Marcel Fassler drove far above his 26 years as he held off DTM maestro Bernd Schneider to score his first win of the season at the A1 Ring.
The Swiss born AMG Mercedes driver took advantage of a chaotic start to the eighth round of the 2003 Championship to hold on to his pole position during an early safety car period and, when the two mandatory pit windows weren't jumbling the order, wasn't headed for the rest of the day.
Although the lead swapped hands several times over the course of the 40-lap blast around the rather slippery Austrian venue, Fassler was always in control as he kept fellow factory Mercedes driver Schneider at bay for a full 30 laps.
Once Schneider had manoeuvred his Vodafone sponsored Mercedes ahead of Express Service Mercedes driver Christijan Albers into second place thanks to a lightning fast first pit stop, he trailed Fassler mercilessly, waiting for the young, less experienced driver to make a mistake.
But it never came.
Twice in the final ten laps Schneider took a glance to Fassler's inside as the pair raced towards the tight second hairpin at the top of the circuit but twice Fassler had him covered. On the 40th and final tour the defending A1 Ring winner ran inches wide going into the above turn and Schneider briefly drew alongside but, in a style similar to that played out in the classic final laps of last year's DTM race at the Austrian track, Fassler showed a little muscle and a little more black paint in keep the multi-time Champ at bay.
Schneider wasn't too perturbed with his second place effort after narrowly avoiding the opening lap accident between front row man Jean Alesi and Audi's Christian Abt, which sent both cars spinning hard into the inside barrier on the downhill stretch following turn one and also eliminated Opel contenders Peter Dumbreck and Timo Scheider. With two rounds remaining this year, the former Zakspeed and Arrows Formula One pilot extends his points advantage over third place finisher Albers to three points, Fassler promoting himself to third a total of nine markers adrift with 20 left in play.
After challenging Fassler for the lead in the first few laps following the safety car, which came out while Alesi's smashed Mercedes was removed from the centre of the track, Albers disappointingly faded away in the second half of the race and finished almost six seconds behind the two leaders.
The Dutchman was still comfortably clear of the first non-Mercedes mounted finisher, 2002 Champ Laurent Aiello, who overcame a damaged right rear corner during the opening lap melee to comfortably out-race his nearest inter-marque challenger, Mattias Ekstrom.
The two TT-R's battled hard for fourth place in the early stages with Ekstrom gaining the upper hand initially only to drop behind the multiple Super Touring Champion coming out of turn two on lap 16.