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Mercedes out to defend lead in Austria

Mercedes-Benz head to the Austrian round of the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters at the Red Bull Ring this weekend looking to hold on to their lead in all three championships.

Mercedes are on top of the driver’s championship with Gary Paffett thanks to the Brit’s two wins and a second place already this season. Paffett’s lead currently stands at 25 points – the amount on offer for a win – meaning that it is highly likely the manufacturer will leave the Spielberg circuit still in the lead. However Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Vice President Norbert Haug admits that, once again, nothing can be taken for granted in such a competitive DTM.

“Given that the three manufacturers are so evenly matched, high-octane excitement is guaranteed at the demanding Red Bull Ring at Spielberg in Austria,” said Haug. “Especially because so far in the 2012 season, it has been every bit as difficult to reliably predict pre-race favourites in the DTM as it has been in Formula 1.

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“Thanks to two wins from Gary Paffett in the first three races, Mercedes AMG has made a great start in this hard-fought season. We are up against tough competition from Audi and BMW, but we are clearly focused on defending – and as far as possible increasing – our lead in all three championships as we prepare for the second of four race weekends to be staged outside Germany this year.”

For Paffett the start to the season has been almost perfect. However the 19-time DTM race winner explains that the Red Bull Ring will present a different set of challenges to the short, tight and twisty Brands Hatch Indy circuit two weeks ago.

“Three races, two wins and one second place – the season could hardly have started better for me,” said Paffett. “Everything about our new DTM Mercedes AMG C-Coupé is first-class, and it has shown itself to be fast on all types of track.

“In Spielberg, though, we’re expecting some new challenges,” added Paffett. “The circuit has a very different character to Brands Hatch where we raced a fortnight ago. There are some long straights, and it’s certain that the field will be tightly matched once again. I drove at Spielberg when I was still competing in Formula 3 and actually won a race there in 2002. I’ve also raced in Austria twice in the DTM, but I haven’t made it onto the podium yet. I’d like to correct that this year.”

The Red Bull Ring (formerly the A1-Ring) was only re-added to the DTM calendar in 2011 after seven years off the calendar whilst the venue was rebuilt. Mercedes second-best driver in the 2012 standings, Jamie Green, has therefore only raced on the circuit once before.

“The track at Spielberg is still a relatively new experience for me,” explained Green. “I’ve only driven one race there so far; that was last year when I finished sixth. I like the track and it’s fun to drive. There are some long straights, and it’s really impressive driving in the Austrian Alps – you don’t find these big elevation changes and such a fantastic atmosphere at many other venues. So far this year, the field has been evenly matched on all types of track, and I’m expecting it to be very tight in Spielberg too.”

Mercedes’ youngest driver, Christian Vietoris, 23, was also full of praise for the circuit. The young German has so far claimed a best result of fourth in 2012 and, having finished outside the points at the second race of the season, added to this with a sixth last time out at Brands Hatch. However the Gerolstein-based driver could have gone even better last time out in the United Kingdom, having lost a handful of positions on the opening lap of the race after starting from second.

“Spielberg is a fabulous track; there are a number of long straights and it goes up and down all the way round,” said Vietoris. “This circuit represents a major challenge that demands a lot from the driver and the car. It’s crucially important to get the right balance between maximum downforce for the twisty section and a high top speed for the relatively long straights. I’ve only driven on this track once before, but things went pretty well for me in the rain last year, so I’ll be coming to Austria in a positive frame of mind.”

Former Formula One racer Ralf Schumacher is, along with fellow Mercedes pilot and F1 ace David Coulthard, one of the most experienced drivers around the 4.326 km circuit, having competed in seven Grand Prix’s at the venue. After finishing second at the circuit last year, and counting it as his home race, Schumacher is confident ahead of this weekend’s fourth race of the season.

“I’m coming to Spielberg with very good memories of finishing second in last year’s race,” said Schumacher. “Having relocated some time ago to Salzburg, Spielberg now counts as my home race. The track is situated in this glorious Alpine setting, and it offers some excellent overtaking opportunities; the fans can certainly look forward to another exciting race. After a difficult weekend at Brands Hatch, I intend to be back in the mix with the front-runners at Spielberg.”
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