Opel has not had an easy season so far in 2004 but the last round at the N?rburgring saw an improvement in performance. Marcel F?ssler (OPC Team Phoenix) equalled the squad's best finish of the year with fourth, while Timo Scheider (OPC Team Holzer) and Peter Dumbreck (OPC Team Phoenix) also finished in the top eight. It was the first time this season that the manufacturer had three cars in the points.
It was a good weekend overall for F?ssler. He took Opel's best time of the day in Friday practices when he finished fourth in the second session. Dumbreck was one place higher in the morning practice but had been some seven tenths slower. F?ssler climbed the ranks in the afternoon after a difficult morning when he ended up 14th.
"We tried different set ups in the morning but it was not so good," F?ssler told Motorsport.com. "In the afternoon we went back to the last set up we had been using during testing at Lausitz the week before and it was much better."
The test at Lausitz before the N?rburgring race made the difference to Opel. "It was just one day but it gave us a chance to sort out many things," F?ssler continued. "The car was good over a distance and we took all the best things and put them together for the (race) weekend."
Saturday qualifying at the N?rburgring saw Dumbreck, F?ssler and Scheider all achieve the top ten super pole shootout and they took grid positions fourth, sixth and seventh respectively. To put in perspective how close the fight is to get in the super pole, Laurent Aiello (OPC Team Phoenix) was 12th in pre-qualifying, just over a hundredth of a second outside.
Sixth on the grid was F?ssler's best starting position of the year so far. "It was good because the car was performing well," he said. "It was much easier to handle and worked well in qualifying."
On race day Marcel had an average start; there was some pushing and shoving round the outside of the first corner but he held the inside line and gained one place to come out in fifth. "It was a not a bad start," he remarked. "It was quite normal but I had a good move at the first corner and won a place."
Dumbreck had a good start up to second but the Scot lost the place to Audi's Mattias Ekstr?m on the first lap. Dumbreck's race was then compromised by an overly long first pit stop and he dropped to the edge of the top ten.
F?ssler moved up to fourth and in the second half of the race found himself in a C-Klasse Mercedes sandwich. Championship leader, at the time, Christijan Albers was ahead and reigning champion Bernd Schneider was behind.
F?ssler drove for Mercedes for four years so it was a good fight for him to prove the mettle of Opel against the strength of the dominant manufacturer in DTM. Schneider took fourth from Marcel, who promptly took the position back within a few corners.
He then went head to head with Albers and the pushing and shoving resulted in a heated skirmish which Schneider took advantage of. "The battle with Bernd was good," said F?ssler. "It was quite hard but fair. He was only about a tenth faster than me."
"I was not so happy with Albers. He had problems (with his brakes) and pushed me out." As the pair fought it out, Schneider got past both of them for third. "I don't know if it was deliberate but it seemed like Albers pushed me wide so Bernd could get ahead," F?ssler added.
"I could have had third place which would have been good for Opel, to have a podium finish. It may not have worked out like that but I didn't have the chance to keep trying. It was a pity."
Behind F?ssler, Scheider also had a fight with a Mercedes, the C-Klasse of Jean Alesi. He managed to keep the Frenchman behind him to line, to take sixth for Opel. Dumbreck fought his way back after his early pit stop problems to come home eighth.
Despite missing out on a podium finish, F?ssler was pleased with the progress made. "It was the best weekend of the season so far," he said. "It was a good step forward and the set up with my car was an improvement. It was good over the distance and also on the tyres, on new sets and on used ones."
"I was still happy with fourth, I could show that although this season has not been so great, it's not a problem with my driving. It was very healthy to have such a good car over the weekend, for me and for the team."
The next round is at Oschersleben this coming weekend, the circuit where F?ssler claimed his maiden DTM victory in 2001. Whether Opel can deliver a winning performance is yet to be seen but Marcel is optimistic for at least anther competitive race.
"For sure we still need to improve," he concluded. "We can only work on the technical side this week but there are some things that can be done. I don't know how it will be at Oschersleben but I hope we will still be in good shape."