6 October 2003
Alesi's day, Bernd's year in dramatic DTM finale
With Mercedes' Norbert Haug and Co. watching captively on pit wall, Albers spent lap 25 sizing up his teammate, occasionally darting out from Schneider's slipstream as if to try and distract the former Zakspeed and Arrows Formula One driver and factory Mercedes GT star.
However disaster struck on the very next lap for as the two began braking for the hairpin, Albers' left rear tyre went flat in similar fashion to Schneider's and the former FIA International Formula 3000 pilot was just about able to haul his car onto the outside rumble strip and into the run-off area without collecting his oblivious teammate. After more than half a lap running at reduced pace on his way back to the pits, Albers' third stop dropped him to 17th and brought the title chase to a disappointing end.
With Schneider now staring a third DTM title in four years straight in the face, attention turned to the battle for the lead, a highly dramatic affair from the word go as polesitter Mattias Ekstrom fought to hold off Jean Alesi in the opening laps only to watch the mercurial French Sicilian grab the point on lap eight.
Barring the pit-stop shuffles, which yet again allowed Gary Paffett to lead the field for a short time, Alesi maintained top spot throughout, with Ekstrom sitting a couple of seconds in arrears and a relatively safe distance ahead of the intense battle for third initially between Dumbreck and Schneider but later disputed by Dumbreck, Marcel Fassler and Laurent Aiello.
However as the laps wound down the Red Bull Abt Audi driver gathered a final wind and began to exert more pressure on Alesi, even giving the ex-Ferrari driver a couple of love taps on the 37th and final lap before completing a MotoGP-esque criss-cross battle across the finish line to the absolute delight of the German crowd.
Alesi's first DTM win outside of Donington Park was greeted with major smiles all round and he, new Champ Schneider and the gracious-in-defeat Albers all performed an impressive set of collective victory donuts in front of the imposing new infield grandstand at Hockenheim.
“I am just happy”, said a largely lost-for-words Schneider at the finish. “I'm extremely happy about the championship and I thank everybody in the team for the excellent work throughout the season. This title is something really special for me, because I won it after a hard season and against strong opposition.”
“Indeed, you need that little bit of luck, and that is what I missed today”, Albers summed up. “I am still young, and I can look back upon a fantastic season.“
Schneider also gave credit to his rival. “It would have been really close. But I can live with the fact that it finally was like this”, added a slightly relieved Champion.
Mercedes-Benz motorsport director Norbert Haug felt compassion with Albers:
“It is hard, and I feel sorry for him. But the script for this season couldn't have been better. A big hand also to Jean Alesi, he showed a great drive. And I also would like to give a compliment to our opponents of Audi and Opel: maybe, we were a little bit better here and there, but all in all, the three makes were balanced.”
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