Hockenheim: Opel race report

Crashes rob Opel of points in front of 116,000 fans The 2005 DTM began in front of 116,000 race fans at Hockenheim in Germany at the weekend, but the assembled throng saw Opel robbed of a top result following a high-speed clash that ruined...

Crashes rob Opel of points in front of 116,000 fans

The 2005 DTM began in front of 116,000 race fans at Hockenheim in Germany at the weekend, but the assembled throng saw Opel robbed of a top result following a high-speed clash that ruined Marcel Fässler's race after running a solid third early on.

The race weekend started in difficult circumstances for Opel, with Heinz-Harald Frentzen's ninth place its highest position in the Friday test sessions. But hard work from Team OPC turned its fortunes around as Marcel Fässler stormed to the front rows of the grid in qualifying on Saturday.

Fässler's GMAC-backed car was seventh fastest in the preliminary session, and despite ever-changing track conditions, the Swiss ace excelled in the top 10 Super Pole run-off to grab fourth position on the grid.

"We've made a major performance leap, compared to Friday, although we made only small set-up changes," said Fässler. "But these details helped us close the gap. I'm delighted to have gained my best qualifying result as an Opel driver."

Opel's motorsport chief Volker Strycek was visibly delighted with his efforts, punching the air as Fässler grabbed provisional pole, before watching his time bettered by only three other drivers. "Marcel Fässler delivered in fine style, and the team did a super job to allow him to do this," said Strycek.

Opel's other drivers failed to make it into the Super Pole, with Laurent Aiello's Playboy-sponsored car missing out by one thousandth of a second. He would start 11th, ahead of Manuel Reuter (17th) and Frentzen (19th).

"It was one of the strangest qualifying sessions in the DTM ever," said Reuter. "Heinz-Harald and myself were the last cars on track, as we expected it to get quicker, but the opposite occurred and the track was eight to nine tenths slower. We know we have the potential, like Marcel, we just need to show it with our other cars."

The race started in the worst possible way, as Aiello tangled with Christian Abt's Audi at the first corner and ran wide before spinning back across the track, where he was hit by the Audis of Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello. Reuter also struck one of the Audis, and despite the OPC team's best efforts to fix his car, he was also forced to retire after a couple of laps. Aiello was out on the spot, however, his car heavily damaged.

"It was a big mess," said Aiello. "I went to the outside but the kerbs were damp, forcing me to spin and I was collected by the two Audis. It was a big impact, but I'm OK. It's a big shame, because I made a great start and had passed two cars already."

Frentzen had risen from 19th to 13th but collided with the Mercedes of Alexandros Margaritis. Following another spin, Frentzen retired on lap 14 due to a damaged water cooler on his Vectra GTS.

Despite these dramas, Fässler was excelling at the head of the field, grabbing third position off the startline from Jamie Green's Mercedes. He kept leaders Gary Paffett (Mercedes) and Mattias Ekström (Audi) in sight, but the promise of a possible podium finish was ruined when he tried to pass the slower Mercedes of Bruno Spengler, who was not in contention overall and running on old tyres, and he was pushed into a spin by the Canadian at 130mph.

Thankfully, Fässler was able to avoid a high-speed collision with the barriers but needed all his skills to keep going in a straight line after spinning through 360 degrees.

After that scare, Fässler was unable to keep up his previous pace and fell to an eventual ninth-placed finish.

Fässler said: "Initially my race was very good, and I had the same pace as Paffett and Ekström. I was on my final set of new tyres when I came up to Spengler, who was on old rubber. He blocked me a few times, and then caused me to spin by forcing me over the kerbs at a high-speed corner. It was absolutely unnecessary. My tyres were completely flat-spotted and I had to fight the car for the rest of the race. Ninth place is not where we want to be."

Strycek added: "It was a bad race for us because we lost two cars, half of our effort, at the first corner. Marcel was right on the pace and our strategy was working out very well until the collision while overtaking another car. But we're remaining positive about future races, because we showed here we can be on the pace."


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Series DTM
Drivers Heinz-Harald Frentzen , Rinaldo Capello , Tom Kristensen , Marcel Fassler , Manuel Reuter , Mattias Ekström , Volker Strycek , Bruno Spengler , Gary Paffett , Alexandros Margaritis , Jamie Green