out.
With René then taking the lead from teammate Nico, the front four positions remained the same until the flag ensuring Gary collected his ninth podium finish of the 2018 campaign and clawed back some of the deficit to Di Resta, now just four points, who finished one place behind in fourth. By becoming the first driver in the modern era to collect four consecutive wins, René ensures the title fight at Hockenheim remains a three-way battle as the German driver now sits 30 points behind the leader, Di Resta.
Gary is excited about the thrilling finale that looks set to play out at Hockenheim, as the Englishman looks to enjoy the perfect conclusion to his fifthteenth season in the DTM with Mercedes-AMG.
“It's going to be a fantastic fight in the season finale at Hockenheim. There are now only four points separating me and Paul, and René (Rast) is also getting ever closer. That's excellent for the DTM. It feels great to be heading for the finale still fully part of the battle for the title. Unfortunately, today's race did not go quite as we had hoped, despite starting from pole position. But I'm still happy about the championship situation, because I was able to gain some points on Paul. Now I'm looking forward to the finale at Hockenheim."