Audi is getting set to embark upon the new DTM campaign at Hockenheim this weekend with high hopes of wresting the crown back away from arch-rival Mercedes, after the three-pointed star left the Ingolstadt marque trailing in its wake in 2006.

Tom Kristensen and Martin Tomczyk were Audi's highest-scoring representatives last year, winding up third and fourth in the end-of-season drivers' standings as Mercedes stars filled out four of the top six places and triumphed in 60 per cent of the races. What's more, former series champion Mattias Ekstr?m finished a lowly eighth with but a single victory to his name, but this time around all three are confident of being able to turn the tables.

"We are all looking forward to the start of the 2007 DTM season," enthused seven-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Kristensen. "Previously, Hockenheim has always been a circuit that didn't suit our Audi, especially the first two sectors.

"Since we race twice there - the opener and finale - Hockenheim is of particular importance. Audi Sport and the team have improved the A4 DTM noticeably over the winter. It will be very interesting to see whether the step forward was big enough."

Tomczyk is also keen for the campaign to get underway, and eager to return to the top step of the podium once more following a winless 2006. The German is confident Audi can take the fight to Mercedes on a far more consistent basis this time around.

"It's high time things finally get started again," Tomczyk stated. "I have high expectations for the season-opener. I like Hockenheim; until now I've always been in the leading group in qualifying and the race."

"I'm really interested to see how things shape up at the first race - especially in qualifying on Saturday," Ekstr?m concurred. "Then we'll know where we stand in comparison to the competition. My team and I are well-prepared. We have tested intensively with the new Audi A4 DTM and my gut feeling is that we can be successful this year, but let's wait and see how things really look after qualifying."

Christian Abt, meanwhile, was rather more circumspect heading into the opening round, fearing last year's A4 will not be able to live with the 2006-spec Mercedes C-Class at the home of the German Grand Prix.

"I come to Hockenheim with mixed feelings," the tin-top veteran underlined. "The 2006 car was already extremely well-sorted last year, so that there was hardly any room to make it quicker over the winter. I'm afraid we'll have a tough time in last year's A4 against the year-old Mercedes at Hockenheim."

Head of Audi Motorsport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, though, remained positive the overall picture for the manufacturer would be far more encouraging than that of a year ago, and is anticipating the opening skirmish with a good deal of excitement and anticipation.

"The season finally starts after a winter of hard work," he said. "We are well-prepared and have strengthened our team with young drivers, who made a strong impression during the tests. I'm optimistic, but you only have a true idea of where you stand after two or three races are already run. I'm convinced it will be very close again and the spectators can look forward to a thrilling DTM season in 2007."


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