After Laurent Aiello had already secured the championship title at the penultimate round of the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters), the Team Abt Sportsline set off into the winter break with a podium place at the final round of the DTM: Zandvoort-winner Mattias Ekström claimed second place at the Hockenheimring behind defeated champion Bernd Schneider and thus finally claimed third place in the championship standings. For Abt Sportsline, the DTM title is the biggest success in the more than 100 years' history of the company.
The final at the new Hockenheimring turned out into a veritable motor racing thriller with all the ingredients that a motorsport fan could possibly hope for: safety-car interventions, rain that suddenly set in and numerous door-to-door fights marked the race, that was watched by more than 57,000 spectators. Mattias Ekström, who already scored his sixth podium finish of the season, once more proved his extraordinary capability and just had to let Bernd Schneider in front after the 22 laps' main race.
Loser of the rain lottery was the newly-crowned champion Laurent Aiello. At the wet track, the 33-year old Frenchman decided to stay out with slicks on his Abt-Audi TT-R for one lap longer than his rivals and thus lost out valuable seconds in the fight for the leading position. At the finish line, Aiello finally scored one point in sixth place, but then was cheered by his excited fans as the new champion in Hockenheim. With four victories, four pole positions, five fastest race laps and a total of 117 laps in the lead, the Abt Sportsline team driver was the dominating driver of the 2002 season.
For Abt Sportsline, the title win in the world's top class touring car series is the biggest success in the history of the company, that goes back over 100 years. In 1999 already, the privateer team caught the attention by winning the STW-title with Christian Abt. Now, the team from the Allgäu proved its strength against the strong opposition from Mercedes-Benz and Opel. The best example: half of all the victories in the now-finished DTM-season were wrapped up by the team.
The three other Abt drivers had a turbulent final at Hockenheim. Karl Wendlinger, who had started third and clearly was on course for a podium finish, was pushed off the track by an opponent and thus failed to convert his good practice result. Youngster Martin Tomczyk also didn't see the finish at the 4.489 kilometres long track, because he had to retire because of a technical failure on the rear axle and a resulting accident. Christian Abt had bad luck, too: directly after the mandatory pit stop, the driver from Kempten had to pit once more with a flat tyre, dropped back significantly and finally came home in 13th place.
Quotes after the race
Laurent Aiello (1st place/6th place):
"First of all, I am happy having made it to the finish here at the Hockenheim final, because so far in my DTM-career, I hadn't been able to do so. In the rain, my TT-R wasn't as good as in the dry, but nevertheless, I can live with the result. We didn't win the teams' title, but my drivers' title is a reward for the entire crew as well. And no matter what it says on paper: in my heart, Abt Sportsline is the best team in the world."
Mattias Ekström (3rd place/2nd place):
"On rain tyres, I had problems, keeping the high speed up. Then, I tried everything to keep Bernd Schneider behind me, but I had no chance. Before the season, I had set myself the goal of a top five finish in the championship. Now, I am even third and I can look back upon a real dream season. I have already prolonged my contract with my team boss Hans-Jürgen Abt with a handshake for next year, and then, I will really go for it."
Karl Wendlinger (4th place/retired):
"The qualification race really was fun, as I had nice position fights with Bernd Schhneider and Mattias. Unfortunately, Alain Menu had chosen a brake point in the main race that was a little bit too optimistic and hit me exactly at the side of my car. Nevertheless, I am proud being a member of the championship-winning team. I am feeling very well in the DTM, but I would have liked a podium place to round it off. Maybe it happens next year."
Christian Abt (5th place/13th place):
"Too bad, that I had so much bad luck during my pit stop. As the safety-car phase started, we all came in for a tyre change. Because Laurent and Mattias were ahead of me, I waited and lost a few seconds. But to be honest, I don't care too much about my result: as of today, Abt Sportsline officially is the new DTM-champion and thus, for me, my biggest dream has come true."
Martin Tomczyk (retired / retired):
"In the qualification race, it sometimes seemed to me that some of my colleagues thought that they were riding autoscooter at a fancy fair. I was pushed three times and then had to pit early, to have my TT-R repaired. We have yet to analyse what the failure in the main race was. This year, I had planned for more, but I am more or less satisfied with ninth place in such a top class drivers' field."
Hans-Jürgen Abt (team boss):
"I think that today, the spectators in Hockenheim have seen a great show and now can hardly await next year's opening round. For us, this is the end of a great season, in which we have fulfilled our dream with the title. Now, we really will enjoy it and celebrate well. Laurent Aiello, Team Abt Sportsline, is the DTM champion -- I first have to get used to these words..."