Dutchman Christijan Albers took victory in front of his home crowd at Zandvoort and in doing so kept the title fight open to the final round at Hockenheim. Points leader Bernd Schneider fought back from thirteenth on the grid to finish second,...
Dutchman Christijan Albers took victory in front of his home crowd at Zandvoort and in doing so kept the title fight open to the final round at Hockenheim. Points leader Bernd Schneider fought back from thirteenth on the grid to finish second, so there's only one point between them. But there was disaster for pole-sitter Timo Scheider, who led from the line, when his front wheel came loose after his second pit stop, leaving him stranded and out of the race.
Scheider and Albers pulled away from the field slightly while Opel teammates Manuel Reuter and Alain Menu fought for third. Behind them, Bleekemolen had the Mercedes of Marcel F?ssler harassing him for fifth. Reuter and Menu went side by side and Menu came out ahead.
The first round of pit stops, Peter Dumbreck and Tomczyk touched -- Dumbreck's Opel was heading out and Tomczyk coming in but no damage was done. Albers was very close to Scheider at the front but not finding a way past as they came up on the Audi of Peter Terting. The leaders had pitted but Terting had not and he and Scheider touched as they went side by side, but no major drama.
Laurent Aiello had a dismal time; his first stop there was a problem with the rear left wheel and the stop took over twenty seconds. Later, he was involved in a second pit-lane incident, when he was leaving his second stop and the Mercedes of Thomas J?ger was coming in and they too had contact.
Menu was trying to get past Terting, who still hadn't pitted, and spun as the pair had contact. The Opel hit the tyre wall and damaged the bodywork, leaving Menu out of the race. Alesi passed Terting, who was wrestling with fading tyres, then Terting spun, hitting the barrier -- obviously staying out so long was a gamble that didn't pay off.
By this time Schneider was up to third behind Scheider and Albers, who were having their own battle at the front. Scheider was keeping ahead but Albers was pushing him really hard. Terting, who was still struggling on, next hit the Mercedes of Bernd M?ylander, who spun.
F?ssler failed to clear Bleekemolen in his pit stops and remained behind the Opel for nearly the whole race, despite his increasingly frustrated efforts to get ahead of him. Ekstr?m took on Alesi and overtook him for fifth. Albers pitted for his second stop a lap ahead of Scheider, so it was down to Timo's pit stop to keep him ahead.
The pit crew appeared to fumble slightly with the right front tyre and suddenly Scheider pulled away. It was obvious that the wheel hadn't gone on tightly and as the Opel came to the pit exit, it wobbled and came loose. Scheider could do nothing but pull off to the side of the track. Whether it was an error on behalf of the crew sending him out too soon, or if Scheider himself jumped the gun, is yet to be known.
So, Albers took the lead, with Schneider some dozen seconds behind him in second. F?ssler was still all over Bleekemolen, fighting for sixth, and Ekstr?m continued his charge. Going side by side with Reuter, the pair pushed and shoved; Ekstr?m got forced into the dust but pushed back and finally won the battle for third and Reuter got a warning for the incident.
On the final lap F?ssler's determined efforts paid off and he overtook Bleekemolen for sixth, which consolidated his third position in the championship standings, although he's now out of the title fight. Albers took victory from Schneider for a Mercedes one-two and Ekstr?m made the final podium position in third. Reuter was the best Opel finisher in fourth, Alesi fifth, Bleekemolen seventh and Audi's Karl Wendlinger eighth.
Teammates Albers and Schneider have secured the teams' championship for Vodafone/Express Service AMG Mercedes and Mercedes, with 218 points, is the winning contructor by a margin of 138 points, from Audi. Mercedes AMG team (F?ssler and Alesi) is second in the teams' standings ahead of previous champions Hasser?der Abt-Audi (Aiello and Christian Abt).
An exciting race with plenty of action and the season finale at Hockenheim promises more of the same. Aiello has now lost his chance to defend his title and a new champion will be crowned in two weeks time in Germany. Statistically they could draw, and of course anything could happen in the race, but it's really a straight fight between Albers and Schneider. Whichever of the pair finishes ahead at Hockenheim wins the title.