As The DTM circus heads to the tight Oschersleben circuit near Magdeburg in Germany this weekend Mercedes' Bernd Schneider looks to claim a hat-trick of wins and consolidate his championship lead, but will be hounded by an Audi squad determined take victory.

Schneider's HWA Mercedes C-Klasse triumphed in both the opening rounds at Hockenheim, and last time out at the EuroSpeedway, Lausitz, but will have to endure Sunday's 44-lap race in Northern Germany with the hindrance of added ballast.

"In normal circumstances, I'd say my chances are great," said Schneider, "but I will have to contest the weekend with 10 kilos placement weight aboard my car for each of my wins secured in the first two races, thus being 20 kilos heavier than the 2006-spec Audis. Now all the Audis and the 2005-spec Mercedes-Benz cars are lighter."

Schneider will find himself glancing over his shoulder at Audi Sport Team Abt's Tom Kristensen who, after finishing second to the four-time champion in both the opening rounds, will look to go one better this weekend.

Kristensen is in confident mood going to Oschersleben as it proved to be the scene of his first and only victory in DTM so far, and is the 3.667km circuit is the closest the series gets to the record Le Mans winner's native Denmark.

"I not only like Oschersleben because the circuit is relatively close to Denmark, but in my first DTM season I clinched victory there as early as in the seventh race," stated Kristensen. "Last year as well, the speed was right and I had pole. Unfortunately I didn't get off the grid, so I've got something to make up and hope the time has come for me to claim another win."

Another Audi hopeful seeking improvements will be Martin Tomczyk, who, despite being hotly-tipped to mount a serious challenge this year has struggled in the opening two rounds of the championship bringing his Audi Team Abt Sportsline home in seventh and eighth at Hockenheim and the EuroSpeedway respectively.

In the Mercedes camp Britain's Jamie Green in the Salzgitter AMG C-Classe will hope to prove he can do the business in the race, and not just qualifying, after two pole positions so far this season and two poor starts from the sharp-end of the grid - retiring at Hockenheim, but managing fourth at the EuroSpeedway.

"I achieved my first DTM podium finish at Oschersleben one year ago," said Green, "and a good grid position here is crucial, because overtaking is very difficult on the tight and twisty track."

Green's HWA team mate, double F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen, seems to be moving closer to his first victory of '06 after taking fourth behind former F1 rival Heinz-Harald Frentzen at Hockenheim and third at EuroSpeedway Lausitz.

The Finn will hope things don't get as close as at the EuroSpeedway where team mate Green barged past towards the end of the race to take third, seemingly against team orders, before letting up at the flag to allow Hakkinen to take his first podium of the season.

"After finishing fourth in Hockenheim and my podium at the Lausitzring, I want to make another step forward," said the Finn, "I hope for the top spot on the podium in the season's third race like last year."

Vice President of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, Norbert Haug admits the weight gained as a result of successes so far could well hamper the '06 spec cars on the twisty Oschersleben configuration.

"As short as the Oschersleben circuit is it is demanding concerning the set-up of the cars. The track layout which looks like an oversized kart circuit is also quite a big challenge for the drivers," said Haug. "Overtaking is not easy here, however, it's not impossible and it will be difficult for the drivers with the 2006 C-Class cars, after two victories. Nevertheless, it's not impossible for them to win."

One man who will hope to be mentioned in the same breath as fellow Audi charger Kristensen when it comes to the DTM title will be 2004 champion Mattias Ekstrom who has experienced fraught beginnings to his '06 campaign.

Ekstrom failed to finish in both opening races bizarrely running out of fuel at the EuroSpeedway after a problem with the refuelling mechanism left him short with just two laps remaining, eliminating the Swede from a certain podium place, leaving him in a determined mood for the weekend.

"Zero points twice in the first two races that means from now on things will really be pretty tough for me in the Championship," admitted Ekstrom. "I now take every race as it comes. There can only be one maxim, and that is all-out attack! I like Oschersleben and finished as the runner-up there last year."

Meanwhile former Williams and Jordan F1 winner Heinz-Harald Frentzen's fortunes have wilted somewhat after a morale boosting third in Hockenheim, following on from a tough campaign last year with the now defunct Opel squad, tarnished by a poor showing at the EuroSpeedway.

The Team Abt Sportsline driver could only manage 13th after a largely anonymous race in Eastern Germany and hopes the expected capacity crowd can spur him on at Oschersleben.

"I'm eager to drive the Audi A4 at Oschersleben and hope to finish in the points," said Frentzen. "Last year, there was a very large turnout of spectators at Oschersleben, the atmosphere was great. I think that the mood will be just as good again this time."

Audi's main man Dr Wolfgang Ulrich, Head of Audi Motorsport, has found it difficult to suppress his frustration with Mercedes seizing the initiative so far this season, but has been encouraged by the double podium at Hockenheim and Kristensen's brace of second places.

"Our expectations are high - we want to win at Oschersleben and achieve a good team result," said Ulrich. "So far, Oschersleben has suited our car and our drivers pretty well, that's why I'm hoping that we'll finally break the knot. In the race our performance is right already. Now we need a good qualifying result for a change and, if that's the case, I'm confident we'll manage to clinch a good race result as well."

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