What was regarded as a promising DTM career has turned into rather a short one for Germany's Steffen Schulz.

The 24-year-old had just been upgraded to being Opel?s official DTM junior when he decided he couldn?t handle the pressure - and stepped down from what potentially is a dream job for any racing driver.

It was an end with a long beginning, as Schulz had been snapped up by Opel as long as three years ago. Then, he had just burst onto the German domestic scene via the Renault Megane Cup. After a career in karting and a short spell in Germany?s beginners?
formula Formel Konig he turned his attention to tintops, winning the U21 category of the Megane Cup in his debut season, and the overall title just one year later.

This was enough to earn him a reputation within Opel, which at that time was still running its works Vectra campaign in the German Super Touring Car Championship, for front-wheel driven cars just like the two-litre Megane Schulz had been successful in. Opel gave him a factory contract and put him into the German Deutsche Tourenwagen Challenge [DTC] for Group N-plus cars, where Schulz initially failed to impress as second driver in an unofficially factory backed father-and-son-team.

Opel?s sporting director Volker Strycek still believed in the potential of his blond-haired rookie, however, and kept on promising him testing opportunities in the second part of last season. Although having been a racing driver himself, and thus knowing how difficult it can be to get used to the sheer power, let alone the rear-wheel drive, of a DTM car, Strycek time and again failed to fulfil his promise. Schulz was left hanging in the balance, only given one serious test and thrown into what he felt was very cold water: Strycek upgraded him to a full factory driver for this year?s DTM campaign - without having provided the necessary preparation.

Schulz, although delighted to get that chance, felt a bit sceptical. And, when both media and fans began to make all sorts of remarks and questioned why Schulz and not somebody they had heard more of before had got the drive in Joachim Winkelhock?s 2000 car, the pressure was just too much for him. After a couple of tests with the factory team, Schulz announced three days prior to the official DTM launch that he would retire.

"I don?t feel like I?ll be able to handle the pressure that?s been put on me from the outside," he said, "and I?m sure that will affect my performance in the car, too."

Schulz departure was even more surprising as he had shown a lot of potential in testing. Sources from within the Holzer team suggest the data recording from Schulz?s car revealed driving and being competitive would not have been a problem - unlike with some other drivers Opel took on board for this year. But his mind simply didn?t appear to be in the right frame - something that easily could have been avoided by giving him a better preparation and support.

For now, Steffen Schulz is the first retirement of the DTM season 2001 and, even though Strycek promised he would continue supporting him, odds are that Schulz?s career as a professional is over before it really began. He, it appears, is the one to blame least for that.