Opel scored its best result of the 2004 DTM touring car series at Oschersleben in Germany on Sunday when Manuel Reuter took a podium finish in sensation style with less than three laps of the race remaining. He pulled off a great move on three-time race winner Gary Paffett of Mercedes to score the Vectra GTS racecar's first top-three finish in the DTM.
Opel dominated Friday's test sessions at Oschersleben, with Peter Dumbreck (OPC Team Phoenix) heading the morning session and Reuter (OPC Team Holzer) topping the second. Marcel Fässler (OPC Team Phoenix) was second quickest in the afternoon session, closely followed by Dumbreck in fourth.
Reuter was on top again in Saturday morning's free practice session, giving Opel high hopes of a top result in the afternoon's qualifying session. Unfortunately, it didn't work out as expected. Despite the fact that four Opels made it into the top 10 Super Pole session, a feat matched by neither Audi nor Mercedes, Reuter was only able to take fifth position on the grid, with Dumbreck, Laurent Aiello (OPC Team Phoenix) and Timo Scheider (OPC Team Holzer) filling positions eight to 10 after all made errors on their flying laps.
"I'm pleased with my best starting position of the season," said Reuter. "I was the fastest yesterday and our cars were very good over a race distance, so I'm convinced we have a big chance in the race."
Opel's motorsport director Volker Strycek added: "We expected to be further at the front on the starting grid following our very good performances on Friday. Maybe our drivers were a bit too motivated in the single-lap qualifying session, but it was clear to see that it was incredibly difficult to get a lap spot-on. I'm pleased to see Manuel back in the top ranks, and it's good to see four of our cars in the top 10."
Former Formula 1 driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen was forced to miss qualifying, however, having been sent to his hotel room to rest by the Opel doctor after he was diagnosed with a bowel infection that caused him bouts of sickness and a loss of balance. This proved to be the correct course of action, as Frentzen was fit enough to drive the car again in Sunday morning's warm-up session, in which he set the fastest time.
Reuter's race didn't get off to the best of starts and he dropped to seventh on the opening lap, just ahead of Dumbreck and Aiello. As the leaders made their first pitstops, Frentzen enjoyed a spell at the front of the field, leading the race for four laps.
Following the second mandatory pitstops, it was clear that Reuter was in with a shot of the podium. After leading for a couple of laps, he rejoined right behind Paffett in fourth on the run to the flag, and hounded the Mercedes man for the next 15 laps. When Paffett locked up at Turn 1 on the antepenultimate lap, Reuter was in a perfect position to pass him with a brave move. Despite Paffett's attempts to block him, Reuter grabbed third and was delighted with it.
"This is a very pleasing result for me as it has been a while since I have been on the podium," said Reuter. "It is the Vectra GTS's first podium, so I'm very proud to have achieved that. I had a very hard fight with Gary. When I saw him lock-up I decided to take my chance. It has been a great day for Opel, and I think there is more to expect from this season." The good news didn't stop there: Aiello hounded series leader Ekström to the flag to finish sixth, ahead of colleagues Scheider and Fässler. Laurent said: "It was too difficult to pass Ekström, but I am sure that I was quicker than him."
As well as the podium finish, it was Opel's biggest points haul on a race weekend this year, another reason for Strycek to be cheerful with how the weekend had gone.
"I am really happy and proud of my drivers," he said. "We have been competitive here since Friday, and everybody did an excellent job -- especially Manuel. He made no mistakes at all, and the podium finish is a welcome boost to the team. A great day for Opel."
Dumbreck was the only Opel driver to suffer a major misfortune, when he was hit by reigning champion Bernd Schneider when the Mercedes cut across the pit lane exit line to cause a collision which caused both cars to spin off. Dumbreck recovered to finish 11th, just behind former F1 star Jean Alesi, while Frentzen finished 14th after his illness-affected weekend. Jeroen Bleekemolen finished 18th in an Opel Euroteam Astra Coupe.