When the eight Opel V8 Coupes swarm out with the rest of the DTM field on to the Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit on 18/20 August, half-time will have been announced in the German Touring Car Masters (DTM). The fifth of ten race meetings in the season takes place around the 2.83 mile long Formula One circuit, which is equally loved by spectators and drivers alike. "It is always a joy to be driving on the Nurburgring," says Holzer driver, Uwe Alzen. "The circuit is fast, but still has a high standard of safety."
In spite of the tyre damage suffered in the previous rounds at the Sachsenring, and losing important championship points as a result of this, Manuel Reuter (Opel Team Phoenix) will be going on to the Nurburgring lying second in the championship table. He is 27 points behind leader, Bernd Schneider (Mercedes). The most important mission for Reuter at the Nurburgring is to close the gap at the top of the table. "We are well prepared but the field is ridiculously tight," asserts the two times season winner. "Only two or three tenths separate us - which is great for the sport, but hard on the drivers."
The Opel V8 Coupes belonging to the Opel teams of Holzer (Uwe Alzen, Joachim Winkelhock, Eric Helary, Timo Scheider), Phoenix (Michael Bartels, Manuel Reuter), Irmscher (Christian Menzel) and Euroteam (Stefano Modena) got to know the Grand Prix course at the Nurburgring for the first time during official practices on 20 and 21 July. "The practice programme was very important," said Opel Sports Manager, Volker Strycek. "We have put in a great deal of work and gained a lot of understanding." Uwe Alzen was the fastest on both practice days, followed by Stefano Modena, who is hoping for a fresh opportunity on the Nurburgring to translate his positive training results into points.
For Uwe Alzen, the Nurburgring brings back positive memories having competed in the Opel Vectra last year in the STW championship. Manuel Reuter and Eric Helary also think back fondly to their Nurburgring successes in the STW. It was Reuter's win in the sprint race and the Frenchman's victory in the main race in 1998 that assured Opel of a win in the manufacturers' competition. No wonder that Eric Helary is also waiting for his first podium place in the DTM. The Holzer driver was already quite close to achieving this target at the Sachsenring before dropping out whilst in third place due to tyre damage. "I am looking forward to the Nurburgring," said Helary, showing himself to be motivated in spite of the bad luck. "I like the Grand Prix course as it's got a bit of everything: sharp bends, high speed sections and extreme braking points."
This is where Phoenix driver, Michael Bartels sees a problem tuning the DTM cars. "It is not easy finding a good balance for approaching the fast, straight sections as well as the slower track sections."
The home advantage of the Phoenix team does not offer much help here either - the Eifel team has its headquarters in the Nurburgring Industrial Park in Meuspath and therefore has the shortest journey to the circuit. "But that is really the only advantage", says Team Manager, Dirk Thiermann. "We are not able to practice here more than the other teams because of DTM regulations. However, we definitely have the most fans here, to whom, of course, we would like to give a good race." Irmscher driver, Christian Menzel, also only lives a few miles from the race track in Kelberg. Following the cruel set back at the Sachsenring, the motto for the Nurburgring for all Opel teams is: Look ahead. The tyre damage suffered by Joachim Winkelhock, Uwe Alzen, Manuel Reuter and Eric Helary did indeed rob them of points, but not motivation. "Because of the problems we were not able to take away any points for the championship from the Sachsenring", said Volker Strycek.
"Nonetheless, we shall not be burying our heads in the sand, but will be approaching the Nurburgring with twice the motivation. We have three wins to our name and still have half the season in front of us - anyone who know us, should realise that we will not give up," Strycek concluded.
German Touring Car Masters (DTM), points after eight races: 1. Schneider/D, Mercedes, 106 points; 2. Reuter/D, Opel, 79; 3. Ludwig/D, Mercedes, 74; 4. Winkelhock/D, Opel, 68; 5. Fassler/CH, Mercedes, 59; 6. Dumbreck/GB, Mercedes, 56; 7. Bartels/D, Opel, 43; 8. Scheider/D, Opel, 40; 9. Tiemann/D, Mercedes, 35; 10. Jager/D, Mercedes, 26; 11. Helary/F, Opel, 25; 12. Lamy/P, Mercedes, 12; 13. Alzen/D, Opel, 11; 14. Turner/GB, Mercedes, 9; 15. Modena/I, Opel, 3; 16. Menzel/D, Opel, 2.