As many predicted it was Audi's Tom Kristensen who broke Mercedes' stranglehold on the 2006 DTM Championship by claiming pole at Oschersleben in a fine display of tactical and rapid driving.

It seemed, for Kristensen anyway, that Audi's decision to take it easy in Friday practice to save tyres for qualifying and the race paid off, as the Dane snatched the fastest time from Jamie Green in the Saltzgitter Mercedes with three minutes remaining in the final shootout.

Green, who has started from pole in both the opening races, looked a strong contender for pole throughout the session, but could not reply to Kristensen's decisive pace on the greasy track as the record Le Mans winner used both the apparent grip advantage of the Audi, and the A4 DTM's weight advantage to finally beat the Mercedes, even if it is only qualifying.

"Qualifying was fun," said Green afterwards, "too bad that I dropped back from pole to second place in the closing stages. Nevertheless, I am very happy with the result. Tomorrow the start is particularly important in order to be in a good position for the race."

Bruno Spengler's good practice pace prevailed in qualifying and the Canadian claimed the third spot on the grid and, perhaps of some concern to Kristensen, Spengler is joined on the second row by team mate Mika Hakkinen. Kristensen, who won his first DTM race at Oschersleben in 2004, will hope his Audi Team Abt team mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen, starting fifth, can help fend off the Mercedes challenge.

"Pole position was exactly what I needed. I am really happy," stated a delighted Kristensen, "It would have been nice to have a few more Audis standing behind me, as it then would be a little more comfortable for me in tomorrow's race. In the race on Sunday, we will be stronger over the entire distance than today."

Championship leader, four-time DTM champion and winner of the opening two races of the season Bernd Schneider ended up sixth with Martin Tomczyk in the Red Bull Audi A4 DTM seventh, hoping to kick-start a disappointing start to the season that has thus far only seen the German driver claim meagre points finishes.

Despite Tomczyk's team mate, and 2004 DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom saying the only way to jump back into championship contention after two races and two retirements was to 'go for it', the Swede missed the final cut in qualifying, ending up ninth, alongside Christian Abt in the Playboy Audi.

Head of Audi Motorsport, Dr Wolfgang Ulrich took his eyes from the timing screens in the Oschersleben pit understandably delighted with Audi's first pole position of the season, but expressed disappointment at the lack of Audi support directly behind Kristensen's pole-sitting machine.

"Of course, I am really happy with Tom Kristensen's pole," stated Ulrich, "he has been showing a strong performance throughout the weekend and also in previous years at the Oschersleben circuit. I am not so happy with the result of the other three. But that shows that you have to have everything spot-on in qualifying.

"This type of qualifying is merciless," chuckled Ulrich, "that was motor sport at its best. For us, standing on the pit wall, this new format is really thrilling and that is getting across to the spectators as well."

Ulrich's opposite number at Mercedes, Norbert Haug, remained magnanimous in Audi's qualifying success, but hinted that the wall of Mercedes badges behind Kristensen could yet turn the tide back in Mercedes' favour in tomorrow's race.

"Congratulations to Audi for being on pole. Tom Kristensen has been showing a great performance here. But I am also happy with the performance of the team as a whole. We have a good starting position for the first corner and that is a good basis to start from."

Casualties who suffered at the hands of the knockout qualifying system included Jean Alesi in the 2005 Stern Mercedes, the Frenchman exiting proceedings in the first phase after an attempt to make the cut ended up with a trip across the grass and a short afternoon's work for the ex-Ferrari F1 driver.

Britains Susie Stoddart continued to lead her private battle over her fellow female driver Vanina Ickx by qualifying her Mercedes in 18th, whilst Ickx ended up 19th in the Audi ahead of Dutch rookie Olivier Tielemans. Mathias Lauda however won the battle of the 2004-spec cars qualifying in 17th.