Opel took a solid points score home from the inaugural DTM race at the Istanbul Park circuit in Turkey on Sunday, when 2002 champion Laurent Aiello finished in sixth position in his penultimate race start before his retirement.
Team OPC was immediately on the pace in Friday's three hours of test sessions. Heinz-Harald Frentzen was third quickest in his Vectra GTS V8, just one-tenth of a second away from the fastest time in the first period, while Manuel Reuter was third in session two, 0.183 secs off the ultimate pace this time.
Frentzen was again the fastest Opel driver in Saturday's free practice, setting the fifth fastest time, while all three of his colleagues were inside the top 10, with Reuter seventh, Marcel Fässler ninth and Aiello in tenth.
Qualifying was a nail-biting affair, as all 20 drivers tried to set a top 10 time to get into the subsequent single-lap Super Pole session. Fässler and Reuter made it, in seventh and ninth places respectively, while Aiello and Frentzen lucked out, and they would start 11th and 12th. In the Super Pole, Reuter set an excellent lap time, good enough for sixth on the grid, while Fässler's wasn't so effective, and he would start ninth.
"The lap time is good except for the final sector," said Reuter. "We are losing four-tenths of a second to the Mercedes cars, so that's a bit of a problem! On the whole, things aren't too bad at all. I'm enjoying driving this racetrack -- it seems to have good bits from circuits all over the world. It's a very technical circuit."
Opel's motorsport chief Volker Strycek echoed his leading driver's sentiments: "We expected more after our testing performances. The third sector is our problem, so we have to look at how we can improve that. From the outside, it looks okay, but when you look at the timesheets, you can see it's not working well for us there. I'm not disappointed, but I'm not happy either. All our cars are in the top 12 positions, but we had hoped for more than that."
The situation looked promising in the warm-up session, which was held in soaking wet conditions and topped by Fässler. The Swiss driver was 0.368secs faster than the opposition, so hopes were high entering the race, which was also held after rain had soaked the track.
Reuter led the Opel charge in the early laps, which were made treacherous by standing water around the circuit, before Aiello got past him to hold eighth place. Reuter opted for an early pit strategy, while Aiello stayed out until lap 10 as he was caught behind third placed qualifier Bruno Spengler (Mercedes). Aiello ran as high as fifth before his second pitstop, and rejoined in a fight with Spengler and Jean Alesi (Mercedes). After a tough battle, Laurent came out on top, finishing in an excellent sixth position.
"There was so much standing water on the opening laps, I think everyone was scared and a bit conservative," said Aiello. "There was a lot of aquaplaning and spray, but once the race settled down I had some good battles and overtook a lot of cars. Finishing sixth from 11th on the grid is a nice feeling, and I have to thank the team because the car was really good. All in all, I think this was a great race for me."
Strycek said of Aiello's performance: "To finish higher than Laurent did was just not possible today. We could not keep up with Mercedes, but we were competitive with the Audis. We expected a little more, especially after the warm-up when Marcel was the quickest car, but the start of the race was much wetter than in the morning."
Fässler just missed out on the points, finishing in tenth place, while Reuter came home 14th. Frentzen did not make the finish after a collision with Christian Abt's Audi in a position fight.
Of the DTM's first visit to Turkey, Strycek said: "This is an outstanding racetrack and the atmosphere is warm and friendly. I feel sure it was the right decision for the DTM to race here, and a big thank you to the organisers."