Preview 1st round DTM Hockenheim, 20-22 April 2001
All 22 DTM-drivers ready for season opener, Opel-stalwart Winkelhock: "Now it is just flat out", Mercedes-youngster Fassler: "Hockenheim one of the best races."
Stuttgart. They are motivated and full of ambition, ready to take the start of the new season - the 22 drivers of the DTM 2001. Four of them are racing an Abt-Audi TT-R, eight have an Opel Astra V8 Coupe and ten are competing with the Mercedes-Benz CLK-DTM. "I am really happy that it is finally back to action and that we can race against other drivers, and not, like in testing, just against the clock", says Marcel Fassler. One year ago, the Mercedes-youngster finished second in his first-ever DTM-race, and at the end of the season, he finished fourth in the points table behind former champions Bernd Schneider (Mercedes), Manuel Reuter (Opel) and Klaus Ludwig (Mercedes). Fassler is especially looking forward to Hockenheim: "From the atmosphere, it is one of the best races. You can see the fans waving their flags in the Motodrom, and that is an extra motivation."
The 24-year old is Swiss, thus representing one of the eight nations that are giving the DTM its international flair. Like him, totally seven drivers are under 26 years of age. Eleven of the drivers have one or more international championship titles to their tally. One of them is Joachim Winkelhock. The Swabian driver has won Le Mans and notched up two touring car titles. Aged 40, he is one of the stalwarts in the field, but of course, he is eager as ever.
Winkelhock is convinced that the changes in the race format of the DTM will be good for the fans: the qualifying race of just 35 km, the short 25 minutesb break, in which the teams have to change tyres, refuel and repair the cars at race speed, but first and foremost the 100 km main race, that has been spiced up by a pitstop. "In fact, because of these changes, we now are just driving sprint races", Winkelhock says. "And therefore, it is easier to set the cars up for speed than last year. You hardly have to consider tyre wear anymore. Now, it is just flat out." The characteristic of the just 2,638 km short circuit of Hockenheim is adding to the excitement. Winkelhock: "The short track is good for overtaking at some points and we are practically always racing in front of the spectators, there is action throughout."
Race speed was required in the Allgau region, too, at Abt Sportsline, the team led by team boss Hans-Jurgen Abt. The first new Audi Coupe was finished just in time before the season presentation. At the two 1,5 hour tests next Friday before the race, the other three will make their debut. Over 1500 km of testing were covered with the first car. "And every single metre makes us more optimistic", says driver Christian Abt, brother of team boss Hans-Jrgen. Christian was German Super Touring champion in 1999, driving an Audi quattro. "During the entire week at the Hungaroring, we didn't even have the slightest technical problem." Compared with his predecessor, the new Abt-Audi has an extended wheelbase and a new aerodynamics package, thanks to the modifications of the regulations. Christian Abt: "The difference is enormous. Now, the car is easier to control and to push to the limit, just like a real race car." Winkelhock also confirms: "The handling of the 2001-Astra is easier and the car is giving more feedback. That makes it easier to race it on the limit."
Moderate ticket prices, video-walls, Fan-TV, paddock tickets and pit walk - also in its second year, the DTM presents itself spectator-friendly. In the week before the race, tickets can only be obtained at the track. The first race of the season will be covered by the first German TV-channel ARD. Threefold-DTM-champion Klaus Ludwig will be making his debut as the new expert and co-commentator during the live coverage at the ARD and at further races at the ZDF.
Information about the race
Time schedule: Friday 20 April, DTM-Tests 10.30 - 12.00 and 14.15 - 15.45, Saturday 21 April, free practice 9.45 - 10.45, qualifying 13.00 - 13.45; Sunday 22 April, warm-up 9.30 - 10.00, start qualifying race 15.15, start race (100 km, pitstop) 15.55.
TV-coverage: qualifying third ARD-channels HR and N3, Saturday 13.00 live (other third channels highlights in sport shows). Qualifying race and race on Sunday live on ARD, 15.05 - 17.00. Highlights on DSF, 20.15.