Opel suffers bad luck in A1-Ring's DTM swan-song Austria's A1-Ring has a reputation for supplying drama when the DTM visits and this year it was no different. But unfortunately for Opel, bad luck and a simple case of 'wrong place, wrong time' ...
Opel suffers bad luck in A1-Ring's DTM swan-song
Austria's A1-Ring has a reputation for supplying drama when the DTM visits and this year it was no different. But unfortunately for Opel, bad luck and a simple case of 'wrong place, wrong time' resulted in a race jam-packed with the wrong sort of dramas...
A first lap accident in front of 60,000 spectators ruined the podium hopes of OPC Team Phoenix drivers Peter Dumbreck and Timo Scheider, while gearbox problems prevented Jeroen Bleekemolen (OPC Euroteam) from notching up his first DTM points. But a brilliant charge from last place to seventh from Alain Menu (OPC Team Holzer) at least hinted at what might have been.
The chain of bad luck began with Saturday's Super-Pole single-lap qualifying session, when dirt thrown on the track from Martin Tomczyk's spinning Audi relegated Dumbreck's Astra V8 Coupe to eighth, being fourth in the previous qualifying. Scheider lined up one place further back, but both drivers proved they had the chance to challenge for a podium with their pace in the morning warm-up.
At the start of the 40-lap race, Dumbreck made a lightning getaway and was on the tail of eventual runner-up Bernd Schneider's Mercedes as the tightly-bunched field exited the first corner. But as Schneider moved left then right, Dumbreck had nowhere to go and was hit by Christian Abt's Audi twice, breaking the Astra's right front suspension and the steering in the impact.
In the confusion that followed, Scheider ran over debris on the track and holed his radiators, while Menu slowed and dropped back to the rear of the field to avoid Abt and the spinning Mercedes of Jean Alesi. When the dust settled, Dumbreck and Scheider pulled into the pits, too badly damaged to continue.
"It was just one of those things," said a disappointed Dumbreck. "We knew before the race that the potential was there for a good result and that I could race with Mercedes. I hope that next time Opel will have the good luck it deserves."
After a safety car period to remove Abt's and Alesi's beached cars, Menu, Bleekemolen and Manuel Reuter (OPC Team Holzer) began to charge through the field, aided by excellent pitwork and tactics. All were candidates for points finishes, but a spin by Reuter and Bleekemolen's loss of second gear left Menu to pick up two hard-earned points for seventh place.
"We definitely wanted and deserved more," said Menu. "Peter was capable of a podium, for instance. But things just didn't go our way. I was pushed onto the grass at the first corner and then backed off in case Alesi and Abt came back across the track. But after the safety car period, it was a great performance by the team in the pits and my car felt great, so we can take away a lot of positives."
Opel's motorsport boss Volker Strycek summed up the feelings of the whole Opel squad, saying: "There are circumstances you just cannot predict. Our bad luck started in the Super-Pole and that left us in a position where we were victims of bad luck in the race.
"Finishing only seventh is not great news, because we expected much more," he added. "But Alain put in a great drive and we should not forget that. We are now looking ahead to the next race at Zandvoort."
The A1-Ring will now undergo major rebuilding work and will not stage a DTM race in 2004. But despite an afternoon to forget, Strycek looks back on three visits to the track with affection.
"Every year we've raced here, the crowd has got bigger and the racing has been fantastic," he said. "It wasn't a great day for Opel, but it was an exciting day for the DTM and the spectators here in Austria. It's really a shame that this has been the last visit at the A1-Ring for a while."