Donington: Opel race report

Puncture deprives Menu of second -- Pole and point for Reuter Alain Menu (Opel Euroteam) lost out on a guaranteed second place after suffering a puncture just two laps from the finish in the DTM's thrilling and incident-packed return to...

Puncture deprives Menu of second -- Pole and point for Reuter

Alain Menu (Opel Euroteam) lost out on a guaranteed second place after suffering a puncture just two laps from the finish in the DTM's thrilling and incident-packed return to Donington Park in the UK. The heartbroken Astra V8 Coupe driver pitted for new tyres after running over carbon fibre debris and went on to finish eighth. But his competitive showing, plus pole position and third in the shorter qualifying race for Manuel Reuter (Opel Team Phoenix) left Opel confident of strong results in the races ahead - if the bad luck stays away...

"We were really unlucky today," said Opel Motorsport chief Volker Strycek. "We lost four cars in the first four or five laps, each of them to accidents. Then we had a car in second, but lost that place to a puncture. We know our car is able to win a race," he added, "but we came away with only an eighth place, which is certainly not what we expected or deserved after the strong qualifying performance."

Menu bided his time in the qualifying race, finishing a comfortable sixth after eight action-packed laps. But in the main race he quickly moved up to third position, close behind the Mercedes CLKs of double race-winner Jean Alesi and Bernd Schneider, before the mandatory pit stops began. A slick stop by the Euroteam mechanics kept Menu within catching distance of Schneider. But when the German received a stop-go penalty for speeding in the pits, the Swiss ace was promoted to second, on the tail of ex-Formula 1 driver Alesi.

"I pushed really hard to catch Jean and I was narrowing the gap," said Menu. "But with five or six laps to go, I realised I wouldn't catch him, so I backed off a little. Then a lap later I began to feel a vibration in the car and knew I had a tyre problem. Obviously it was caused by a piece of carbon fibre from an earlier accident." But despite his disappointment, Menu was pleased with the competitiveness of Opel's six-car DTM squad in the series' first races at Donington Park since 1995, saying: "If I'd been leading the race, I feel I could have won. It's disappointing for me, but it's also very disappointing for the team, who've worked so hard and deserved a good result."

Reuter, who was a winner for Opel at Donington in 1994, took his pole position in the final minute of a damp and tricky qualifying session. "This is the result of some very hard work," he said. "We planned to make three runs and because of the conditions I wanted to make the last one as late as possible. It is the perfect result."

Reuter's Opel was joined by another three Astras in the top six, including Menu (third), Timo Scheider (Opel Team Holzer - fifth) and Jo Winkelhock (Opel Team Phoenix - sixth). But all were to suffer misfortune in an afternoon that was never short of drama or incident.

Reuter took a point for third in the qualifying race, but was unable to follow that up with a strong result in the main race after being hit from behind by Scheider as both drivers tried to avoid an accident involving Mercedes driver Marcel Fassler and Abt Audi youngster Martin Tomczyk. Reuter continued further down the field, but eventually retired with transmission problems caused by a post-accident vibration, while Scheider ended his day with a heavily-damaged front end.

Neither Michael Bartels (Opel Team Holzer) nor Yves Olivier (Opel Euroteam) finished the race. While Bartels was punted off into the gravel trap by Laurent Aiello (Audi), Olivier had to retire with a damaged door owing to attacks by several opponents. Winkelhock was sidelined by an accident, but had good reason to be thankful for the strength of the latest breed of DTM cars. After stalling his car at the start of the qualifying race, he was hit from behind by the accelerating Mercedes of Uwe Alzen. With both cars heavily damaged, the safety car was brought into play, but both drivers were able to walk away from their cars.

"I'm a little bruised, but okay," said Winkelhock. "I don't know why my engine stalled, but I looked in my mirror and it was like watching a movie behind me. It all seemed to happen in slow-motion before the impact." Volker Strycek added: "The damage was quite bad, and we now have to go away and maybe build Jo a completely new car. It's a big job with just 14 days to the next race."

The DTM returns to Germany for round 4, at the Sachsenring. Menu believes that Opel will be strong again on the fast, sweeping track in eastern Germany. "The car is really good and the development we've done has made us real contenders," he said. "Today we had the performance, but not the luck. We're all confident that it will change and we'll get results that reflect our true performance level."

DTM, qualifying race: 1. J.Alesi/Mercedes 8 laps/15m12,512s, 2. M.Tomczyk/Audi +0,795s, 3. M.Reuter/Opel +2,742, 4. M.Fassler/Mercedes +3,137, 5. T.Scheider/Opel +3,554, 6. A.Menu/Opel +4,234, 7. K.Wendlinger/Audi +5,592 Sek., 8. B.Schneider/Mercedes +6,191, 9. M.Ekstrom/Audi +7,431, 10. T.Jager/Mercedes +8,250, ... 13. M.Bartels/Opel +14,761, ... 19. Y.Olivier/Opel --2 laps. DTM, feature race: 1. Alesi 25 laps/38m58,198s, 2. C.Abt/Audi +12,500s, 3. Ekstrom +14,745, 4. C.Albers/ Mercedes +16,626, 5. Wendlinger +18,992, 6. Fassler +21,966, 7. P.Huisman/Mercedes +23,513, 8. Menu +31,068, 9. B.Maylander/Mercedes +33,165, 10. P.Dumbreck/Mercedes +33,404, ... 14. Reuter --4 laps.

DTM, standings after three races: 1. Aiello 25 points, 2. Alesi 17, 3. Ekstrom 16, 4. Abt 12, 5. Schneider 7, 6. Tomczyk 5, 7. Albers 4, 8. Scheider 4, 9. Wendlinger, 3, 10. Reuter 1, 11. Bartels 1, 12. Fassler 1. Next round of DTM: 31 May - 2 June -- Sachsenring (D)

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Series DTM
Drivers Jean Alesi , Laurent Aiello , Marcel Fassler , Martin Tomczyk , Bernd Schneider , Uwe Alzen , Timo Scheider , Michael Bartels , Yves Olivier , Volker Strycek , Alain Menu