Manuel Reuter (Opel Team Phoenix) didn't put a wheel wrong on his way to two superb DTM victories at a fog-shrouded Nurburgring on Sunday. But despite Reuter's heroic performance in taking his third and fourth wins of the season, Mercedes driver Bernd Schneider clinched the DTM title in a thrilling and ultra-close penultimate round of the series.
Opel had dominated qualifying, with Jo Winkelhock (Opel Team Holzer) taking pole position, Reuter second on the grid and Uwe Alzen (Opel Team Holzer) fourth. Christian Menzel (Opel Team Irmscher) and Michael Bartels (Opel Team Phoenix) in row four made it five Opels in the top 10. Winkelhock and Alzen knew that in order for Reuter to keep his title hopes alive until the final double-header at Hockenheim, he needed wins, with Schneider finishing off the podium - this would need to be a team effort.
At the rolling start, Winkelhock took the lead, with Reuter second, Alzen third and Schneider down in fourth. On lap 10, Reuter took over the lead from Winkelhock and stayed there until the chequered flag, even though a dashboard electrical problem meant he had to guess when to change gears in his V8 Coupe.
"Before the weekend, we knew that I would need to win both races, with Bernd finishing no better than third and fourth," said Reuter. "But after Bernd had won both of the races the last time we were at the Nurburgring, the chance seemed nothing more than a theoretical one. I think that the win showed how much everyone at Opel has worked and pushed, and I've also got to compliment Jo for the job he did in helping me."
After 22 laps of non-stop action behind him, Schneider had managed to claw his way into second - the title wasn't settled just yet, but Reuter knew that he would need another victory in race two and then have to wait and see what happened to Schneider behind him.
Alzen finished race one in third, with Winkelhock fifth and Bartels sixth - all well-placed to help Reuter take the championship battle to Hockenheim's final round. But as Reuter stormed into the lead at the start, Winkelhock found himself barged down to 11th after contact in the closely-bunched pack. Alzen was on Schneider's tail in third place, but when he went to pass the Mercedes for second, the cars touched, Alzen fell to fourth and Schneider fifth.
Schneider made one more place, finishing fourth and rubber-stamping his title, but Reuter was still happy to have nearly guaranteed himself second overall in the DTM standings with two races still to run.
"It's been a fantastic season with six wins for Opel so far and four for me and my Phoenix team," he said. "We had to fight hard in the middle of the season, but we have proved we can fight with Mercedes, despite our team and organisation being so new. It's been a great effort so far and we still have two races to finish our season in style."
Winkelhock put in an epic fight-back from 11th to finish fifth in race two and set the day's fastest lap, while Alzen in sixth, Bartels in eighth and Menzel in 10th all scored points too.
"I'm very proud of the performance of all our drivers," said Opel motorsport chief Volker Strycek. "Manuel's wins were an unbelievable high for us, and I think we have shown that we have a car that can beat Mercedes and win races at every circuit - just look at Jo's performance to see how strong the car is now."
The final round of the DTM is on the Hockenheim Grand Prix circuit on October 29 - and Reuter is looking forward to finishing the season on the track's high-speed straights. "Hockenheim should be really good for us, so I'm looking forward to a great weekend' s racing, knowing that I can relax and enjoy myself now. "
DTM - Nurburgring, 8 October 2000
Race 1 (22 laps)
1 Manuel Reuter Opel 36:27.679 2 Bernd Scheider Mercedes 36:28.407 3 Uwe Alzen Opel 36:29.425 4 Marcel Fassler (CH) Mercedes 36:31.057 5 Jo Winkelhock Opel 36:32.294 6 Michael Bartels Opel 36:41.966
Race 2 (22 laps) 1 Manuel Reuter Opel 36:28.656 2 Marcel Fassler (CH) Mercedes 36:30.333 3 Tomas Jager Mercedes 36:34.213 4 Bernd Schneider Mercedes 36:36.886 5 Jo Winkelhock Opel 36:39.284 6 Uwe Alzen Opel 36:39.550
DTM - after 8 rounds:
1 Bernd Schneider Mercedes 206 points 2 Manuel Reuter Opel 162 3 Klaus Ludwig Mercedes 122 4 Marcel Fassler (CH) Mercedes 108 5 Jo Winkelhock Opel 86 6 Peter Dumbreck (GB) Mercedes 71