Audi’s Mattias Ekström admits that qualifying has been crucial to the two victories which he took at the end of the 2014 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) season, which helped the Swede to second overall in the drivers’ championship.
Ekström started the final race of the season from the front row of the grid, and after a handful of laps was the top driver who started with the standard tyre. Ekström then came into his own after the pitstops, charging back through the field to reduce the deficit to leader Jamie Green to just three seconds with five laps to go.
A late-race safety car proved to be a gift for Ekström, who passed Green with ease on the penultimate lap of the race on the faster option tyres.
The Swede has never previously won the season finale, and admits that it’s nice to end a difficult season on a high and with back-to-back victories.
“It’s always nice to end on a high – to win the last two races never happened to me,” said Ekström. “I’m pretty happy with this, but still I know how quickly you can go from having two zero-scores to having two victories.
“I tried everything this year – being on the top and being on the bottom. It’s quite nice to be on the top, I have to say. Still I know it changes very quickly, so I’ll enjoy it in the heat of the moment.”
Ekström puts his recent run of form down to improvements in qualifying made before the eighth round of the season at the Lausitzring. Prior to that, the former double champion had only qualified in the top ten on one occasion. However after the test Ekström has been in Q3 at each of the final three races of the season.
“I’m pretty happy that after the test we had before Lausitzring I managed to qualify a bit better,” said Ekström. “That’s why I felt personally much happier in the race, because when you come into qualifying you do your best and when it’s 11th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 20th or whatever, that’s a really bad feeling. I’m more happy with having sorted this qualifying situation out than I am winning the race, because when racing I’ve never felt [it was] a struggle – it’s mainly the qualifying. So when this is sorted I know the racing will come.”
Ekström also added that he did not believe that starting the race on the standard tyre was a particular disadvantage, so long as driver’s on the tyre can keep their pace up in traffic early on in the race.
“On the first couple of laps with standard tyres, with all the option runners around, it’s pretty busy so you need to have the mirrors working,” said Ekström. “Then if the safety car comes you are on the gaining side of things and if you start on the options you will always be on the losing part. I think it’s a calculated risk so if you are able to pass guys in the second stint on the options and you are confident with this, I think it’s not a dangerous [strategy] – the danger is in the first five laps of the race someone will run into you and break your car. This didn’t happen and it was a very good race and I think it was definitely the right choice.”
Finishing as the ‘best of the rest’ behind champion Marco Wittmann, Ekström believes his season was a success, having been on the podium in half of the races.
“I’m pleased with the maximum performance we have,” added Ekström. “We’ve been on the podium in five races and in the last few races with good a qualifying result, so that’s what I take with me.
“Still to win the DTM you have to be sorted from day one and then you have to have your game plan ready and be consistent. If I’m being honest we had a very good car, but there were bits and pieces which we were not as good at in certain stages of the year that cost us massively in qualifying.
“If you look at his [Wittmann’s] season he had just one time that he scored zero and in all the other races it was eight points or more. In ten races you can’t afford to have five bad ones, that’s just how it goes.”