It was excitement until the very last seconds of qualifying for the final round of the 2001 DTM at the Hockenheimring. After a total of seven lead changes, Opel-driver Michael Bartels set the best lap time in qualifying - the first pole-position for Opel in 2001.

The two drivers of the Eschmann Stahl-AMG-Mercedes-team, Patrick Huisman and Bernd Mayl?nder, will be starting behind Bartels, with Mattias Ekstr?m (Abt-Audi TT-R) in fourth place. All the three makes were within only four tenths of a second, and the first 13 drivers were within one second on the longest track of the DTM-calendar with 6.823 km. Bartels goes into history as the last-ever driver who set a best qualifying time on the full Hockenheim track - the circuit being re-built before the DTM returns at the end of 2002.

"Initially, it was a very hard session", said a visibly worn-out Michael Bartels. "For me, it really is a great relief. We have shown that Opel can do it, that the Astra Coup? is up to do the job and also that we, as drivers, are capable of something."

Opel motorsport director Volker Strycek added: "We wanted to fight like this all year. Six months ago, we noticed that we weren't competitive with our car. From the Sachsenring onwards, things got better. We haven't given up and we have been fighting. We have prepared ourselves once more for this final round. I am really happy and I hope that it will go on like this tomorrow. And also the positive development of the DTM as a whole gives us additional motivation for next year."

"After Opel's performance in the final round last year, it was clear that Opel would be strong here", said Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug. "Furthermore, the characteristic of the track doesn't suit our CLK. All the more impressive is the performance by the two drivers of the Eschmann-Stahl-team, Patrick and Bernd. Their second and third place also shows that we have identical cars, and that not only the HWA-cars are strong."

The two team mates had claimed top positions by giving each other perfect slipstreams. "At the beginning of the season, we as drivers and our team was new to the DTM", says Huisman. "It was clear to us that we would need some time to get to the level of the others. A nice thing in our Manthey-team is that Bernd and I have already been working together so well for a long time, and that one is genuinely happy for the other to score a good result."

"This was a real thriller today", said Hans-J?rgen Abt, team boss of Abt Sportsline. "We have achieved good results with the Audi Coup? in qualifying and we are hoping for a nice race tomorrow. It was a great season, all have made a great effort and have been working together really well. We will become a real DTM-family again, and I am proud of playing my role in this development. "

Norbert Haug added: "When you look into the eyes of the visitors in the paddock, you see the fascination. I expect some 40,000 to 50,000 spectators for tomorrow. Given the fact that the new DTM only started one and a half years ago, one can say without exaggerating that we have set a couple of milestones, both in the competition as such, but also as far as general interest in the DTM is concerned."