Jean Alesi won the last DTM race of the season at Hockenheim and Bernd Schneider took the 2003 championship, his third title in four years and his fourth in the DTM since 1995. Third on the grid, Alesi overtook the second placed Opel of Peter ...
Jean Alesi won the last DTM race of the season at Hockenheim and Bernd Schneider took the 2003 championship, his third title in four years and his fourth in the DTM since 1995. Third on the grid, Alesi overtook the second placed Opel of Peter Dumbreck on the opening lap and dispatched Audi's pole-sitter Mattias Ekstr?m after the first round of pit stops. The Mercedes driver then held the lead to the line despite pressure from Ekstr?m in the closing laps.
Audi's Martin Tomczyk qualified a good fourth but was shunted by the Opel of Alain Menu and spun. Menu got a drive-through penalty and both finished outside the points. After the first round of pit stops, Alesi made his move on Ekstr?m for the lead and behind the Swede, Dumbreck was under pressure from Schneider. The Opel went off track briefly but Schneider failed to take advantage. F?ssler, however, did take the chance and passed Schneider for fourth.
Meanwhile, Albers, who had started ninth, was closing the distance between himself and Schneider. After the second round of pit stops, the Opel of Timo Scheider was the only thing blocking Albers from challenging Schneider. After a couple of nose-to-tail laps, Scheider obligingly spun out of the way and Albers closed in to his rival.
It seemed that the pair of title contenders would battle all the way, Albers was glued to Schneider's bumper and challenging every corner, but then disaster for the Dutchman: a rear left puncture forced him into the pits. He dropped back to seventeenth and his championship hopes were over. Even had some disaster befallen Schneider, Albers needed one point to win the title but he finished twelfth.
Schneider had no such disaster and took the championship from Audi's Laurent Aiello. In the final laps Ekstr?m had a go at Alesi a couple of times but the Mercedes driver held the tightest of lines and Ekstr?m couldn't force him into a mistake. Alesi crossed the line for his second win of the season and a fifth place finish in the championship.
Behind them, Dumbreck had closed on F?ssler but had Aiello behind him to contend with, which stopped him mounting any real challenge for third. F?ssler took the final podium position, third matching his final standing in the championship, his best finish in the DTM yet.
"A fantastic victory," said Alesi. "This was the maximum I could return to our team at the end of the season after they did their maximum for me all year."
Schneider knew he would have had a fight on his hands if not for Albers' misfortune: "It would have been really close," he admitted. "But I can live with the fact that it finally was like this. This title is something really special for me, because I won it after a hard season and against strong opposition."
Schneider also suffered a puncture during the race but he was luckier in that he was coming to the pit entry at the time, and took the tyre change as his second stop. Albers had to drive half a lap: "Indeed, you need that little bit of luck, and that is what I missed today," the Dutchman commented. "I am still young, and I can look back upon a fantastic season."
Mercedes was already the best of the manufacturers just over halfway through the season and finishes with a whopping 237 points, 144 ahead of Audi. In the teams' championship it's the Schneider and Albers' Vodafone/Express Service partnership that is the victor, from the second team of the HWA Mercedes outfit, Alesi and F?ssler's AMG Mercedes squad. The Play Station 2 Red Bull Abt-Audi team of Ekstr?m and Karl Wendlinger is third.
A great season all round. Although it was only the top three championship finishing drivers who were really ever in contention for the title, it didn't take the edge off the excitement -- up until the penultimate round at Zandvoort it was still a three way fight. The hoped for showdown between Schneider and Albers at Hockenheim may have been deflated by a puncture but it was still the best way to decide a championship: at the final race.