Audi may have lost the 2006 DTM title to rival Mercedes in the penultimate round at Le Mans, but the Ingolstadt marque is determined to go out with its head held high by tying on victories and regaining the runner-up spot in the drivers' championship.
Audi's star driver, Tom Kristensen, not only conceded the crown to Bernd Schneider last time out in France, but to add insult to injury he also lost second place in the standings to race winner, Mercedes' Bruno Spengler. The 39-year-old Dane though, is confident of being able to turn the tables in the season finale at Hockenheim this weekend.
“After losing second place to Bruno Spengler at Le Mans, I want to get it back at Hockenheim,” the Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline ace said. “My A4 was excellent there in April when I finished second, and the car has been greatly improved since then.
“It will certainly be a tough fight again with Mercedes on their home circuit, which is of course exactly what the fans want to see, and they will probably come to Hockenheim in their hoards.”
Indeed, though the circuit that hosts the German Grand Prix may be a favourite hunting ground for Mercedes, who remain unbeaten there since its modification in 2002, Audi has been edging ever closer to breaking that run. Aside from Kristensen and team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen's podium finishes there in the opening round this year, Swede Mattias Ekstrom took pole position at the track on the new Audi A4 DTM's race debut in 2005, and the previous year Martin Tomczyk led for many laps before eventually being overhauled by Schneider.
“I can't wait to see the ranks of fanatical spectators that we always see at Hockenheim,” said Frentzen, looking forward to the return to home soil after three straight rounds abroad. “I think the spectators can once again look forward to motorsport at its best. All the guys are still hot, and even though the championship has been decided everybody will once again be up for a good fight.”
The mood within the Audi camp is generally upbeat ahead of the last round, with the drive and determination to halt Mercedes' winning ways palpable.
“Our goals for the DTM finale are clear,” expressed head of Audi motorsport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich. “We want to record our fifth win of the season at Hockenheim, push Tom up to second in the championship and bid farewell to the thousands of Audi fans by giving them a race to remember before the winter break. Throughout the course of the year we have shown that we are more than capable of winning.”
“Hockenheim is a fantastic circuit with a great atmosphere,” added Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline team director Hans-Jurgen Abt. “To race in front of so many spectators is incredible, and I hope that we can round off the season in a suitable manner. Although we have lost the championship the runner-up spot is still there for the taking and we will fight to the end.”