Defending DTM Champion Mattias Ekstr?m is endeavouring to keep his hopes of retaining his hard-fought title alive this weekend when the pan-European touring car series arrives on Spanish soil in Barcelona - but he knows that in order to do so, first he will need a change of luck.

The Swede - who clinched the DTM crown in both 2004 and 2007 - currently sits ten points adrift of in-form Audi team-mate Timo Scheider in the drivers' standings, with 30 remaining up for grabs. Though he has been out of luck around the Circuit de Catalunya since the series' debut at the track back in 2006, Ekstr?m can at least take encouragement from the fact that in both previous outings there the A4 DTM was inarguably the car to beat.

"We were very strong in Barcelona in the last two years," the 30-year-old affirmed, "however I had trouble in both races with Mercedes drivers and didn't manage to get on the podium there. Maybe it'll be third time lucky.

"I'd really like to boost my title chances with a win. I will concentrate on qualifying, so that we can fight from the front already from the start!"

Indeed, qualifying has been a particular forte for Audi both in Barcelona - with two pole positions from two starts - and in 2008 in general, having outpaced Mercedes on Saturday afternoons six times to two. On both occasions that the Ingolstadt manufacturer secured the top spot on the grid in Spain, it was Martin Tomczyk who delivered.

"We've been to Barcelona twice before, and on both occasions I took pole position in the wet," recalled the German, who achieved his maiden DTM victory in the race two years ago and this weekend will celebrate his 80th appearance in the championship.

"I actually only have fond memories of the circuit, apart from last year's race of course [when he collided with the Mercedes of Mika Hakkinen]. I think the track suits both Audi and Mercedes - we can expect an exciting race there."

"I love the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona as a city and the people," added fellow Audi star and 'Mr Le Mans' Tom Kristensen, "which is why I'm really looking forward to it. The circuit has always been the scene of exciting races. The championship is incredibly close this year, and anything is possible in Barcelona."

Though both Tomczyk and Kristensen - at respectively 28 and 32 points shy of the championship lead - are now out of the battle for overall glory, one man firmly in the fight is Scheider, who has already set an impressive four pole positions this year and converted that pace into six rostrum finishes and a brace of victories, most recently at Brands Hatch at the end of last month.

"I can hardly wait to get to Barcelona," the 29-year-old enthused, as he seeks to take his maiden DTM title incredibly in the same season in which he scored his breakthrough race win. "We are very motivated after winning at Brands Hatch.

"With a nine-point lead we can approach things in a slightly more relaxed way, but we have to stay focussed as anything is possible in the DTM. There are still another 30 points to be won, which is why we have to do everything possible to be at the front in Barcelona as well."

With nothing to separate Audi and Mercedes in the teams' championship either, Head of Audi Motorsport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich well recognises that the campaign is entering its critical phase - and that, in the country that is the marque's third-largest foreign European market, there can be absolutely no margin for error.

"We have a nine-point lead in the championship when we go to Barcelona," he reflected. "However, we can't rest on our laurels. We have to get another good result, and for this we'll work hard."

"Barcelona is a great race track," added Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline team director Hans-J?rgen Abt. "The track suits our Audi, the team is very motivated after winning at Brands Hatch and we still have two irons in the fire as far as the championship is concerned, so hopefully we can continue our winning ways in Barcelona."


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