Winkelhock out to show life in the old car yet.
1 January 1901
Markus Winkelhock is determined to prove that drivers behind the wheel of 2007-spec machinery still have a chance to shoot for glory in the DTM this year, as he heads into the opening round of the new campaign at his 'home' circuit of Hockenheim.
The young German – who previously competed in the leading pan-European tin-top series back in 2004 with Audi's rival Mercedes, though without any great success – has Mattias Ekström's 2007 championship-winning car at his disposal this year, and he put it to good use in pre-season testing by lapping fastest of all at Mugello.
“I'm not putting myself under pressure,” the 27-year-old Audi Sport Team Rosberg ace insisted, “but I'm really eager to contest my first race as an official Audi factory driver. For one thing, Hockenheim is my home track and for the other, the season is finally starting.
“Hockenheim is a circuit that suits me quite well. At Oschersleben I haven't driven any races in several years, but I used to get along well with the circuit. In 1998, I celebrated my first-ever victory there. That was in Formula König, and I have pleasant memories of it, so I'm looking forward to the second race of the season as well.”
The series' older cars have the advantage of running with less weight, and Winkelhock's team-mate Mike Rockenfeller seemed to confirm their potential by pacing the final day of testing at Oschersleben in the machine campaigned by Tom Kristensen throughout 2007.
“I'm expecting better results than last year,” asserted 'Rocky', who achieved a career-best finish of third place at Oschersleben during his debut season in the championship, “and I would like to finish in the points regularly. At Oschersleben, I had a great exploit last year – it would be nice if we could repeat this.
“It's tough in the DTM but I'll be giving my best. I think that with the 2007-spec car we'll have a clearly better base than last year.”
Alex Prémat, meanwhile, made a strong impression in the series en route to eleventh spot in the final drivers' standings for Audi Sport Team Phoenix in 2007, and remaining with the squad for 2008, the Frenchman is in confident frame of mind.
“I'm really looking forward to starting my second DTM season at Hockenheim,” the former GP2 race-winner claimed, “and I want to leave a good impression. We should definitely be able to manage this because the 2007-spec cars were very quick at Hockenheim last year. Why shouldn't a podium be possible again with a 2007 model?
“At Oschersleben the Audi was strong in the past as well, and the tests prior to the season went superbly there. My car feels good; this makes me feel confident.”
“One of the main factors in making my decision was to join Colin Kolles again, and the number of people working at his team that I still know,” added series returnee Christijan Albers. “A number of these guys I already worked with in the past when I was racing in Formula 3, winning the championship in 1999.
“Working with these guys will certainly help me to enjoy racing again. It won't be an easy first year back in DTM, especially racing a two-year-old car, but I like to fight hard and will try to make it back to the top.”
Both Prémat and Albers celebrate their birthdays around the Hockenheim weekend – the former turned 26 five days ago, and Albers will hit 29 in six days' time – and their respective team bosses clearly expect great things of all of their young charges in 2008.
“We've got two quick, highly-motivated drivers and a great car,” asserted Audi Sport Team Phoenix team director Ernst Moser. “I'm convinced that we're well-positioned with last year's championship-winning car. At the tests before the start of the season we saw how competitive the Audi A4 is.
“Our goal will be to finish qualifying among the top eight with Alex. If we manage this, anything's possible, even with a car from last year. As a newcomer, Oliver [Jarvis] will find things to be a bit more difficult at the beginning, but I'm sure that he'll be joining the front of the field quickly as well.”
“We're delighted that the season is finally starting because the winter break was very long indeed,” added Audi Sport Team Rosberg team director Arno Zensen. “The tests went well; that makes us feel carefully optimistic.
“We're anxious to see the 'power ratios' in the field at Hockenheim. After that, we'll know whether we can set a similar highlight as we did last year with 'Rocky's podium position at Oschersleben.”