Joel Eriksson came home just three tenths from the podium in an absorbing Sunday race at the DTM season-opener at Hockenheim, where the Swedish debutant belied his rookie status to join a heart-stopping late scrap over victory with the leading stars of the ultra-competitive championship.
2017 FIA F3 European Championship runner-up Eriksson stormed onto the DTM arena with a commanding performance that saw him comfortably seal top rookie honours in both qualifying sessions and both races staged this weekend, even taking the outright fight to the established frontrunners.
After finishing 12th despite stalling on the grid in the season-opening race on Saturday, Eriksson came to the fore on Sunday to seal a sensational third place on the grid in qualifying, out-pacing a host of DTM champions that included the likes of Paul di Resta, Mike Rockenfeller, fellow Swede Mattias Ekström and double title-winning BMW stable-mate Marco Wittmann.
From his position on the second row, Eriksson initially dropped back a few places in the opening stint of the one-hour race as he struggled with the balance of his BMW M4 DTM, but then recovered strongly after the pit stops to claw his way back up into podium – and essentially victory – contention.
The closing stages of the race go down in history as among the most dramatic the sport has recently seen, with Eriksson starring in a compelling battle against eventual winner Timo Glock, runner-up Rockenfeller, Saturday victor Gary Paffett, Loic Duval, di Resta, Pascal Wehrlein and reigning champion René Rast.
The 19-year-old Swede pulled off a courageous move on di Resta to clinch third with just ten minutes to go, and then started to close the gap to leaders Glock and Paffett as the two disputed first place.
He joined the fight over victory to challenge Paffett – another ex-champion – for P2, but the two banged wheels and Eriksson instead had to yield position to the chasing Rockenfeller.
He then clung on to fourth over some incredible final laps, defending and attacking as the leading group raced hard but respectfully against each other, and eventually finished fourth – just 0.3s behind Paffett, and 3.4s behind winning BMW colleague Glock.
Eriksson set the quickest lap of the race among all six BMW drivers.
“It’s been a great first weekend overall, but I have to admit I’ve got mixed feelings at the moment,” says Joel Eriksson. “It’s great to finish fourth in my second race in DTM, but being so close to the podium, it’s obviously a bit disappointing to miss out. You always want more, I guess. The Sunday race was an eye-opener for me, coming from single-seaters. It’s tough racing in the DTM and you need to get your elbows out. Looking back, I feel the situation with Paffett cost me the podium today, but I’ll learn from it. P4 is not bad at all and I’m pleased with this debut.”
Eriksson leaves the Hockenheim opener holding sixth in the DTM standings.
The next round of the DTM takes place at EuroSpeedway Lausitz on May 18-20.
RESULTS (top five)
DTM | Round 1
1: Gary Paffett (GBR), Mercedes, 36 laps
2: Lucas Auer (AUT), Mercedes, +1.449s
3: Timo Glock (GER), BMW, +6.514s
4: Edoardo Mortara (ITA), Mercedes, +8.198s
5: Pascal Wehrlein (GER), Mercedes, +11.391s
12: Joel Eriksson (SWE), BMW, +21.294s
1: Timo Glock (GER), BMW, 36 laps
2: Mike Rockenfeller (GER), Audi, +2.078s
3: Gary Paffett (GBR), Mercedes, +3.099s
4: Joel Eriksson (SWE), BMW, +3.481s
5: Loic Duval (FRA), Audi, +3.854s
CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS (top five)
DTM | After 2/20 races
1: Timo Glock (GER), BMW, 44 p.
2: Gary Paffett (GBR), Mercedes, 43 p.
3: Mike Rockenfeller (GER), Audi, 18 p.
4: Lucas Auer (AUT), Mercedes, 18 p.
5: Pascal Wehrlein (GER), Mercedes, 18 p.
6: Joel Eriksson (SWE), BMW, 13 p.