Reigning DTM champion Mattias Ekström has heaped praise on Audi's new A4, after the Ingolstadt manufacturer romped home to a one-two-three finish in the 2008 curtain-raiser at the weekend and the Swede repeated his Hockenheim victory of twelve months ago to become Audi's most successful DTM driver ever.
Indeed, had Martin Tomczyk's late efforts to get past Mercedes' highest-placed representative Bruno Spengler borne fruit, Audi would have left the Baden-Württemberg circuit with the top four places in its pocket, after its new machine proved to comfortably have the legs of Mercedes' C-Class. It was a dominant beginning to the season, and as Ekström celebrated the eleventh triumph of his eight-year career in the leading pan-European tin-top series, he agreed that his title defence could not have got off to a better start.
“The car was simply fantastic,” the 29-year-old enthused. “I want to thank Audi Sport and everyone in my team who had a part in creating such a good car. These were the best pre-requisites.
“I was able to really enjoy the race because the car did everything I expect a racing car to do. In the end we clinched places one to three, which is great for the team. I think after such a good weekend, we definitely deserved this result.”
Having pipped his team-mate to pole position the previous day – his third in the DTM – Timo Scheider went on to finish less than a second behind Ekström in the race to repeat the finest result of his series career, following on from his runner-up spot in the 2007 finale at the same circuit. The pair took the chequered flag almost 20 seconds clear of fellow Audi Sport Team Abt star Tom Kristensen, who in coming home third successfully banished the memories of the hefty opening lap accident that had so badly derailed his season twelve months earlier.
“Starting with the completely newly-developed Audi A4 DTM after the winter break was a difficult task,” reflected Scheider. “Nobody would have expected us to strike like this on a circuit that used to be Mercedes territory. I want to really thank Audi and the Abt squad for this brilliant feat. They laid the foundation for what we achieved today.
“Except for my start, my race was perfect. I had a bit too much wheelspin – that's why Mattias passed me. I wasn't able to follow him too closely because my car would have had more understeer in that case.
“The car was good enough for winning the race. I think my team and I are strong enough to fight for podium places and also victories on numerous other occasions this year.”
“That was a superb race,” agreed Kristensen. “Having started from fifth position on the grid, it was clear to me that I'd have to fight in a Mercedes sandwich. My crew had a good strategy and performed an excellent pit-stop.