Having been upstaged by young guns in recent years, Bernd Schneider proved that he is still a serious title contender by taking victory in the opening round of the DTM championship at Hockenheim.

The four-time champion secured his 40th DTM victory at the wheel of his Vodafone AMG Mercedes C-Class after an exciting race that saw other veteran racers come to the fore.

Tom Kristensen made up for his disappointing qualifying to gradually climb through the field to finish an impressive, if distant, second place behind Schneider. Heinz-Harald Frentzen got his Audi career off to a good start by grabbing the final podium spot, just ahead of fellow former-F1 driver Mika Hakkinen.

The championship got off to a controversial start when the two AMG Mercedes of Jamie Green and Bruno Spengler came together at the first corner, leaving the pole sitting Brit to limp back to the pits with damage, while the Canadian recovered to fifth place.

The big winner from the start was Stefan Mucke in his privateer Mercedes, jumping into second place from fifth on the grid behind Schneider. Martin Tomczyk meanwhile fell back from fourth on the grid to end the first lap back in 11th.

A flurry of early pit stops shook up the opposition but Schneider's lead was never in doubt despite the advances of Mattias Ekstrom and Tom Kristensen, the Dane gradually moving up through the field as others fell around him.

Elsewhere, Christian Abt, who was recovering from spinning on the opening lap, tangled with Timo Scheider forcing him into retirement, only to be joined by Team Phoenix Audi team mate Pierre Kaffer, who also came off worse in a collision, this time with Mucke.

Just ahead of the second round of pit stops, Schneider led Ekstrom, Kristensen, Mucke and Alex Margaritis in third, fourth and fifth, the latter Greek driver having a tremendous drive from 12th on the grid.

Just behind, Mucke's sterling drive came to an end when he collided with Margaritis, forcing him into the pits to retire and his rival to spin off but recover in seventh place.

Their problems allowed Frentzen and Hakkinen into fourth and fifth, positions that then became third and fourth when 2004 champion Ekstrom was forced to retire with front suspension problems.

Coming into the final lap, the action was still far from over with top rookie driver Daniel La Rosa, who had run in third place ahead of his second pit stop, falling from eighth to 14th, while Frank Stippler also slipped back from ninth to 12th.

Up at the front Schneider pulled out a four second lead over Kristensen, the Dane finishing ahead of Frentzen, Hakkinen and Margaritis, the Greek driver securing his first ever points and emerging the leading 2005-specification car.

Jean Alesi put a poor qualifying performance behind him to find himself in sixth place at the finish, ahead of the recovering Tomczyk and DTM-returnee Timo Scheider, the former Opel-driver securing the final points paying position.

Bruno Spengler brought his erratic race to a finish in ninth place, just ahead of Susie Stoddart, who used the final lap melee and an opportunist late pit stop to grab an excellent tenth place on her debut.

Elsewhere, Vanina Ickx had a steady debut to finish a lap in 15th and last place.

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