Timo Scheider is bidding to maintain Audi's impressive pole-sitting run in the opening round of the 2008 DTM campaign at Hockenheim this weekend, as he aims to significantly improve on his highest championship finish of the seventh place he achieved last year.

Though still only 29-years-old, the German has been a series stalwart since the year 2000, only sitting out the 2005 campaign as he focused on FIA GT racing instead. Though he has yet to break his DTM duck, Scheider is keen to alter that statistic in 2008, and he has begun in the best possible way by pacing the final pre-season test at Oschersleben, after being promoted to a current-spec Audi A4 fielded by Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline this year.

"It's nice that the winter's over and we can concentrate on the essential part - driving races," he enthused, as he prepares to make his 17th start at the scene of his maiden rostrum finish in the DTM this time last year. "It's also nice that Hockenheim is the first race, as we finished there last year with such a positive result.

"That's why I'm going to Hockenheim with a very good feeling. Immediately afterwards, the race at Oschersleben is on the agenda - it's an action-packed programme."

Audi currently holds a five-race unbroken run of pole positions in the leading pan-European tin-top series, with rival Mercedes not having been allowed a look-in since the Norisring back in June. Those top spots have been shared out between Scheider, Martin Tomczyk, defending champion Mattias Ekstr?m - both of whom, like Scheider, are beginning their eighth season in the DTM in 2008 - and Tom Kristensen, who holds the lap record at Hockenheim from the time he set there in qualifying last October. What's more, Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline has begun from pole around the Baden-W?rttemberg circuit once every year since 2002.

"Finally, the season is starting," exhorted Kristensen, runner-up in the series back in 2006 and now aiming to put a frustrating 2007 behind him, after his challenge was quite literally KO'd on the very first lap of the opening race last year. "It's very difficult to make any predictions at this stage. We want to give our best in order to win, but only after the first race and possibly at Oschersleben - my 'DTM home' circuit because it's closest to Denmark - will we know where we stand exactly.

"The opening races are very important because, before them, the cards will not be put on the table. Only then will we be able to judge what kind of a job we did during the winter."

"I'm starting with high expectations," added Tomczyk, who fought for the crown last year only to slip back to third in the final reckoning. "The season is now coming up quickly, and immediately there are two weekends back-to-back.

"If things go well, we can score really good points twice in a row - this will be my goal. That's why I'm happy that the first two races - Hockenheim and Oschersleben - are at circuits where I've previously had pretty good experiences."

"Hockenheim is something special," agreed double title-winner Ekstr?m, who suffered a heavy 'off' in testing at Oschersleben, "because finally we'll be able to see how good our new Audi A4 is in comparison to our rivals. Last year I won the race, and of course I'd be delighted about a similarly positive result.

"Hockenheim is the circuit that evokes the strongest emotions. You come to the first race with butterflies in your stomach. Finally, you're back on the track, and you ask yourself: 'Where do I stand in comparison to the competition?'

"The circuit features a mix of slow and fast turns as well as short and very long corners. From a driver's perspective, this is a nice variety on each lap, but you've got to be well-sorted with your car.

"The fact that you contest the finale there as well always makes Hockenheim a very special venue. Even though the circuit does not differ from others in a major way, it presents a historically interesting situation - those running at the front at Hockenheim usually compete for the title as well.

"For the season-opener, over 100,000 people have consistently come to watch our sport for many years. That's simply incredible. The fans put up banners, they spur on Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline or me personally, and they flock to the paddock or the pit-lane for the pit-walk in large numbers.

"There are three dates on the race schedule which are absolute highlights for me in terms of the audience - Hockenheim one, the Norisring and Hockenheim two, and at Oschersleben as well we've always been very competitive with the Audi A4. I'm assuming that the new car will be as good there as the old one was."

Indeed, the last time the DTM campaign began with back-to-back race weekends - in 1990 -Hans-Joachim Stuck went on to claim the Ingolstadt marque's debut series laurels with the then new Audi V8 Quattro. Its successor 18 years on - the 2008-spec Audi A4 DTM - has been painstakingly developed at Audi Sport over the past twelve months, and has set some extremely encouraging testing times so far up against Mercedes.

Following a one-two success for Ekstr?m and Tomczyk at Hockenheim twelve months ago - marking Audi's 40th series victory in its eighth season - and the manufacturer's traditionally strong form both there and at Oschersleben, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich is in confident spirits. What's more, Kristensen triumphed at Oschersleben in both 2004 and 2006, Audi has taken pole there three times in the last four outings and Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline has retained the same four-strong driver line-up for the first time since the marque's return to the DTM back in 2004.

"In the DTM it's particularly important to have a good, fast and reliable car from the outset," the Head of Audi Motorsport underlined. "This is what we've been working on intensively during the past few months.

"The last tests at Oschersleben were promising; now it's crucial to do a perfect job at the first few races. The pit crews have to do their best and we've got to deliver a strong team performance. In the DTM, more than ever, speed will be more important than strategy."

"I'm happy that the DTM season is finally starting," added Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline team director Hans-J?rgen Abt. "We're racers and waiting for the season-opener with baited breath.

"Let's face it, it's an altogether different thing to be testing in front of empty stands or racing before an enthusiastic crowd of spectators, as we always have at the DTM races at Hockenheim and Oschersleben. Our friends from Stuttgart will do everything within their power to snatch the title from us again, but we're well-prepared and ready to defend it. The fans can look forward to a great season-opener."