Opel shows it's back on the pace A spectacular DTM season-opener showed how an intensive winter of testing and development by Opel Performance Center (OPC) and its race teams has put Opel's Astra V8 Coupe firmly on the pace of its rivals from ...
Opel shows it's back on the pace
A spectacular DTM season-opener showed how an intensive winter of testing and development by Opel Performance Center (OPC) and its race teams has put Opel's Astra V8 Coupe firmly on the pace of its rivals from Mercedes and Audi. Two fighting fifth places from Timo Scheider (Opel Team Holzer) and a competitive fourth in qualifying for Manuel Reuter (Opel Team Phoenix) hinted at a strong season ahead - with only bad luck preventing more Opel drivers packing the points.
After finishing ahead of the lead Mercedes in the short qualifying race, Scheider was baulked behind the stalled Audi of Martin Tomczyk at the standing start for the longer pitstop race. The 23-year old German was only eighth at the end of the first lap, but fought back brilliantly to hold fifth behind reigning DTM champion Bernd Schneider's Mercedes after the pitstops. Scheider closed in on the multiple DTM title-winner through the closing laps, but missed out on fourth after avoiding a spinning car ahead of him.
"I was definitely a bit quicker than Bernd (Schneider)," said Scheider, "but I ruined my front tyres due to understeering while driving in Bernd's slipstream, loosing a lot of down force at the front end. Losing time because of avoiding the accident ahead of me pulled the gap out just a little too far to keep attacking. But we've done a very good job over the whole weekend and we know we're back up there now. The plan was to score points and that's exactly what we've done."
Further proof of Opel's return to form came with Scheider's second fastest race lap overall - a 58.107s flier. "The speed's definitely there for us," said Opel motorsport director Volker Strycek. "We've seen that with Timo's lap times and with the lap times from guys like Manuel Reuter too. It's unfortunate for Timo that the Audi stalled at the start, but the important thing is that we're competitive again."
For fourth-placed qualifier Manuel Reuter, who missed a front row starting slot by just two tenths of a second, it was a frustrating afternoon that promised much but delivered little. A spin caused by brake balance problems in the qualifying race dropped him to 18th at the finish, but his attempts to move through the order in the pitstop race were thwarted by a sudden puncture to his right front tyre while driving in sixth gear. After pitting for a second time, Reuter finished a lapped 17th, but was optimistic for the races ahead.
"Last year was not the easiest time for us," he said, "but the results for me in qualifying and Timo in the race have shown that a lot of hard work has started to pay off for us. I am very satisfied with what we've achieved - it's like a burden coming off us - and I know we're set for a very exciting championship."
The cut and thrust of the tight and twisty Hockenheim short circuit means a driver often needs luck as well as skill to reap any reward. But Timo Scheider aside, it seemed good luck was in short supply for the rest of Opel's six-car squad. Alain Menu (Opel Euroteam) and Jo Winkelhock (Opel Team Phoenix) battled to a top 10 finish in the pitstop race, with Menu just edging Winkelhock for ninth, but both might have expected more: Winkelhock was spun out of the first race by former Grand Prix driver and DTM debutant Jean Alesi, while Menu spun at the very first corner of the qualifying race and dropped down the order in race two after a stop-and-go penalty.
Yves Olivier (Opel Euroteam) and Michael Bartels (Opel Team Holzer) also found themselves short of raceday luck, with Olivier leading home Bartels for 13th and 14th in a frenetic, but crowd-pleasing midfield battle. More than 50,000 fans basked in glorious spring sunshine at Hockenheim, and all must have gone home happy after an action-packed start to the third season of the DTM's latest successful incarnation.
"You can't ignore the fantastic atmosphere we had here today," said Volker Strycek. "It reminds me of the atmosphere of the old DTM. In fact, it's like we never had a break in the series."