‘This one means more’
Thirteen years after winning his first Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) championship, Clare’s Gary Paffett once again stands on top of the podium and this time he insists it ‘means so much more’.
The 37-year-old was crowned DTM champion for the second time at the weekend, as fourth and third-place finishes in the final round in Hockenheim saw him clinch the title by four points ahead of defending champion René Rast.
It provided the perfect end for Paffett’s 15-season career in the DTM, with the Mercedes-AMG driver bowing out from the series on a high and switching over to Formula E with new boys HWA Racelab later this year.
And the now two-time champion, who finished runner-up in 2009, 2010 and 2012, says his latest triumph is ‘an incredible way to sign off’ from a series that he first competed in back in 2003.
“The first one was very special, but this one means so much more,” Paffett said.
“Especially with this being the last year that Mercedes-Benz are in the DTM; it’s an incredible way to sign off.
“I always believed that I could still win another championship.
“Since 2005, when I won it for the first time, there has been three times when I’ve been fighting for the championship and finished second on all three occasions.
“I suppose you do start to wonder if it’s ever going to happen again.
“Some years you get off to a good start to the championship, and then some years don’t start as well.
“It’s been 13 years since I last won one, so to win it again means a lot to me.”
Paffett went into the final weekend of the 10-race season trailing championship leader, and fellow Mercedes-AMG driver, Paul Di Resta by just four points, with 2017 winner Rast 26 points further adrift.
The gap was closed to two points following Saturday’s qualifying, as Paffett picked up two points for finishing in second, with Di Resta down in eighth place and Rast on the second row in fourth.
Rast, the winner of the previous four races in the series, continued his hot streak to win Saturday’s race, as Paffett, who had twice been in the lead, came home in fourth.
It was enough to hand Paffett the championship lead heading into the final day on Sunday, the Clare resident ahead of Di Resta by six points and Rast by 15 points.
After Rast qualified in second, one place ahead of Paffett, and Di Resta could only get as high as 10th, Paffett knew a fourth-place finish in the last race would be enough to crown him champion.
Rast completed a weekend double to win Sunday’s race, and in the process set a new DTM record with six consecutive race wins,.
However, Paffett took third to finish ahead of the German by just four points in the final standings.
“Earlier in the season we had a 39-point advantage, and if we’d have kept up at that rate we’d have won it with two weekends to go,” Paffett said.
“But René had an incredible run and put us under a lot of pressure.
“To win it in the end by four points mean so much, because we had to fight for it and it was emotional for all the team.”
Paffett had to cut his title celebrations short on Sunday night, with an early morning flight out to Valencia the next day ahead of three days of Formula E testing at the Ricardo Tormo circuit this week.
This week it was announced that Belgium’s Stoffel Vandoorne, who currently races for McLaren in Formula 1, will partner Paffett in the HWA Racelab team in the 2018/19 Formula E season, which starts on December 15.