Paul Ricard/Le Castellet tests 2002-03-9-12

DTM-Tests Circuit Paul Ricard/Le Castellet (France), March 9-12 Testing started well: Abt-Audi, Mercedes and Opel almost at the same level. The DTM-teams were confident after the first joint test by Abt-Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Opel at the 5.875...

DTM-Tests Circuit Paul Ricard/Le Castellet (France), March 9-12

Testing started well: Abt-Audi, Mercedes and Opel almost at the same level. The DTM-teams were confident after the first joint test by Abt-Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Opel at the 5.875 km long Circuit Paul Ricard in France. Mercedes-driver Uwe Alzen, who set the fastest lap time on the final of the four test days (1.19.258 minutes) summed it up: "These were excellent test days at an incredibly nice race track. And the DTM 2002 will be very exciting."

The reason: the lap times of the cars of the three makes were closely matched from the word go. And this in spite of the fact that the Abt-Audi TT-R, Mercedes-Benz CLK-DTM and Opel Astra V8 Coupé were still running with different configurations. Abt Sportsline tested with a new Audi Coupé, the Team HWA had brought two 2002-spec CLK and one of last year's cars to Le Castellet, Opel took part in the test with three Astra Coupés, each in a different stage of development.

In France, the new Abt-Audi TT-R experienced the most drivers changes as all five drivers got the chance to test the new car. "I could rack up many miles without technical problems", said Aiello, who drove on the first two days, setting the best time for Abt with 1.20.096 minutes. "For the set-up, we are still struggling in finding the right combination between the single components. But we know what we have to work on and we are on the right way."

Christian Abt drove on Monday: "It was my job to complete a long-distance run with full fuel tanks. We wanted to test the durability of the car, but also of the new Dunlop tyres. All this worked out very well. The new Abt-Audi just ran like clockwork." For that reason, the Abt-drivers did not take part in the hunt for fastest times on the final day, when the track provided more and more grip. Team boss Hans-Jürgen Abt: "We just completed our programme, nothing more. The long-distance run was equally important for us as the chance for our youngsters Mattias Ekström and Martin Tomczyk, as well as our new signing Karl Wendlinger, to gain experience with the car."

Opel was present in Paul Ricard with all the five drivers who have signed so far, Alain Menu, Michael Bartels, Manuel Reuter, Timo Scheider and Joachim Winkelhock. Opel motorsport director Volker Strycek came to a positive conclusion: "So far, I am happy with the test. We did different test programmes with the three cars and after a total test mileage of 3.000 kilometres, we have acquired a lot of experience, but there is also a lot of work still to be done."

At lunch break on the final test day, the fastest drivers Alzen and Reuter, who was the only Opel driver to run with improved aerodynamics already, were separated by just one tenth of a second. In the afternoon, Winkelhock then took over from Reuter. Alain Menu, driving with last year's aerodynamics and last year's engine, was among the front runners with his car on each day. "It really was fun", Menu said. "I drove quite a lot and got to sort out many things. My confidence in the car is increasing with every lap." Young Timo Scheider eventually set the best time for Opel with 1.19.495 minutes.

Hans-Jürgen Mattheis, team manager of the Mercedes-Benz teams HWA, concluded: "With our two new CLK, we have been driving a lot and without any trouble. First of all, we wanted to test the reliability of the mechanical parts." On the first two days, driving duties were shared by Jean Alesi and Marcel Fässler. The young Swiss made his mark, keeping former F1-driver Alesi behind him.

Uwe Alzen and Bernd Schneider got to run on Monday and Tuesday. Alzen: "From my point of view, the new CLK is a harmonic, good package. It certainly isn't a revolutionary new car, the technical changes are more in the details. The looks of the new car are really sensational and it is good to handle on the limit. I am looking forward to the opening round of the season in Hockenheim, April 21." Reigning champion Bernd Schneider was equally excited. "The test was great fun, especially as the conditions were sensationally good. After its reconstruction, the Circuit Paul Ricard is the most up-to-date race track that I know." There was also praise for novice Stefan Mücke, runner-up of the 2001 German Formula 3 championship, who was given the chance to get used to his new working place with last year's DTM-Mercedes. "Stefan did an excellent job", said Mattheis.


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Series DTM
Drivers Jean Alesi , Marcel Fassler , Martin Tomczyk , Bernd Schneider , Joachim Winkelhock , Uwe Alzen , Manuel Reuter , Timo Scheider , Christian Abt , Mattias Ekström , Michael Bartels , Volker Strycek , Stefan Mücke , Alain Menu