Joel Eriksson took away a haul of championship points for sixth place in a turbulent final race at this weekend’s Hungaroring DTM round, as a strategy of early pit stops paid off handsomely for BMW.
While Eriksson enjoyed a promising start to the Hungarian meeting by going fifth fastest in Friday free practice, Saturday’s opening race would prove a challenge for the Swede and the rest of the BMW squad, who instead re-focussed their attentions on Sunday’s second encounter.
Although qualifying for Race 2 marked little improvement over the day before, the Sunday race would throw up the unexpected, featuring everything from a sudden downpour to pitlane crashes, a red-flag stoppage and a thrilling final few laps.
The early stages of the race were fairly conventional, however, the start taking place in dry conditions, and for Eriksson it was always a case of trying something different from 17th on the grid.
He therefore pitted for his compulsory pit stop already on the opening lap, with BMW team-mate Timo Glock also applying the same strategy.
The remaining four BMWs then all pitted within the next five laps, just as the skies suddenly burst open and rain started to fall over the Hungarian Grand Prix venue.
A number of drivers came diving into the pitlane to change for wet-weather tyres, but the slippery concrete surface proved highly treacherous and caught out a trio of race winners in Lucas Auer, Bruno Spengler and Edoardo Mortara – who all ploughed violently into their respective pit gantries.
Sadly, the out-of-control cars caused three people working in the pitlane to sustain injuries, calling for the medical team to attend the scene and the race to be red-flagged.
The DTM have confirmed that a marshal suffered “severe leg injuries”, while the other two people sustained what organisers are referring to as “medium-level injuries”. No one is in critical condition, but all three were transported to hospital.
The rain subsequently eased off during the stoppage, and when racing resumed, it did so on a dry track. Crucially, all BMW drivers had completed their compulsory pit stops before the red flag, leaving them at a big advantage with the field now packed up together again and their rivals still to pit.
At the restart, Eriksson found himself up in ninth place following all the turmoil before the stoppage, and this soon became seventh when Glock and Gary Paffett shoved each other wide at Turn 4. Glock, however, would re-pass Eriksson again on lap 15.
When the leading runners made their pit stops, BMW then came to the fore, with Marco Wittmann, Glock and Philipp Eng going on to score a podium lock-out.
Eriksson ran fourth going into the closing stages, but ultimately had to yield position to Mike Rockenfeller and Paul Di Resta in the final few laps on ageing tyres.
Coming home sixth from 17th on the grid still marked a very good result, on a day when BMW turned the tables to see all six of its cars finish in the top eight.
“First and foremost, my thoughts are with the people who were injured in the pits today,” says Joel Eriksson. “It was not a good sight to see ambulances in the pitlane and I wish everyone a quick recovery. As for the sporting side of things, this was a weekend where we didn’t have the pace but managed to bring home a good result anyway thanks to strategy and the special circumstances. It’s positive that we managed to do that turnaround, but we need to analyse why we lacked some pace. I am sure we will be back much stronger at the next one.”
Coming up next on the DTM calendar is one of the true highlights of the season: the ever-popular street race at Nuremberg’s Norisring. A favourite with fans and drivers alike, the 2018 edition of the barrier-lined event takes place on June 22-24.
RESULTS (top five)
DTM | Round 3
1: Paul Di Resta (GBR), Mercedes, 34 laps
2: Lucas Auer (AUT), Mercedes, +0.587s
3: Nico Müller (CHE), Audi, +2.236s
4: René Rast (GER), Audi, +2.898s
5: Edoardo Mortara (ITA), Mercedes, +6.695s
17: Joel Eriksson (SWE), BMW, +40.534s
1: Marco Wittmann (GER), BMW, 26 laps
2: Timo Glock (GER), BMW, +5.870s
3: Philipp Eng (AUT), BMW, +13.457s
4: Mike Rockenfeller (GER), Audi, +13.937s
5: Paul Di Resta (GBR), Mercedes, +16.276s
6: Joel Eriksson (SWE), BMW, +20.466s
CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS (top five)
DTM | After 6/20 races
1: Timo Glock (GER), BMW, 90 p.
2: Gary Paffett (GBR), Mercedes, 79 p.
3: Paul Di Resta (GBR), Mercedes, 67 p.
4: Lucas Auer (AUT), Mercedes, 57 p.
5: Marco Wittmann (GER), BMW, 51 p.
11: Joel Eriksson (SWE), BMW, 23 p.