Scheider and Bartels take more points for Opel Opel will look back on the return of the DTM to Zolder in Belgium with mixed feelings: on the one hand, its performances over the weekend confirmed that the Astra V8 Coupe is now competitive with...
Scheider and Bartels take more points for Opel
Opel will look back on the return of the DTM to Zolder in Belgium with mixed feelings: on the one hand, its performances over the weekend confirmed that the Astra V8 Coupe is now competitive with the very best cars and drivers in the series; on the other, a confusing safety car period in atrociously wet conditions deprived Michael Bartels and Opel Team Holzer of a potential fight for victory in the main race.
Bartels at least had the consolation of leading the main race, and also took third place and a point in the short qualifying race. Added to that, his Holzer team mate Timo Scheider continued his strong start to the season with fourth in the qualifying race and two points for fifth in the main race. The result leaves the young German sixth in the overall DTM standings.
Opel was also able to show its dry weather potential, with Alain Menu (Opel Euroteam) setting the fastest overall time in Friday testing ahead of Scheider and Bartels taking the fifth grid spot ahead of teammate Scheider in qualifying on Saturday, before drizzle rendered the rest of the session a lottery and prevented further improvement.
"Opel has shown this weekend how competitive it is in both the wet and the dry," said a disappointed Bartels, "but things just didn't work out for us to really prove what we were capable of today."
Heavy rain and standing water meant that the qualifying race was started after two laps in grid formation behind the safety car. But as several cars spun off in the tricky conditions, Bartels and Scheider held station in third and fourth and finished that way when the race was brought to a premature conclusion by the deployment of the safety car after an accident involving Yves Olivier (Opel Euroteam). The Belgian aquaplaned onto the kerbs and into the barriers exiting the fast Lucien Bianchi corner, but was completely unharmed in the heavy impact.
"There was a puddle next to the kerb and once I aquaplaned onto the kerb, there was no way to control it," explained Olivier. "But I've got no aches or pains, so I think this proves how safe the DTM cars are."
With no sign of improvement in the conditions, the main race was started after four laps behind the safety car. Despite difficulties with visibility caused by heavy spray from the cars ahead, Bartels and Scheider were able to comfortably hold third and fourth in the opening laps, until a minor mistake by Scheider dropped his Astra V8 Coupe to seventh.
The leading Audis of Laurent Aiello and Mattias Ekstrom pitted after nine laps, giving Bartels the lead for Opel. At that time the safety car was deployed when an opponent spun off the track. In this situation, Bartels allegedly passed the safety car and was shown the black flag. He had to pit but after a three minute time penalty, he was allowed to rejoin the race. Due to this unlucky situation, the Opel Team Holzer driver potentially lost a podium rank.
"As the safety car was leaving the pitlane, I guess we were parallel for some metres, but at that point I didn't know Aiello had pitted and that I was leading. Everything happened in just a few split seconds," explained Bartels. "When the team got on the radio and told me I was black-flagged, that's the first time I knew I was leading. We need to look at the video of the race, but for me, the safety car was late being deployed. It's especially frustrating because (eventual race-winner) Aiello had a slow stop and I had a good one, so I know it could have been a fight between us for the win."
A mature drive from Scheider allowed him to work his way back up to fifth at the finish of the race which was also ended prematurely when a car beached itself in a hazardous position in a gravel trap.
"The conditions were very difficult - so much so that I could hardly see the safety car ahead of me when I was driving around in fourth at the start of the second race. The team had to tell me when it was pulling off! I have to be glad that we're all safe and in one piece", said Scheider.
The DTM continues its foreign tour with a visit to the United Kingdom next. The spectacular series returns to the challenging Donington Park circuit after an absence of seven years for the races on May 19.
"Opel has some experience of the track from racing there in the old DTM," says Bartels. "It's an historic circuit and one I like - plus I did a lot of my growing up in England when I raced in single-seaters, so I'm looking forward to it." In 1994, Manuel Reuter achieved a historic landmark in celebrating the first victory of the Opel Calibra V6.