by Russell Atkins

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE

Heading into her third consecutive season in the DTM - motorsport's leading pan-European tin-top series - Susie Stoddart insists the pressure is off, and with one of the three-pointed star's potent 2007-spec C-Classes at her disposal Scotland's leading lady is well aware she has her greatest chance yet to impress.

Crash.net Radio caught up with the 25-year-old as she looked ahead to the opening round on the 2008 calendar at Hockenheim, hearing about why she is more revved up than ever and raring to get the new campaign into gear this weekend...

Q:
Susie, the 2008 DTM season isn't far away now, with the first round at Hockenheim this weekend. How excited are you feeling about it?

Susie Stoddart:
Very; we have one official test left to do at Oschersleben, so we have a bit of work to do there, but obviously it's really exciting and I'm looking forward to Hockenheim. It's all go, but that's the way I like it. It's been a long winter, I've joined a new team and I've been preparing and training hard, so I'm very much excited about the first race as opposed to nervous.

Q:
You mentioned you've joined a new team for 2008. How much of a change has that been for you? You're still with Mercedes, but how great a difference is there between the various teams within Mercedes?

SS:
Obviously whenever you join a new team it's different people you're working with and a different way of doing things, and that takes a bit of adapting to. I was very happy at my old team M?cke, but I was switched over to Persson and I'm very happy there also. I've learned a lot from my team-mates - obviously Gary Paffett is one of them - and it's a process of just improving all the time. I think there's a really good environment in my new team in which to make improvements and look forward to the year ahead.

Q:
You talk about Gary being one of your team-mates. He's a former DTM champion; you must be looking forward to working with him throughout the season..?

SS:
Yeah; he has such a wide depth of knowledge because obviously he's been there and done it. He knows how to win races and how to get the car set-up how you need it, so it's good to be working with him, and with Persson too. They had Bruno Spengler and Jamie Green before they moved up to the factory team. They try to nurture the young drivers and help them to develop; that's a great situation for me to be in, and with Gary being a DTM champion I can obviously learn a lot from him as well.

Q:
Racing drivers always say the winter is far too long; how has it been for you?

SS:
We're always kept busy with training and PR work, and we were very lucky this year that we got three fitness weeks - two in Austria and one in Finland. They were really, really good, and I think I speak for all the Mercedes drivers when I say we all feel more prepared than ever. It kind of gets to a stage in January when you're thinking 'ok, I've had a rest now, I've been training hard, now I want to drive again'. You have to wait until February, but it's so nice to get back in the car for the first test and just get everything going again and see all the familiar faces.

Q:
After you drove a 2005-spec C-Class last year, you now have a 2007-spec machine, which has probably been the biggest change for you over the winter months. Is that a big step forward?

SS:
For me personally it's a huge step forward; the fact that Mercedes-Benz slimmed down their team by one car but that I was still given an '07-spec car was great for me, and I was very proud to get it. It's difficult to give a direct comparison between the '05 car and the '07 car; I drove the '05 car in the last race of 2007 at Hockenheim, then it's a four-month break before you drive again, but everything feels good in the '07 machine and it looks like an awesome racing car. I'm very, very happy to be in just a one-year-old car this year.

Q:
Mika Hakkinen left the DTM at the end of last year, and he had until that point been the DTM's biggest star name, being a former double Formula 1 World Champion. You've got another ex-F1 driver at Mercedes this year in the shape of Ralf Schumacher. How has he settled into the team so far, and how are you working with him?

SS:
I have to say it was a really pleasant surprise. We met at a PR day, and he's a really nice, down-to-earth guy. He's the second-most successful German Formula 1 driver, and I think he's going to be strong in the DTM; he's shown good pace in the tests so far, and he's been made to feel very welcome by Mercedes-Benz. I think he's really going to enjoy himself.

Q:
The DTM has a very big fan base, both in Germany and in Europe in general. Do you think Ralf will help to increase that, given his notoriety and his popularity in F1?

SS:
Based on how much press the DTM has attracted throughout the winter time, it's been phenomenal, and most of that is regarding Ralf. I think it's going to create huge interest, and that's great for the championship; that's what I love to see. The DTM deserves to be bigger and better than people give it credit for, and I think Ralf will help to bring the series along. Schumacher is such a famous name in the whole world really, so yeah, I think it's great for the championship.

Q:
The DTM obviously is nominally a German touring car championship, but over the course of the season you race across Europe, with visits to Italy and Great Britain amongst other countries. Is there anything in particular you're looking forward to in 2008?

SS:
The Hockenheimring is my favourite circuit, and for me it's always a special place because it's both the first and the last round of the championship. There's always a very special atmosphere there, but I also think it's great that we're going to be visiting Italy, France, Zandvoort in Holland and Brands Hatch. It's a real diverse calendar this year, and it should be good.

Q:
You have yet to open your points-scoring account in the series, so looking finally towards the first round at Hockenheim - which as you say is your favourite circuit in the DTM - what are your aims going there and then for the remainder of the campaign?

SS:
Last year I said my aim was points, but as we all know to score points in the DTM is not an easy feat. This year, instead of putting pressure on myself and saying 'I want points', I think the first aim is to be on a par with my team-mates and do the best possible job that I can. If that brings me points then that's great, and for sure that is my overall aim.

It will be interesting to see how it pans out with the new pit-stop windows - it's going to be slightly different this year, so I think it will be interesting for the fans as well. The DTM is at such a high level now, and the most important thing for me is to be close to my team-mates because they're in the same machinery as me and the same year of car. That's what I'm focussing on.

TO HEAR THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE

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