Mercedes' Bruno Spengler stole Tom Kristensen's thunder in the very last seconds of qualifying at Le Mans, as championship leader Bernd Schneider found himself dumped out in the second session for the first time this year.
The Canadian leapt to the top spot right at the end of the qualifying period, to limit in some way the damage done by his team-mate's lowly starting position. Spengler's advantage at the close was a mere three hundredths of a second over Kristensen, who had looked odds-on for pole from the early stages.
Spengler is in the middle of a rich vein of form at the moment, having charged through the pack to finish fifth at Barcelona two weeks ago from the rear of the grid, and can still nick the title should things go awry for Schneider and Kristensen.
Even more galling for ninth-placed Schneider – his worst starting spot since Lausitz in 2005 – is the fact his second session time would actually have been good enough to place him third on the grid right behind title rival Kristensen. He will probably not be too concerned, however, as just three points tomorrow – regardless of where the Dane finishes – will be enough for him to clinch the crown.
Mercedes stars Mika Hakkinen and Jamie Green will share row two of the grid on Sunday, with Christian Abt – the man who pushed Schneider out of the final pole shot by the narrowest of margins and only just made it through the two knock-out stages himself – fifth in his year-old Audi A4, and Alex Margaritis an excellent sixth in his 2005 C-Klasse.
Pierre Kaffer lines up a strong seventh in his 2005-spec Audi A4, followed by Martin Tomczyk, who broke his DTM duck last time out in Barcelona but struggled with a neck injury at Le Mans.
Others to join Schneider in the middle reaches of the grid are understeer-plagued 2004 champion Matthias Ekstrom (tenth) and team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen (11th), both of whom had shone in free practice and are rather more used to the upper echelons of proceedings. Home favourite Jean Alesi was a disappointed 17th.
Thed Bjork, meanwhile, standing in for Nicolas Kiesa at Audi customer outfit Futurecom TME, was once again the quickest driver in a 2004-spec car and will start 16th. The Swedish Touring Car Champion and series debutee stunned the DTM fraternity on Friday morning, lapping quicker than all bar Kristensen and Schneider, and is surely a star of the future.
“I had a great qualifying session and it was really fun,” said a delighted Spengler after claiming his second pole both of the season and also his DTM career. “I knew I had another lap just before the session was over and I decided to go for it. Fortunately it was a clear one.”
“It's good to be on the front row for tomorrow's race,” added Kristensen. “It is hard to lose out on pole position in the closing stages of the session, but that is what it is like in the DTM. At least this situation is good for the championship and I'm sure it will be an interesting race.”