Gary Paffett: A weekend of unfulfilled potential

In his second column for Motorsport.com, Mercedes DTM star reflects on a mixed opening weekend of the new season at Hockenheim.

Gary Paffett: A weekend of unfulfilled potential

Arriving at Hockenheim for the first race of the season is always a special feeling, and this year was no different. Even walking into the circuit on Thursday afternoon there were a few autograph hunters standing at the entrance to the paddock, very keen indeed.

That day, I met the engineers and we proceeded with our track walk. We will always walk the circuit at every race weekend, this way you get a really close look at each of the corners, and it also gives us time to catch up with what is going on in the team as well as what we expect for the weekend when chatting to the guys.

The first race weekend of a new season is always a really busy one. Everybody is trying to find their feet; we have a few new people in the team at ART as well as at Mercedes in general. The ITR schedule always changes a bit year to year so we have to adapt our own plans to suit.

One of the most difficult things to manage on a race weekend is our time, there is so much to fit in around the practice session and races. We have meetings either side of each session with our engineers, sponsor appearances, press appointments, autograph session, and in all that we also have to try and find time to eat. It’s great having two races per weekend, but it sure does make the schedule very tight.

Press Conference: Gary Paffett, Mercedes-AMG Team ART, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM

Press Conference: Gary Paffett, Mercedes-AMG Team ART, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

On Friday we arrived at the track and were greeted by a crowd of fans trying to grab a picture or autograph with their favourite driver. It slows our progress to the hospitality a bit, but it’s worth it; the excitement you see on these people’s faces is priceless.

Friday afternoon's practice session passed without any problems, and I was left feeling pleased with the car. The most important thing in the DTM is to start the weekend with a good car, as it’s tough to make a lot of changes with such limited testing and what we started with was solid, nothing spectacular but a good balanced race car.

My first day back at the office for 2016 was done and I was pretty happy with it, but after qualifying on Saturday I was pretty unhappy with myself.

The car was great and I had the speed to be on the front row, however I didn’t get the lap together and made a big mistake entering Turn 12 into the Motodrome section. This meant I would line up 11th on the grid, much less than what the car and team deserved. 

Gary Paffett, Mercedes-AMG Team ART, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM
Gary Paffett, Mercedes-AMG Team ART, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

The first race of a new season is always a fiery affair and this was no different. I got pushed very wide into Turn 1 by Bruno Spengler, who made a better start than me, and for the rest of the first lap I tried to stay out of trouble.

I had qualified the row behind my good friend and fierce rival Mattias Ekstrom, and we both made our way through the carnage to be fighting it out for seventh position.

Early in the race the slow zone came out, and this is where the trouble started. Mike Rockenfeller had contact with Bruno, which damaged his cars suspension and as a result he was driving slower than the 80 km/h slow zone limit.

As you are allowed to pass a car if it is damaged and going slowly, I anticipated driving straight past; however Eki braked hard not to pass him and I hit the rear of his car, causing damage to both.

From that point onwards, we swapped position lap-by-lap using the DRS to overtake down to Turn 6, trading a bit of paint or regular occasions.

On Lap 9 I passed Mattias again, and managed to defend my position for a couple of laps until on lap 12 he quite rudely drove into me at the apex of Turn 6 and pushed me off the track, causing significant damage to the rear of my car.

This really pissed me off as we had been racing fairly until then, and I thought his move was over the limit, as most of you will have seen by my tweet following the race.

After some contact from my Mercedes teammate Lucas Auer, which lost me a few more places I was left in 11th place out of the points and with such a damaged car there was no chance to get back up the field.

A disappointing end to a tough race to start 2016! 

Gary Paffett, Mercedes-AMG Team ART, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM
Gary Paffett, Mercedes-AMG Team ART, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

The mechanics at ART had a massive job on their hands to get the car repaired and back to the perfectly prepared car that had arrived two days ago. They did an amazing job and when I arrived on Sunday morning it looked brand new.

Sunday ran more smoothly, the car once again had incredible speed and I should have been on the front row for Sundays race. I did however manage to secure third position on the grid for Race 2 which was a big relief to be near the front.

Audi on the other hand seemed to struggle a lot, in fact more than they should have done which to me didn’t look right.

The race start went without too much drama for me and once I got past Maxime Martin I realised myself and Paul di Resta had the edge over the rest of the field. I pushed him hard and after the pistop was right behind him with my only thought being “where can get past him?”

Moments later the radio cued up and Jojo (my race engineer) spoke the fateful words: “We have a drive-through for an unsafe release”.

Obviously I knew it had been close in the pitlane when I saw Robert Wickens cut across the front of my car but it hadn’t even crossed my mind that I might get a penalty until then. I was furious at what I had been told, but focused on pushing hard to keep the pace up before taking the penalty. I kept quiet, kept calm drove through the pitlane and emerged in 11th position, what a disaster!

I quickly caught Nico Muller and passed him for P10, and then realised how much faster than the opposition I was. I then got through the BMWs of Marco Wittmann, Martin Tomczyk and Tom Blomqvist pretty quickly before catching up with Wickens. I passed him into Sachs Curve, which was actually pretty close between us and then started hunting down the battle for second

I got onto the back of Maxime on the final lap but just too late to get past and came home a decent fifth Another couple of laps and I think I could have got back up to second.

What a race, I was still really gutted about the drive through but really pleased with getting some decent points to end the weekend. Timo Glock was disqualified when post-race scrutineering of his car found part of the bodywork to be outside of legal limits which meant I was moved up to P4, 12 points in the bag.

My overall feeling from the weekend was that we have a competitive car, which bodes well for the season ahead, although I scored a lot less points than I should have done. Next we move onto Spielberg for Races 3 and 4, where I hope to repeat last season's Sunday performance and get on the podium at least once.

Pit stop Gary Paffett, Mercedes-AMG Team ART, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM
Pit stop Gary Paffett, Mercedes-AMG Team ART, Mercedes-AMG C63 DTM

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

shares
comments
Wickens - “I've changed my approach to things”

Previous article

Wickens - “I've changed my approach to things”

Next article

Spielberg DTM: Wittmann heads Blomqvist in first qualifying

Spielberg DTM: Wittmann heads Blomqvist in first qualifying
Load comments

About this article

Series DTM
Event Hockenheim
Location Hockenheimring
Drivers Gary Paffett
Teams ART Grand Prix
Author Gary Paffett
The slow-burner threatening to unseat Audi's DTM king Prime

The slow-burner threatening to unseat Audi's DTM king

It's taken him a while to emerge as a consistent title challenger, but in the final year of DTM's Class One ruleset, Nico Muller has smoothed the rough edges and has double champion stablemate Rene Rast working harder than ever to keep up in the title race.

DTM
Oct 14, 2020
Does 2000 hold the answers to the DTM's current crisis? Prime

Does 2000 hold the answers to the DTM's current crisis?

It's 20 years since the DTM roared back into life at a packed Hockenheim with a back-to-basics approach as the antidote to its high-tech past. Now it's on its knees again, so is it time to recall the lessons learned in 2000?

DTM
May 28, 2020
Ranking the 10 best Audi DTM drivers Prime

Ranking the 10 best Audi DTM drivers

Audi last week announced it would be exiting the DTM at the end of 2020, bringing the curtain down on 20 years of continuous participation since the series' reboot in 2000.

DTM
May 5, 2020
Why the DTM must reinvent itself after Audi exit Prime

Why the DTM must reinvent itself after Audi exit

Audi's announcement that it will withdraw from the DTM at the end of 2020 was the latest blow for a series that has lost three manufacturers in as many years. Some major soul-searching will now be required to assess how it can survive.

DTM
Apr 28, 2020
Why cynic Berger changed his mind over green tech in racing Prime

Why cynic Berger changed his mind over green tech in racing

DTM boss Gerhard Berger was a detractor of Formula E and held a reluctance for his series to embrace greener engine technologies. However, this cynic's tune has had to change to ensure DTM's existence as the motorsport world moves forward

DTM
Dec 13, 2019
What the fallout from Aston's engine split means for 2020 Prime

What the fallout from Aston's engine split means for 2020

Aston Martin's DTM arrival, via the R-Motorsport outfit, was heralded as a salvation of sorts for the series. After plenty of bumps in the road in 2019, the team finds itself in a similar position to the one it was in 12 months ago. Can it get its act together?

DTM
Dec 6, 2019
How the DTM and Super GT can build on their experiment Prime

How the DTM and Super GT can build on their experiment

The Class One 'Dream Race' staged by the DTM and SUPER GT proved a hit - from a competitive and collaborative standpoint. The next step will be for both parties to ensure a successful trial ends up being more than just that.

Super GT
Nov 29, 2019
Robot pitcrews and hydrogen – is DTM's concept plausible? Prime

Robot pitcrews and hydrogen – is DTM's concept plausible?

DTM organiser ITR has mooted a radical plan for a "truly new and inspiring" future motorsport series. How realistic are its suggestions of automated pitstops and 1000bhp hydrogen-fuelled touring cars?

DTM
Nov 11, 2019