TouringCarTimes met up with 2004 and 2007 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters champion Mattias Ekström to speak about the past DTM season, why Mercedes were alone in the title race, the new regulations, NASCAR and more.
Mattias, you finished fifth in the championship this year, a disappointing result?
“Yeah, things did not go that well. I mean, the first couple of races were good with a victory in Valencia and a second place at Norisring. But then things started to change with various sort of things.
I think there was some kind of break point at Nürburgring, the qualifying went really well, but after that I never really got the “right feeling” in the car. There were a couple of updates for the car later on, but nothing that really suited me. I was not able to get the qualifying sessions right and that is the thing with DTM nowadays. A couple of years ago, you were able to use different strategies and get up through the field, but now this is getting much more difficult.”
Some drivers seemed to struggle with the tyres during the past season, were the tyres an issue for you?
“Yes, I would say so. We knew the tyres in 2009 and we had it all worked out. We got the new tyres for this season which were harder in the compound and the feeling was not there for me, despite that the speed was more or less still there. Everyone has been struggling this year, the tyres felt like old bakelite pucks and you never got that “wow” feeling with them. But then again, the tyres seemed to suit some drivers better, like Paul Di Resta.”
There are new tyres coming in next year, replacing Dunlop. You took part in the Hankook test at Hockenheim earlier this year, what were your thoughts on those tyres?
“I have got high hopes for the tyres in 2011. I was impressed by the tyres we tested at Hockenheim. It remains to be seen what tyres we will get next year, but it is going to be exciting to get hold of the new tyres, start testing and find something that really suits you.”
Returning to the past season, why do you think Mercedes were alone in the title race?
“Somewhere in the middle of the season it seemed all of a sudden like they ate dynamite for breakfast. There was some kind of change for them, some chassis component or aerodynamics. That changed everything, we had a small advantage at the start of the season, it was not big, but it turned around. We did not use our advantage in the start of the season. There were mistakes, crashes and disqualifications.
If you have gathered two races of the first four that did not work, you have more or less ruined your title chances. Especially when drivers like Spengler and Di Resta had a good start of the championship. We were far behind after the first half and then it is hard to regain that gap on pure speed. Then we must not forget that Di Resta simply was one notch better this season, he had a couple of weekends when he was in a class of his own. The race at Brands Hatch for example was really impressive.”
If we instead turn our eyes for 2011 and the new season, what are your thoughts?
“I am looking forward to the new season and I am going to continue racing for Audi. It is going to be a challenge with the new tyres and that is going to be one of the main points along with doing a consistent season.
I think the driver that manages to do 10 to 11 races without any mistakes and consistently scores top points is going to take the championship. That is the concept. The qualifying sessions are going to continue to be extremely important, if you are not on pace in qualifying, it is all over. For sure, you can say that Timo Scheider won a race from 15th on the grid at Adria this year, but for that you need a very special day.”
The development for the cars are going to remain frozen for yet another year, what kind of impact on the season is that going to have?
“Well, the characteristics of the cars are going to remain the same. We know what needs to be improved and most of all it is about the tyres. You need to be quick right out of the box on the race weekends and be able to squeeze out 100 % in the qualifying sessions.
That is where we are going to put our main efforts. Because I mean, if you look at the changes we do during a weekend. We might do some balance changes on the car and then we change the tyres and the balance changes immensely. That is the great challenge for 2011, the tyres.”
If we look one year even further, to 2012 and the all new regulations. Where do you think those will take DTM?
“I am convinced that 2012 is going to be the start of an era for DTM not seen since the glory days of Super Touring. With Audi, Mercedes, BMW and perhaps one or two more manufacturers entering, plus the expansion to USA and Asia – that is the future of touring car racing. I am really looking forward to race the new cars with a lot more opponents.”
And speaking of new entries, what do you think about BMW’s chances in 2012?
“Well, lets put it this way. The experience that for example ABT and Audi has gained in the DTM during the past 10 years is nothing you can gather over a winter. I am expecting BMW to put up a hard fight, but I am also expecting to see a difference between the teams that have 10 years of experience and those that does not.
But then again, BMW know what they are doing and I expect them to be right up in the title fight from year two , no doubt about it.”
There has still been nothing released publicly on the new regulations, what do you know about them?
“The new regulations are as far as I know still discussed daily among the manufacturers and organization, so there is nothing final yet. But from what I have heard the main points are going to be that the cars are going to be less expensive to run and with the same basic engines. I do not think the new rules are going to turn it all upside down, but rather a refinement on all areas. We will have to wait and see, but I am not worried, rather the opposite.”
Lets return to the past season and your NASCAR assignments, will we see more of you in the USA?
“I completed a planned program for Red Bull Racing. The first race went well and after that I wanted to try an oval race. It was an exciting experience and I am never going to regret that I did it. I sincerely want to thank Red Bull and Audi for giving me this chance, it was a true life experience. But as it looks now, that is where it is going to stay.”
So finally, where are your sights set on for DTM 2011?
“I have been on pace for the majority of the past seasons, but there has been somewhat of too many punctures and mistakes from me or my team. I mean, people say that if you do one or two mistakes in a season, it is not all that much. But if you add that together with getting involved in mistakes from other competitors and other stuff, then it becomes too much.
We need to be better in the qualifying sessions next year. If we find our way back to the feeling we had with the tyres, then I know that we have it to win the championship. I want to be able to go to the tracks with a good feeling in me, knowing that I have the capacity to win. No one likes to give everything and more, but still not be in the top.
My ambition if of course to fight for the title next year and to be right in the very top of the pace in both qualifying and races. I am really looking forward to 2011!”