Audi management took the unprecedented step of withdrawing all of their cars after its principal title charges Martin Tomcyk and Mattias Ekstrom were involved in controversial crashes.
Audi Sport issued a statement claiming, “the Mercedes drivers used every opportunity to eliminate our cars.”
The race began with Audi’s Tomcyk on pole and he led Mercedes’ Mika Hakkinen cleanly away at the start.
But what happened next between the pair was not so clean. Hakkinen caught Tomcyk’s draught down the straight on lap six and was squeezed to the very inside of the first corner. Hakkinen braked too deep and the pair made contact, putting Hakkinen out and delaying Tomcyk.
Tomcyk’s team mate and championship rival Ekstrom made his first pit stop around the same time leaving Mercedes driver in control of the race – Bruno Spengler leading from Bernd Schneider and Jamie Green.
Ekstrom’s early pit stop left him battling in the pack and he caught Daniel la Rosa on lap 14. The pair were battling for position and when Ekstrom passed la Rosa on lap 14 he squeezed his rival off the track. La Rosa lost control on the grass and side-swiped Ekstrom’s car, putting both out.
He later denied that he had continued to accelerate when he had been put on the grass and insisted that he had braked. But the stewards nonetheless penalised him and Hakkinen with fines and ten place grid penalties for the next race.
Tomcyk meanwhile was battling back through the field, moving up to seventh after his first pit stop but losing time running wide at turn one on lap 25. But he wasn’t to last much longer – a problem with his battered car surfaced on his second pit stop and he subsequently retired.
That left Spengler looking at an open goal in terms of scoring championship points but he was delayed by a drive-through penalty. Schneider was eliminated with car failure which left Green poised to scoop his first ever win.
Further back the incidents continued. Spengler tried to pass Lucas Luhr around the outside but Luhr pushed Spengler wide and kept the position.
On lap 37 Mattias Lauda and Timo Scheider clashed, the contact sending Scheider’s Audi into retirement. Temperatures were boiling on the Audi pit wall, but it was har do apportion blame for the collision.
The team finally snapped when Spengler passed Mike Rockenfeller on lap 46. Rockenfeller had defended his position very strongly and Spengler had gone up the inside of the Audi on the exit of La Caixa. The pair squeezed each other, contact was inevitable, and Rockenfeller was knocked across the gravel trap.
On the pitwall, Audi boss Wolfgang Ullrich had had enough. He ordered all remaining seven Audis directly into the pits to withdraw in response to the string of incidents. That ended the races of Rockenfeller, Luhr, Tom Kristensen, Alexandre Premat, Christian Abt, Markus Winklehock and Vaninia Ickx.
That left just six Mercedes circulating with Green leading. Paul di Resta, second, let Spengler past as per team orders but Green, as a first team driver, was spared the order and left to claim his maiden victory – although he clearly earned and wasn’t involved in any of the controversy, it’s likely that it will be somewhat overshadowed.
It remains to be seen what the consequences will be for the DTM – and Audi’s participation in it – following this controversial twist.
DTM Media Service