Audi claims front row for Hockenheim finale

After the demolition derby that was the last round of the Deutshce Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) series, Audi have come back with a vengeance, taking top three grid positions for the series season finale at Hockenheimring.

Tom Kristensen, Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline, Audi A4 DTM.
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Tom Kristensen, now fully recovered from his horrific early-season crash at the season opener in Hockenheim, took pole position in the Team Phoenix Audi A4 DTM, 0.077 seconds faster than Abt Sportsline's Timo Scheider, also in an A4 -- and nearly 1.5 seconds faster than the fastest qualifying time in the series' first visit to the track in April.

"This is where my season started and, basically, ended as well, because I had to stop racing for half a year," said Kristensen, who nearly missed out on the Le Mans 24H as well. "Every week since my serious accident I've been feeling better."

"The record lap at Hockenheim for a DTM racing car is something very special," he continued. "That we are so much quicker than at the season opener is partly due to the fact that it's a little cooler now and there's more rubber on the track. But of course the technicians from Audi Sport and Team Abt have been busy during this whole time."

Behind Scheider, it was championship leader Mattias Ekstrom, just eleven thousandths behind his Team Abt teammate. That put the top three Audis all within nine hundredths of a second of each other at the top of the grid.

Martin Tomczyk, Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline, Audi A4 DTM.
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"At first I had to fight quite a bit, as the car was not building up any grip," Ekstrom explained. "We made a minor change although I wasn't sure at first whether that was a good choice. But the car was fantastic, and I really enjoyed the last lap. But I was a bit too cautious in the penultimate turn, which probably cost me the pole position."

Jamie Green, the winner of the Catalunyan event, had the fastest Mercedes C-class, and slipped into the leading Audi pack, 0.166 seconds off pole position -- good enough for a fourth place on the grid.

"Fourth place is not what I had expected," the young Briton admitted. "However, considering the weight handicap and in comparison with my team mates, I am quite happy with my grid position. Our long runs on Friday looked good; therefore I think I will do better in the race than on a single timed lap."

Martin Tomczyk gave Audi the fifth of the top six grid positions, 0.163 seconds off Green's time, and 0.082 seconds faster than Bruno Spengler, the only other driver to fit within half a second of Kristensen's lap record time.

The rest of the field, then, was more than a second off Kristensen's pace, and the Mercedes drivers Bernd Schneider, Daniel la Rosa, Gary Paffett and Alexandros Margaritis filled the remaining top-ten positions on the timesheets.

However, la Rosa, like Mika Hakkinen, will be demoted a further ten places on the grid as a penalty for the Catalunya crashes; la Rosa will start 18th, while the two-time Formula One champion will have to take the start from the back of the grid.

With just tomorrow's race remaining, Ekstrom has just a slim two-point championship lead after his accident with la Rosa in Catalunya. Mercedes pilot Spengler, who took second in the last race after all the Audis withdrew from the race, is two points adrift, and will be starting in seventh place.

For Ekstrom, the 2004 champion, it will be a matter of keeping Spengler behind him, although if neither driver finishes on the podium, and Ekstrom is only one position behind Spengler, he will claim the title.

In with an outside chance at the championhip still is Tomczyk; with a four-point deficit to Ekstrom, he needs to move up the order quickly in the race, and then count on some misfortune for the two points leaders in order to be able to make up the gap.