With the 2006 DTM title already sewn up a fortnight ago at Le Mans, Mercedes head into the final round at Hockenheim this weekend relieved of any pressure and determined to sign off in style in front of a sold-out crowd.
Newly-crowned Bernd Schneider has a superb record at the circuit that plays home to the German Grand Prix, having won no fewer than 13 of his 38 races here – including the last two on the trot – with a further six podium finishes to his name, meaning he has stood on the rostrum in precisely half the Hockenheim DTM events he has contested. Hardly encouraging reading for his rivals…
“My last victory at Hockenheim was my 13th there, but this figure obviously was my lucky number as that win was the foundation stone for my fifth championship title,” said the 42-year-old German, alluding to his season-opening triumph at the track back in April. “The atmosphere at the finale is always something special and it would be great to win this race for the third time in a row.”
The race is perhaps of even greater importance to Schneider's team-mate Bruno Spengler, who jumped ahead of Audi ace Tom Kristensen following his triumph last time out at Le Mans and will be eager to preserve that advantage this weekend.
“I like the Hockenheimring,” said the Canadian, irrefutably the form driver of the second half of the season and a sure-fire title threat in 2007. “I want to fight for the runner-up position in the championship and maintain my three-point advantage ahead of Kristensen until the finish.”
Hockenheim will also be an emotional occasion for Jean Alesi, who earlier in the year announced his decision to leave Mercedes at the end of the campaign, and could be facing his DTM swansong.
“I have good memories of Hockenheim,” the French former Formula One star said. “Here I clinched my first podium in my first-ever DTM race and took two of my four DTM victories. In front of the many Mercedes-Benz employees and fans there I want to end the season with a positive result.”
With a much stronger record at Hockenheim than rival Audi – including winning the last eight races held at the circuit in succession – Mercedes-Benz Motorsport vice-president Norbert Haug remained confident his team would be able to finish the season as they started it.
“The DTM finale at Hockenheim has become a real classic and popular with the spectators,” he said. “Although the championship has already been decided, it will be anything but an exhibition race on track. Who does not want to win in front of sold-out grandstands?
“Despite our positive Hockenheim record, it is not going to be easy for us – Audi has planned a lot and wants to end the season on a high. However, after Bernd Schneider's title win, ambition and concentration in our team have further intensified. We will not be easily beaten.”