Fourth place for Opel in action-packed season finale
Timo Scheider ended Opel's DTM season on a high with a strong fourth placed finish at the finale at Hockenheim on Sunday in front of 57,000 race fans.
The race weekend for round ten of the 2002 DTM started very well for Opel, with Manuel Reuter (Opel Team Phoenix) and Scheider (Opel Team Holzer) scoring a one-two in the timesheets in the opening practice session, which was held in wet conditions. When the track dried in the afternoon, Opel continued to top the times with Michael Bartels (Opel Team Holzer).
After all that promise, the 45-minute qualifying session was a disappointment, however, as Alain Menu (Opel Euroteam) was the top Opel runner in 10th position, with the other five cars filling the next positions on the grid.
"For sure, we were very quick on Friday, especially in wet conditions," said Menu. "Qualifying was very disappointing, because we thought we'd be much faster. I'm sure we will move forward in the races, but when you start from 10th it's not easy in a tough championship like this."
Menu made a great start to the qualification race and was running seventh when former F1 star Jean Alesi (Mercedes) attempted an over-optimistic overtaking move at the hairpin, slamming into Menu's car just as the Swiss was passing Alesi's team-mate Marcel Fassler to take sixth. All three cars collided, and Menu's race was ruined. Reuter took up the charge and picked up sixth place, and was close behind Christian Abt's Audi at the finish, with Scheider right behind him in seventh.
In the main event, Scheider made a stellar start and jumped up to fourth, circulating right on the tail of the leading pack. Two safety car periods interrupted the race, for the spectacular accidents of Alesi and Martin Tomczyk (Audi). Almost the entire field pitted on the next lap, and brilliant pit work from the Holzer crew promoted Scheider ahead of Bernd Schneider (Mercedes) in third place.
When the race restarted, Schneider passed Scheider, but Timo held a steady fourth when rain began to fall, sending the pack into the pits once again. This time, Scheider lost out, falling to fifth, but he redressed the balance with a superb pass on new champion Laurent Aiello (Audi) to finish fourth. Joachim Winkelhock (Opel Team Phoenix), coming from 13th position on the grid, showed a strong performance as well and finished just outside the points in seventh place.
"The decision to pit for wet tyres came just too late, so I did one lap too many on slicks," said Scheider. "It's a pity, or I could have been third. But it's a good way to end the year and means we can look towards 2003 in a good way."
Opel motorsport chief Volker Strycek said: "To finish fourth from 10th on the grid was a result we didn't expect. We just missed out on the podium in the final round, which would have been nice, but fourth position is OK. There was a lot of drama out there today."
Former DTM star Johnny Cecotto made his first start in the series for 10 years in Opel Euroteam's second car, and did an admirable job to qualify 15th. The 46-year-old Venezuelan last raced in the series in 1992 for BMW, but rolled back the years to finish 14th in the qualification race and 10th in the main event. Reuter, Bartels and Menu failed to finish due to accident damage.
This brought the curtain down on another season of excellent DTM racing, the profile of which continues to grow on the world motorsport map.
"We are very satisfied with the DTM - an average of more than 50,000 race fans at each event speaks for itself," said Strycek. "It shows the DTM is a great place for manufacturers, and this was a very good season of sport. As for Opel's performance, this year's Astra V8 Coupé was a big step ahead. Still, however, we lack the last ounces of performance -- and a little bit of luck."