DTM 'king' Bernd Schneider added a fifth series crown to his impressive array of laurels at Le Mans last weekend, but he had to fight for it after an early collision left him right at the back of the field.

The German finished fifth in the penultimate round in France, after slipping down to 16th and last place following a first lap contretemps between Mattias Ekstrom, Frank Stippler and Mathias Lauda that forced him to take avoiding action. The comeback, though, only made his title triumph all-the-sweeter.

"I am overjoyed," the 42-year-old said. "It's unbelievable. It is a really special one for me and this is a great day in my life.

"The race was not easy and I had some difficult fights. When I was pushed into the gravel on the first lap, I thought I would not be able to clinch the championship today. Therefore I am even happier that I was able to make it on my own with fifth place. I had a fantastic car and a perfect strategy."

Key to Schneider's end-of-season success was his astounding consistency throughout the year, only twice finishing off the podium in a stunning campaign that began in perfect style with a brace of victories in the opening two rounds. He is the only driver to have scored points in every race this year, and has not suffered a retirement since September, 2005.

"I always knew what I could do and I didn't get nervous," he added. "There is a high after every low - that is what motor racing is like."

He put this philosophy to good use at both Zandvoort and Le Mans, where he put difficult qualifying sessions behind him to focus calmly on the race ahead and converted comparatively poor grid slots into second and fifth place finishes respectively.

"Like in almost every sport, it is the eventual result that counts," he said. "Age also means experience and in situations like that, this is helpful."

Schneider's outstanding achievement came somewhat against the odds, following troublesome campaigns in 2004 and 2005 during which he registered only two wins on his way to disappointing championship finishes for one with such high standards, and leading some to suggest he was past his best. His fifth DTM title, he argued, was a shot in the arm for his career and vindication for all those who had not lost confidence in him.

"Some people were saying that I wasn't eager anymore, that I was getting too old," he said. "But fortunately, especially at Mercedes-Benz, there have always been people who have had faith and remained loyal to me."

"This is a great day for the entire team," added Mercedes-Benz motorsport director Norbert Haug. "They have done a perfect job and the fact Bernd still made it up into fifth place from the back of the field is a great performance. Congratulations to him.

"We have always believed in Bernd and his title doesn't come by chance. After 15 years, we know each other and that is a good basis for being successful together. All in all, I think that this was Bernd Schneider's strongest season. He is a worthy champion and he deserves the title."

Schneider's five championship triumphs - he also lifted the laurels in 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2003 - have helped propel the German into the record books as the most successful driver in DTM history, with a grand total of 41 victories, 24 pole positions and a staggering 60 fastest race laps.

And if any of his rivals thought a fifth crown might persuade him to put his feet up and make way for the younger guns, they had better think again.

"I still enjoy racing in the DTM very much," he asserted, "and I will be back to defend my title next year."


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