17 April 2005
Hockenheim 2005: Alesi leads Mercedes sweep.
Jean Alesi enjoyed a comparatively easy ride to victory in the opening round of the 2005 DTM series, but his Mercedes team-mates had to battle for position before completing a podium sweep.
The Frenchman, something of a forgotten figure in the hype surrounding Mika Hakkinen's arrival and Gary Paffett's title hopes, used a long first stint to establish himself in the leading group and then retained his mid-race lead following his second stop to pull away from the scrapping field.
Team-mate Paffett had got the initial jump from second on the grid, but any hope that the Briton had had of making an early break over poleman - and reigning champion - Mathias Ekstrom was halted by a first corner pile-up that eliminated half the Opel entry as well as potential winner Tom Kristensen.
Opel's Laurent Aiello was largely to blame for the incident, locking up into the corner after a good getaway, running wide and then , getting caught out by the still wet kerbs, speared back to the inside of the track. The black Playboy-backed Vectra collected Kristensen's Audi, while the 2004-spec A4 of 'Dindo' Capello smacked into the back of the already imbedded Opel. Manuel Reuter was the other unwitting victim of his stablemate's impetuosity, retiring the Valvoline Vectra in the pits.
The safety car remained out until the end of lap six, by which time Audi had also lost the fast -starting Martin Tomczyk. The youngster appeared to have missed the worst of the melee, but two pit-stops to check over his Red Bull car eventually diagnosed suspension problems.
That left Paffett at the head of the field, but with a much reduced advantage over Ekstrom, who was intent on moving back to the front. Marcel Fassler gave Opel something to cheer early on, a flying start elevating him to third to the road, ahead of debutant Jamie Green, Alesi, Bernd Schneider, Bruno Spengler, Stefan Mucke and Allan McNish.
Ekstrom and Paffett began their battle almost as soon as the safety car had withdrawn, the Swede flicking on his lights as he attempted to muscle past into the hairpin on lap seven. Paffett, however, was in no mood to cede his advantage, getting back alongside the Audi on the run down to the Mercedes complex and holding position. The leading trio then proceeded to pit, and all Paffett's efforts proved to be in vain as the Audi crew turned his rival around in shorter order.
Worse was to come for the Briton, however, as it quickly became apparent that his driver-side door had been damaged in the contact with Ekstrom, and was now flapping open on right-handers.
With Alesi getting ahead of Green on the same lap, the Frenchman was now the nominal leader, and he continued to run out front while those behind him took turns to stop for the first of two mandatory tyre changes. Green pitted from second on lap ten, allowing multiple champion Schneider to slot in behind Alesi, but the German's race was not to be easy either, as a jump-start penalty saw him making the first of three pit visits a lap later.
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