by Russell Atkins

DTM front-runner Jamie Green remains adamant Mercedes is capable of withstanding Audi's seemingly relentless march to steal its crown in the pan-European tin-top series, whilst at the same time stressing his own campaign has not been as bad as it may look on paper.

The Leicestershire ace last year registered a trio of podium finishes, a stunning four pole positions from ten races and was comfortably the championship's most accomplished one-lap ace. In 2007, by stark contrast, he has struggled to make a similar impression, when many pre-season had tipped him to be a title contender.

With just two top five qualifying runs - when in 2006 he only once failed to make the leading two rows of the grid - and a best race finish of fifth place last time out at the N?rburgring, the season so far has fallen somewhat short of expectations, a fact the 25-year-old is quick to acknowledge.

"It's been a hard year," he admitted to Radio. "I think the main thing really has been that with this year's car and tyre package, I've found it difficult to really get the maximum performance out of the car, especially in qualifying which is completely the opposite to last year. That's been putting me down the grid a bit more and it obviously makes the races a lot harder too.

"In terms of the races themselves, I think I've probably performed better than last year - I've been more consistent over long runs and had better average pace - but there have been a few times I've not finished and therefore not scored points. There was one race where I probably should have been on the podium but I got a drive-through penalty, so it has been difficult."

Indeed, while the rostrum continues to elude the Mercedes star in 2007, he has at least been impressively consistent, finishing five races out of eight inside the top six. He is equally well aware, however, that with such a level playing field, half the battle is played out in gaining a good grid position - his current Achilles' heel.

"We've seen nearly the whole grid within just a second sometimes," he underlined. "It's extremely close all the way down the field.

"The pit-stops do give you an opportunity to move forward, but on the track they're all very experienced drivers. The Audis are quite strong this year too, as are the older cars because they've got a healthy 30kg weight advantage, and there are some very good drivers in the '05 and '06 cars like Gary Paffett, Paul di Resta and Alex Pr?mat in the Audi. In previous years we've had an advantage and the older cars have been a bit slower.

"The '07 package is still pretty good, though. If you look at the results it's had five pole positions and five wins - which is more than Audi - so if you look at it that way we're pretty strong. The thing is it's been different Mercedes drivers on different occasions that have scored those pole positions and wins, which is why it's not a Mercedes driver leading the championship. It hasn't been one single driver who has consistently collected all the points."

Reflecting on those opening eight races, Green agreed there have been highs and lows - though admittedly too many of the latter for his liking - as well as a considerable dose of misfortune that have all conspired to leave him down in a distant ninth position in the championship chase, almost 30 points shy of the leader.

"Qualifying at Brands Hatch was both high and low because I set the quickest lap time - good enough for pole position - but then the red flags came out as I crossed the line which meant the time didn't count," he recalled. "That was really disappointing and left me starting down in seventh on the grid because my second-best lap hadn't been so good. Being at Brands it would have been nice to have got a good result there.

"Also there was Oschersleben, when I was in a good position for possibly second place or even first. Vanina Ickx hadn't made her stop and I had already made mine. She was much slower than me and unfortunately I spun her round and got a drive-through penalty for it. I think that was a bit wrong, but that's the decision they took."

Looking further ahead, Green - who said he hopes to stay in the DTM with Mercedes next year - is confident the three-pointed star will be able to take the fight to its Ingolstadt rival over the remaining two rounds at Barcelona this weekend and Hockenheim next month, the latter a meeting in which he finished a close second last year. And, he is quick to insist, he is far from to be discounted from the victory equation either.

"Audi have got a good package," the former F3 Euroseries Champion concurred, "but I think the speed of their car is probably the same as ours. What you have to remember is that from race-to-race the success ballast changes, so because we had quite a strong early-to-middle part of the year, in the last few races we've always been heavier than the Audis. Their car looked good at Mugello, Zandvoort and the N?rburgring, but they were always lighter than us at those races so it's difficult to judge.

"I feel as though things are getting better for me and that I'm performing better, especially in qualifying. At the last race at the N?rburgring I was less than a tenth of a second off the quickest Mercedes and - albeit in sixth position - I was only two tenths away from pole, with a car that was 10kg heavier than the Audis.

"There's no reason why I shouldn't be quick at all the tracks we go to; it's just a matter of circumstances really and what happens over the weekend. Barcelona last year is a good example of that, because it rained in qualifying and I struggled, and then on the first lap of the race starting down towards the back of the grid I got wiped out by a crash that started behind me. I was just going into the hairpin and got collected at the apex.

"Now we go to the next race with equal weight to the Audis, which I think will bring us into play for victories and pole positions, and I think I'm capable of doing that. I've certainly not given up, and I'm still going for that win."