Reigning DTM champion Mattias Ekstr?m took pole position for the first race of the season at Hockenheim, his Audi setting the best time of 1:35.251 in the super pole qualifying. A pair of British Mercedes drivers followed on, with Gary Paffett in second and DTM rookie Jamie Green in third. Opel's Marcel F?ssler started what may be the marque's last season in the series with a good fourth on the grid.
Mercedes' Bernd Schneider took provisional pole during the first qualifying session and Tom Kristensen put his Audi second but both lost out in the super pole. The surprises of the first session were new boy Bruno Spengler and Stefan M?cke making the super pole, both driving a year old Mercedes. The Mercedes of Jean Alesi and the Audi of Martin Tomczyk were also in the top ten.
The big names to lose out early on were Mercedes' Mika Hakkinen (15th), who returns to racing after a three year break, and former DTM champion Laurent Aiello, whose Opel was 11th. Also new to the DTM, Allan McNish was 14th for Audi and Opel's Heinz-Harald Frentzen was down in 19th.
MG, the manufacturer that was due to join the DTM this season, was not present. The Rover company recently collapsed but whether MG was absent due to that or due to simply not being ready for the season opener is uncertain.
M?cke led out in the super pole and clocked 1:36.587 to start with and pole was expected to be at least half a second quicker. Tomczyk was the first Audi to take his individually timed lap and was just a few tenths faster. Alesi managed fractionally quicker and F?ssler was an equally narrow margin up on the Mercedes.
Ekstr?m flew on his lap and took provisional pole by eight tenths from F?ssler. Spengler held on well and his lap was good enough for sixth at the end. Green was half a second down on Ekstr?m but Paffett closed the gap to just three hundredths of a second. Kristensen and Scheider were the last two runners but both had slightly scrappy laps that left them a second astray from pole.
"Clinching the pole position today has made a small dream come true," said Ekstr?m. "We knew that our new Audi A4 is a good car, but not exactly where we're standing in comparison to the competition. Track conditions today changed between the qualifying and the super pole. That's why there was a little luck involved on my fast lap as well."
An impressive start from Ekstr?m but Mercedes usually goes well at Hockenheim while the Audis may not be able to match the speed on the straights. Both marques looked good though, Audi with three drivers in the top ten and Mercedes with six, including the two year old cars. Top marks to Spengler and M?cke but their cars will have a tough time in the race.
"A good team performance with four Mercedes-Benz C-Class cars among the top six and a total of six cars within the top ten," said Mercedes motorsport director Norbert Haug. "Congratulations to Gary Paffett, who is only 32 thousandths of a second behind pole position, and to Jamie Green, who will start his first DTM race third on the grid."
Aside from F?ssler, Opel didn't look terribly competitive but Aiello only missed the super pole by one thousandth of a second. Manuel Reuter and Frentzen were both over a second off Schneider's provisional pole in the first session. If Opel has a good season it's possible that parent company General Motors may keep its involvement in DTM but it will take quite an improvement from last year for that to happen.
"Congratulations to Marcel F?ssler on fourth place in qualifying," said Opel boss Volker Strycek. "Therefore all three manufacturers are represented on the first two starting rows for Sunday's race. The track conditions changed unbelievably fast which is why our pilots drove their best times in the first session. Subsequently no faster laps were possible."
It looks set to be an exciting first race of the season -- it was a close battle in 2004 between Ekstr?m and Paffett, and Green is expected to do well this year. Christijan Albers, who was Mercedes' other championship contender last season, has now moved to Formula One but the DTM is seeing an increasing number of former F1 drivers in its ranks. The young guns may be at the front but the old hands will be ready to do battle.