2005 DTM champion Gary Paffett is heading off to Zandvoort this weekend for the latest round of the DTM championship, currently sitting joint third in the standings, 17 points behind team mate Bruno Spengler.
TouringCarTimes spoke to Gary ahead of the race about how the 2010 season, the future of the DTM, as well as his key role and reserve and test driver with the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team.
TcT: At present, Mercedes-Benz drivers occupy the top four places in the championship. Things are looking good for the team at the moment?
“Yeah, though it’s not all been plain sailing,” said Gary.
“The weekend at the Nurburgring that was probably our best result of the year. We were beaten quite convincingly there last year and after Friday practice it looked like that might happen again, but we managed to turn it around; we had a very good qualifying performance though Mattias was on pole by a clear three tenths – in the race, Mattias just didn’t have the pace and we had another great result.”
“So yeah, the first half of the year has been very good for us; for myself, I’ve scored points in every race, I won the first race, was on the podium at the last race – but I want to be on the podium regularly and winning races again, hopefully this last race at the Nurburgring is the start of us getting back on the podium at every race again hopefully.”
TcT: How important is it for Mercedes to win the championship this year?
“It’s always important and the longer it goes on without us winning it the more pressure there is. Last year I felt that, winning four races and finishing second in the championship, okay, I didn’t quite win it, but I was happy with the season and thought we did a great job.”
“It’ll be great to stop the run of Audi wins for sure and bring the championship back to Mercedes…and if we keep this form up then I don’t see any reason why we can’t win the championship.”
TcT: With that championship so important for Mercedes, do you see there’s a possibility soon that Mercedes will want to support one driver to be sure they get it, also considering that DTM has set a precedent that team orders aren’t permitted?
“There’s been team orders involved in DTM before, and I think we’ve seen Audi have been very extreme in doing it sometimes, like we saw last year in Zandvoort where they got a penalty for doing it. At the moment we are fighting flat out between all of us to try and win for ourselves and at the moment Bruno’s done a better job than everybody else, so at the moment he’s leading the championship.”
“Sometimes it gets to a point where there’s just a fight between two drivers and then you try and help but it’s very difficult to do it without it being team orders, and it being fairly blatant. There are things you can do, but you just go out there and do your best. After all, the guy who wins the championship has to be the fastest guy out there, if he gets a bit of help from his team mates who don’t make it quite so difficult for him to overtake, fair enough, but you’ve got to be quick to win the championship else you’re not even going to be close to the front.”
TcT: After winning the DTM championship in 2005, you went to be a full time test driver for McLaren in 2006. With the new testing regulations in Formula 1, how much easier is it now to balance your Formula 1 role with a full-time DTM drive?
“The reason I didn’t do DTM in 2006 was because the testing load was massive. You were testing every week and there wasn’t the time to do both things. Since then the testing restrictions have been tighter and tighter and there’s no in-season testing now and that freed me up a bit, and I just wanted to get back to racing. The DTM is a fantastic place to just go and race, and it’s thanks to Mercedes & McLaren that they allowed me and made it possible for me to do both.”
“When I go to a DTM race my focus is totally on doing what I can in DTM, after all if I’m not proving myself in DTM, the interest from F1 teams will be less. I have to perform, and I want to perform more than anything else and I want to be winning races.”
TcT: How prepared are you if that call was ever there? The “Lewis has got the flu, can you race this weekend?” one, given the lack of testing you’re allowed to do these days?
“I’m prepared as I can be. I do a lot of work for McLaren in the simulator and with the engineers, so from that point of view understanding the car, I’m fully prepared. On the other side, is difficult to say as I’m not driving the car, it certainly would take time to get used to driving the car again.”
“I’m racing in DTM which is a fast car, it’s a competitive car and a competitive series, so I’d like to think that I’ve got that competitive edge still, but it certainly would be a bit to get back used to driving the car but I think that’s the problem with the testing restriction in F1 at the moment, nobody really knows how prepared they are.”
TcT: With new regulations coming into the DTM in 2012, how do you see the future of the DTM, and what these new regulations are trying to achieve?
“It needs a new injection of manufacturers, that’s the biggest part. With the two manufacturers it’s a great series, it’s very strong, but then at the same time it’s quite weak as there are only two people there, and if at the moment you were to lose one, you’d be left with a one make formula which is what no one wants.”
“So we need the manufacturers coming in, and the only way to let them come in and be competitive, which is the only way they’ll come in, is to have a bit of a clean sheet for people to work from.”
“The way they’re designing the new regulations looks good, the cars are going to be similar performance wise to what they are now, it’s going to be easier for people to build a car similar to Mercedes & Audi and be able to come and compete…. We need new manufacturers and hopefully a lot more manufacturers to come in. Hopefully BMW’s commitment to the formula is just the start. “