Mercedes head into the second half of the 2006 DTM campaign intent on increasing their advantage in the series over Audi, and that task will begin this weekend at the Nurburgring, a circuit that has traditionally been kind to the three-pointed star.

With Bernd Schneider leading the drivers' standings eight points clear of key Audi rival Tom Kristensen, Vodafone/Salzgitter AMG has racked up a 16-point margin over Audi Team Abt, thanks to the efforts of the four-time DTM champion and his team-mates. Schneider has won two of the opening five races, while Bruno Spengler triumphed in the latest round at the Norisring, his debut victory in the category.

Looking to retain his title lead, Schneider said: "I like racing at the N?rburgring because there are always a lot of people from my home region, the Saarland, to cheer me on. I will appreciate that because it will be a tough race for us with a ten-kilo handicap compared to the Audis, but we are well prepared and our technical package is really great."

Spengler has climbed up to third place in the championship courtesy of his Norisring success and a second place at Oschersleben, and the young Canadian will doubtless be looking for further spoils when the series resumes this weekend.

"The N?rburgring is one of my favourite circuits and I'm really looking forward to the race," he said. "After having achieved my first DTM race win at the Norisring I hope the monkey is off my back, and I will be aiming for another top result to make the battle for the championship even more exciting."

Britain's Jamie Green, meanwhile, has endured a frustrating campaign thus far, setting three pole positions and never starting lower than the front row of the grid but only having 19 points to show for it all. At Brands Hatch he threw away a certain victory late in the race with an off-track moment, while he was forced to retire from the last round at the Norisring after being pushed into the wall by Christian Abt.

Summing up the general mood in the Stuttgart camp, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport vice president Norbert Haug said: "I expect the usual close and exciting fight. After our third victory in five races, we have a weight handicap of ten kilograms compared to Audi. They will be extremely strong at the N?rburgring, but they are not unbeatable."

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