DTM » 15 October 2006
Spengler win gifts Schneider fifth title.
Bernd Schneider has been crowned the DTM Champion for the fifth time in his career after doing all he needed to do to put the crown out of the reach of his one remaining rival for the title, Tom Kristensen, in the penultimate round of the season at Le Mans.
Schneider needed to finish just sixth in order to guarantee the title, where as Kristensen had to at least win to keep his slim hopes alive. However, the DTM veteran, who scored his first crown for Mercedes way back in 1995, did more than enough to secure victory by crossing the line fifth, although his Danish rival put himself out of the equation anyway when he could only take third in a race dominated by Mercedes duo Bruno Spengler and Mika Hakkinen.
Still, Schneider's fifth place came with a fight, the German tangling with Mattias Ekstrom on a frantic opening lap to end the first revolution down in 16th place, a trip across the gravel that forced him to play catch up for the remaining 39 laps. Ekstrom however was out on the spot.
Nonetheless, despite the best efforts of Kristensen's Audi team-mates, Schneider made swift progress through the field thanks to a strong middle stint to the race, while he was also aided by some useful team work from his Mercedes counterparts, not least Spengler and Hakkinen who denied Kristensen's last shred of hope for victory by producing a text book display of driving to cross the line barely separated, but over ten seconds up on the competition.
Kristensen's hopes took a battering shortly after the start of the race when he bogged down off the line from his front row starting position, finding himself shuffled down to fourth and while he could take heart in the knowledge that Schneider had tumbled down the order too, being behind the Mercedes train of Spengler, Hakkinen and Jamie Green was always going to make it difficult for him to fight back.
However, the start of the race was marred by a massive shunt involving Frank Stippler, Mathias Lauda and Vanina Ickx, after Stippler lost control of his Audi, slamming hard in Lauda and clipping Ickx. Stippler was shaken but unhurt in the incident, although both he and Lauda were out of the race. Ickx continued, although was forced to pit for repairs, dropping her two laps off the lead.
With ground to make up, Schneider was the first driver to pit, coming in very early on lap six for a new set of tyres in an attempt to get some clear air and punch in some competitive lap times. Kristensen followed suit a lap later in an attempt to get the better of the Mercedes trio, although his hopes were dented when Mercedes called third place Green in just a lap later to quell his threat, the Brit duly returning to the circuit directly in front of the Audi.
Schneider meanwhile was moving gradually through the order, although hit a buffer when he was caught behind the Audi of Christian Abt, the German being delayed at the start and running outside the top ten. Nonetheless, despite his year-old machinery, Abt was proving a stubborn prospect for Schneider.
At the midway point, the order was divided between those that had pitted and those that hadn't, although Spengler and Hakkinen were looking comfortable leaders, almost half a minute up on third place Alex Margaritis, the Greek heading the first of those who had pitted, Green and Kristensen.
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