Gary Paffett Q&A

After a false start to his racing season in Formula 3000, former McLaren AUTOSPORT BRDC award winner Gary Paffett bounced back in the DTM with Mercedes in 2003. Despite driving a year-old CLK for ex-world champion Keke Rosberg's team, Paffett put in some sparkling drives that could have earned him a drive in contemporary machinery next year. Besides that, he still harbours ambitions to make it into Formula 1 after a near miss with Jordan and some promising tests with McLaren-Mercedes. Charles Bradley caught up with him

Gary Paffett Q&A

Yes, we had a quite a few opportunities at the start of the season and, at the time, Brand Motorsports in F3000 seemed like a good idea. They had some great ideas for marketing and sponsorship, and it was a free drive in F3000, which is rare. As soon as we started, it was obvious that it wasn't as good as we'd hoped. They had good engineers to start with, and testing went well, but then they left and it all started to fall apart. Brand actually decided to stop, but it was a case of they did before we did, because we weren't happy with the way it was going either. It all came to an abrupt end.

I was left with nothing to do basically. A week after the F3000 drive disappeared, they came to us and suggested that I do the DTM. We had been in touch previously about it, but my preference was to stay in single-seaters at that time. This time around, I jumped at it.

Sure it was an old car, but we decided to go for it. Going into it, it was great that I was a Mercedes DTM driver but I'd missed two races, I was in an old car and most of the others have been doing it for years. It was a big disadvantage, and I really felt like the new kid on the block to start with. I had to learn everything again. But by the first session in my first race, I was already quicker than the other year-old cars.

Yes and no. The car was set-up pretty well, but I know I'm generally a quick driver and can get in anything and go fast, whatever it is. I think I gave the other drivers in the old cars a wake-up call. I think they were quite happy to be racing against themselves at the back, and when I came along I think they thought I would be touring around at the back. When I came in and started beating them, they had to up their game.

It took me a while to work out how to get the car off the line, which didn't help. I hit some tyres in the first race early on, which meant I wasn't able to gain any race experience in the car. Then at Lausitz, when they were using the banking in testing, I was third quickest through there and sixth overall. I was gutted when they changed the circuit! I got my first finish, but lost time in the early fights, so again that was down to my lack of touring car race experience. Then at Norisring I collided with Wendlinger and, like Nurburgring, destroyed the front of the car again... It was a case of learning how hard you can be in a race, and what you can get away with when you hit someone!

When I first came into the team my target was to be on the case by Donington. It was a case that I had to get a good result there, and I was on it all through practice and qualifying. The race was good, but I should have finished seventh. Ninth was okay, it was the first good result I had, and although it wasn't a point it was something to build on.

Yeah. A lot of people said nice things, especially Norbert [Haug] and Keke. Norbert kept saying 'not bad for an Englishman' which I'll take as a compliment! The A1-Ring was the best race, because we used tactics to our advantage. I knew from the past that the circuit was kind on the tyres, and we stayed out on the first set until over half distance and finished sixth, which was a great result. Zandvoort wasn't so good, but we found that the chassis was cracked, and once that was fixed for Hockenheim we were flying again.

It took me a while to get past [Thomas] Jager early on but then I was able to catch and pass [Alain] Menu, [Peter] Terting and [Christian] Abt. I got up to eighth, which was awesome, and it was my best race of the year. Then we ran out of fuel on the last lap... it was pretty gutting really. I did some marginal overtaking moves in that race, and I bashed everyone out of the way for nothing!

F1 is the overall aim, but there are very limited opportunities. For race drives, you have to raise a lot of money. Hopefully I can get a test deal one of the top teams, and obviously I have good links with McLaren and Mercedes. We're talking to people, but it's tough to find a situation where drivers are moving on and the teams need someone else. At the moment there's not too much happening.

We chased and chased a deal for this year, but the prices kept going up and up. It would be a great thing to do to get experience of tracks like Melbourne and Monaco, where you will never get track time. The top teams have their test line-up pretty sorted and the lesser teams look for how much money they can get for it. Too many people are paying to get into F1. Drivers should be judged on the size of their talent, not of their wallet.

Yes. I'd love to do the DTM with Mercedes again. Except for America, it's the next best thing outside F1. The way I was treated by Mercedes was great, and I'd love to go and have a crack at it with a new car. It depends what happens with their other drivers whether I get a new car or not. I hope so.

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