Opel looks ahead after Hockenheim season finale

Opel signed off its 2004 season in the DTM with a troubled end to its campaign at Hockenheim in Germany on Sunday. The event broke all records for a DTM race at the German Grand Prix venue, with 133,000 spectators attending the event.

Friday's test sessions were encouraging for Opel, with Marcel Fässler (OPC Team Phoenix) and Timo Scheider (OPC Team Holzer) sixth and seventh respectively. Peter Dumbreck (OPC Team Phoenix) did well to bounce back from a crash in the morning to set the ninth fastest time, ahead of Manuel Reuter (OPC Team Holzer). Dumbreck led the Opel charge in Saturday morning's free practice session in sixth position, with former F1 star Heinz-Harald Frentzen (OPC Team Holzer) also in the top 10.

Frentzen had another duty on Saturday evening as he raced off against SWR3 DJ Volker Janitz in a novelty lawnmower race. Over 25,000 people crammed into the Südkurve grandstands to watch the 10-minute race, which Heinz-Harald won in style in his Holzer-run 'machine'.

Despite that success, only two Opels qualified for the top 10 Super Pole shoot-out, although Laurent Aiello (OPC Team Phoenix) only missed out by 0.030sec. Marcel Fässler produced a lap good enough for sixth, with Dumbreck just 0.113sec behind him.

"Unfortunately the car felt very nervous; it wasn't an easy lap by any means," said Fässler. "I was quite surprised to be in the Super Pole anyway, as my time in pre-qualifying didn't feel that quick. At least starting sixth I have the chance to get involved in the fight at the front."

Dumbreck added: "I tried to carry a lot of speed through Turn 1 but I just didn't have enough grip on the exit, so I slid wide. The rest of the lap was okay, but I'd lost too much to make it count."

Opel motorsport chief Volker Strycek admitted he was anticipating more: "This is not the result we expected; I'm not happy about it. We should have more than two cars in the top 10. I think some of our drivers pushed too hard, and the result was the opposite of what they were aiming for. The grip level appeared to fluctuate throughout the session, and rising track temperature made a huge difference."

The race, however, saw even worse fortune for Opel. Dumbreck was forced to start from the pitlane when his door worked lose and, to make matters worse, Fässler tangled with Christijan Albers' Mercedes at the first corner, sending the Opel driver into a spin. With Opel's top two drivers effectively out of the running already, Scheider was the best-placed Vectra GTS V8 in ninth, followed by Aiello and Reuter.

There was further misfortune for Fässler and Dumbreck who collided at the Spitzkehre hairpin when Fässler suffered a deflating tyre and was unable to avoid hitting the Scot. Both had earlier set frontrunning lap times, but were forced out with accident damage. Reuter would also retire from the race when his left-front wheel hub broke.

As the pitstop sequence worked out, Aiello found himself in the middle of a great battle for second place with eventual race winner Bernd Schneider (Mercedes) and runner-up Martin Tomczyk. Soon after his first stop, however, Laurent was forced to retire with a gearbox problem. The next Opel to retire was Jeroen Bleekemolen's OPC Euroteam Astra V8 Coupe when he was hit extremely hard by Jarek Janis' out-of-control Mercedes. The incident once again proved the strength of the Opel DTM safety system, as he was uninjured.

Scheider just lost out in the battle for the final point to Christian Abt's Audi, although he did everything he could to defend his place. He would finish ninth with Frentzen the only other Opel finisher in 12th after a spin.

"This has been a very black Sunday for us," said Strycek. "Timo did a good job, but ever since Peter was forced to pit on the warm-up lap the race has gone terribly for us. Only having two cars at the finish is not what we expected from the season finale. I am disappointed for sure."

Scheider added: "I am as disappointed as my boss is. My car didn't have the right level of performance all weekend. I had a good fight with Abt, which was exciting, and we touched a few times but then it was over. I definitely hoped for better than this."