"We’re pushing ever closer to the points and I can feel myself improving every weekend." - Despite a difficult weekend on a track where she had never driven on before, Esmee Hawkey had two solid races in DTM at Nürburgring and was closer than ever to score her first points in the series after a crazy Race 2.
Despite the clash with the 24 hours of Le Mans, the fourth round of the DTM had its most crowded field to date, with the addition of guest starter Luca Stolz (Mercedes Team Toksport WRT) and the debut of the eighth brand: Porsche, with the first ever entry in the series for the German marque.
Among the 23 starters it was also former F1 driver Markus Winkelhock, taking over the #99 Audi R8 LMS GT3 by Audi Sport ABT usually driven by Sophia Floersch. The young German racer was in fact racing at the famous endurance race at La Sarthe with the all-female team Richard Mille Racing, but will be back in the now-GT3 based DTM at the next round at Red Bull Ring.
Making her first trip to Nürburgring was Esmee Hawkey, driver of the #26 T3 Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan. At her first season in the series, the former W Series driver and 2020 Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion in the Pro-Am category, Hawkey was looking forward to another learning-oriented weekend, coming off her best result to date at Zolder.
“I’ve been looking forward to racing at the Nürburgring for a long time,” Esmee said before the race weekend. “It’s a circuit cast in motorsport history so it’s very special to have the opportunity to race there myself. I’m feeling really confident after our performance at Zolder - I think we’re really hitting our stride and continuing to improve as every round passes and I’m positive that we’ll carry that forward this weekend too.”
The start of Esmee's weekend wasn't an easy one, as the 23-year-old Brit continues to learn the secrets of her Lamborghini, with limited testing and on track where she had never driven on before. In the first qualifying session, Kelvin van der Linde (Audi ABT) took yet another pole position, ahead of Philip Ellis (Winward Mercedes), Marco Wittmann (Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW) and Daniel Juncadella (GruppeM Racing Mercedes). Esmee Hawkey was 21st on the grid.
When the lights went out, van der Linde held on to the first place despite the attacks of Ellis at Turn 1; Luca Stolz was up to third place with a impressive start and passed Wittmann, who dropped to sixth after a messy opening lap where Haupt spun, Lawson straight lined the chicane and Haase - subbing in for Gore at Audi Team Rosberg - pitted for damages.
Esmee Hawkey had a cautious start off the line and was P23 after the first lap.
The Safety car was brought out when Auer spun Max Buhk around, also involving Mike Rockenfeller in the process.
The race resumed on lap 3, with another good restart from Ellis who tried to take over the lead around the outside of Turn 1, but Kelvin van der Linde defended. Esmee Hawkey, 20th at the time of the restart, had a good sprint and passed two cars around the outside, but Ammermuller - the driver behind the wheel of the only Porsche - responded back.
But there was more hectic action at Turn 2, with former Red Bull F1 drivers Christian Klien and Alex Albon going wide - the latter pushed off by the Mercedes of Maini. Albon rejoined at the tail-end of the group, while Klien, who had taken evasive action, was back on track in the path of Buhk and the two collided.
After 6 chaotic laps, van der Linde led Ellis, Stolz, Wittmann and Gotz when the pit window opened and Ammermuller pitted. His maiden race in DTM was soon over, though, as an issue with the front-left tyre meant the retirement for the SSR Performance Porsche.
On lap 10, the leaders pitted: Kelvin van der Linde maintained the virtual first place from Ellis, and both rejoined ahead of Gotz, who had stopped one lap earlier. Esmee Hawkey, who had meanwhile avoided all the chaos unfolding in front of her and had recovered up to P14, pitted on lap 11 and rejoined in P20, before passing Haupt with a great move for 19th place.
On lap 20, Rockenfeller led the race of the late stoppers ahead of Winkelhock, Glock and Albon. The Ferrari driver was chased down and eventually passed by Kelvin van der Linde, as the two drivers put on a fierce fight despite Albon being on a different strategy. Ellis and Stolz also tried to get ahead of Albon, but it would be Stolz to make the most out of the situation and move into the virtual second place when Ellis had to cut the chicane in the tight battle with Albon.
van der Linde regained the lead on lap 32 once his ABT Sportsline teammate Rockenfeller finally stopped. His strategy, though, worked out and he rejoined in fourth place.
The final stopper was Alex Albon, but the Thai driver's Ferrari was brought to a halt and retired.
Esmee Hawkey received a 5 second time penalty for track limits - same fate awaited Esteban Muth and Nico Muller, who also got another 5-second penalty for pushing another car off track. Hawkey, though, managed to put over 7 seconds between her ROKiT-sponsored Lamborghini and the Mercedes of Haupt and started to chase Christian Klien.
One of the last drivers to stop, Winkelhock recovered to eighth place on fresher tyres, but his charge was halted by a drive through for a previous contact with Alex Albon.
After a flawless run, Kelvin van der Linde took victory and doubled his championship lead over Lawson. Luca Stolz was second and Ellis third, preceding Mike Rockenfeller, Maximilian Gotz and Marco Wittmann. Arjun Maini was 10th and scored his first points in DTM.
Esmee Hawkey battled with Christian Klien and Markus Winkelhock on the final laps and completed the first race in 17th place.
The weather at the Eifel was expectedly changeable and the rain arrived on Sunday morning during the second qualifying session. Alex Albon scored his first DTM pole position (AF Corse Ferrari), preceding Daniel Juncadella, Marco Wittmann and ADAC GT Masters champion Michael Ammermuller - whose Porsche had received an update in the BoP following Saturday's race. It was Esmee Hawkey's first qualifying in wet conditions and the British racer slotted in 23rd position. At the start, Albon had a quick getaway and held position, while Ammermuller was up in third place and Christian Klien gained a few spots to advance into sixth. The carnage eventually came on lap 2, when Max Buhk was squeezed on the main straight and punted off by Maini into the pitwall, bringing out the first Safety Car of the day. Ellis had also scattered around debris following a first lap trip to the gravel. The action resumed on lap 3, but drama wasn't over: Ammermuller spun at Turn 2, Ellis and Stolz made contact, most of the midfield ran wide in the paved run-off and Esmee Hawkey spun following contact with Nico Muller. Meanwhile, Albon had managed once again a perfect restart and gained some free space ahead. On lap 6, Gotz, Rockenfeller, Maini and Auer were the first drivers to dive in the pitlane once the pit window opened. Lawson stopped one lap later and rejoined just ahead of Gotz: the two made contact and Lawson was forced to pit again with a puncture. Alex Albon pitted on lap 9 and came out on top of the early stoppers. His strategy was just about safe from the intervention of the second Safety Car, deployed when Haupt's Mercedes came to a halt before Turn 6. Sheldon van der Linde had just pitted before the SC intervention - which allowed the BMW driver to move into virtual second place, while the field was led by Christian Klien, Muller, Kelvin van der Linde and Christopher Haase, who still had to pit for their mandatory stops, but had their strategy compromised by the Safety Car timing. Among these drivers, Esmee Hawkey had also elected to stay out and lined up in eighth place once the race went back to green on lap 17. At the green flag, Ammermuller was crashed out of the race, as well as Sheldon van der Linde and Hawkey dropped to P17 after more contacts, At the chicane, Lawson crashed into Rockenfeller and Kelvin van der Linde - taking off both the Audi ABT cars. The Ferrari driver's race went from bad to worse when he picked up another puncture as a result of the crash and was handed a drive through penalty. He would later retire. Daniel Juncadella pulled off a stunning pass on Winkelhock at Turn 1 on lap 19 - but the German also had to serve a drive through for a restart infringement, which dropped him down the order.
Esmee Hawkey pitted on lap 19 and slotted in P14, then advanced to P13 once Winkelhock served his penalty.
Meanwhile, Albon started to put pressure on Klien and passed the McLaren driver on lap 25. The Austrian would complete his pit stop on lap 31, but a long stop dropped him outside of the points.
After 38 laps, Alex Albon claimed his first win of his career in DTM, preceding Daniel Juncadella - at his first podium of the season - and Marco Wittmann.
Maximilian Gotz was fourth and Esteban Muth recorded his best finish in the series with fifth place. A drag race to the finish line saw Vincent Abril taking eighth place from Nico Muller, Christopher Haase and Christian Klien.
Esmee Hawkey took the chequered flag in 13th place - equalling her best result from the Zolder weekend. Maini and Klien, though, were handed post-race penalties, which promoted Hawkey to P11 - which was thus just outside the point-paying positions and scored her personal best in the series.
“I’ve really enjoyed my first time racing here at the Nürburgring." - commented Esmee after the race. "It’s been another positive weekend and I’m really happy with my performance, particularly in the races."
"We’re pushing ever closer to the points and I can feel myself improving every weekend. We had a variety of conditions to deal with this weekend and that experience will really help me as we move forwards. I can’t wait to get back out there in Austria in a couple of weeks!”
DTM will return to the track in two week's time, as the teams head to Red Bull Ring on September 4/5 for the fifth round of the 2021 season.