Spa: Opel race report

Double points haul for Opel in Spa spectacular Opel scored its first points of the 2005 DTM championship at the inaugural round at the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium, with both Marcel Fässler and Laurent Aiello finishing in the ...

Double points haul for Opel in Spa spectacular

Opel scored its first points of the 2005 DTM championship at the inaugural round at the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium, with both Marcel Fässler and Laurent Aiello finishing in the points-paying positions in a race won by double Formula 1 World Champion Mika Häkkinen of Mercedes.

Opel’s weekend started in the perfect way, with two of its four Vectra GTS racecars locking out the top two positions in the opening test session. Manuel Reuter led the way with a lap time of 2m13.658s, six-tenths ahead of team-mate Aiello. The second session was affected by rain, but Fassler once again proved the pace of the car with the third-fastest time before the showers came.

The rain arrived in earnest on Saturday, soaking the track all day long. Fässler kept up the pace with the fourth fastest time, proving the Vectra was as surefooted in the wet around Spa as it was in the dry.

Opel dominated the opening qualifying session, with Aiello the only man in the 2m31secs bracket. Fässler was second-fastest, half a second behind the former champion, while the rest of the field trailed in their wake. The Super Pole session, however, proved the most dramatic of the season, and Opel lost its stranglehold at the head of the field.

While Fässler was on track for his lap the preceding car, the Audi of Tom Kristensen, went off on his slowing down lap. This meant a yellow flag was displayed, ruining Marcel’s chances and, to make matters worse, he picked up a rear puncture too. Aiello began his qualifying lap but also had to abort this because of Kristensen’s car in the gravel.

After a delay, Fässler had a second chance and set the fourth fastest time, the Swiss driver struggling to balance his brakes over the lap. Aiello was on course to beat double world champion Mika Häkkinen of Mercedes to the pole position time, but he locked his brakes and went off the track at Les Combes, dropping him to seventh on the grid.

“The gap between ‘to be’ and ‘not to be’ is not much in the DTM,” said Opel’s motorsport chief Volker Strycek. “The situation with Kristensen’s car was confusing and didn’t help us. But we have to settle for this outcome, even though Laurent was on a very quick lap when he was forced to stop. It was possible to be on the front row today, for sure I’m disappointed, but at least we proved in the first qualifying session that we can do it.”

Fässler said: “I got a second chance after the puncture on my first run, but then I had a few brake problems. The second row is okay for me, but after two Opels were first and second in the first session, it’s a bit of a shame we couldn’t repeat this.”

Of his off-track moment which cost him a shot at pole, Aiello said: “In my second attempt I had some aquaplaning and I just slipped off the track.” Also off the track in the opening qualifying session was Reuter, who went off at Rivage and would start 17th, one place behind Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who said: “We made a strategy mistake; I started qualifying too late. The rain became a lot harder and I could not reach the top times.”

In the race, which was held in dry conditions, Fässler jumped ahead of Audi’s Christian Abt to take third place into the first corner and held his own in this position until his first mandatory pitstop on lap six. Aiello didn’t make such a good start, but recovered to eighth position before also taking an early first stop.

Fässler fell behind Tom Kristensen (Audi) in the middle part of the race and, following his second stop on lap 14, he was also passed by Jean Alesi (Mercedes). In the latter stages of the race, he just held off the attack of Audi’s Martin Tomczyk to score a hard-earned fifth place finish.

“I’m not really happy as we expected more from this race,” said Strycek. “We decided on an early first pitstop, but that meant Marcel got blocked in the midfield with some slower traffic, and that cost him some time and positions. We have to live with the result, but I’m not really happy with it.”

Fässler said: “I have mixed feelings about today. I’m happy we finished in the points for the first time, but I know we need to improve a lot more. I did the best I could, and I enjoyed some really good fights with Tom and Martin. I was defending hard against them, and I have to thank them for driving fairly.”

Aiello finished seventh after an enthralling race-long battle with fellow former champion Bernd Schneider ended with the Mercedes man suffering a big crash at the infamous Eau Rouge corner. Fortunately, he was uninjured. Aiello said: “It was a normal fight, but it just ended with a bad result. I’m glad Bernd is okay.”

Reuter retired from the race on tenth position near the end as he run out of fuel, owing to an earlier mistake during a pitstop, whilst Frentzen finished 15th after an early clash with Audi’s Martin Tomczyk, who went on to finish sixth, caused him to spin into the gravel.


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Series DTM
Drivers Heinz-Harald Frentzen , Jean Alesi , Mika Hakkinen , Tom Kristensen , Laurent Aiello , Martin Tomczyk , Bernd Schneider , Manuel Reuter , Christian Abt , Volker Strycek