The DTM is heading into its most exciting final stage since returning to the international motorsport calendar four years ago, with the penultimate round of the 2003 series taking place at the Circuit Park Zandvoort in the Netherlands this weekend.

Three drivers are currently separated by only nine points at the top of the drivers' championship - Bernd Schneider with his AMG-Mercedes only has a three-point advantage over team-mate Christijan Albers, with fellow Mercedes runner Marcel F?ssler a further six adrift.

Defending champion Laurent Aiello holds only theoretical chances of retaining his title, as the Abt-Audi TT-R driver is 20 points down, but the Frenchman has a positive outlook on this weekend's event at the 4.3km seaside track, as Abt-team-mate Mattias Ekstr?m scored a dominant maiden win last year and cemented Aiello's title triumph.

"This race will always remain something special - for me and for the team," Aiello admitted, "After all, everything last year was so emotional - catching up, the joy together with my team-mates on the roof of the car, our instant title party. The only thing still missing is a victory at Zandvoort. My goal is a position among the first three in the championship, and the road there is quite clear - Abt Sportsline has to win the remaining two races."

Last year's winner also has designs on a repeat victory for Audi, however.

"The track at Zandvoort is always a challenge, because the circuit is very slippery," Ekstrom revealed, "but I like that, because it allows you to play a little bit with the car. Last year, I won here and I promised myself that it wouldn't be that long before the next win. So it's about time this weekend - at the latest."

Team principal Hans-J?rgen Abt shares the confidence of his two top drivers, particularly coming off the back of a better than expected outing in Austria.

"The lay-out of the track should suit the Audi, just like the N?rburgring," he said, "After all, Laurent won there."

Schneider, meanwhile, is also keen to do well, not least to keep his two young stable-mates from seizing the championship initiative.

"Zandvoort is one of the most beautiful tracks," the German said, "As a Dutchman, Christijan will get a lot of support, but a lot of pressure as well. I hope that I am still the championship leader after this race, then everything is open for Hockenheim."

"For me, the only important thing is getting the best result out of every race," Albers commented, "I don't have to become champion in my first year in the works team. However, I am hoping for massive support from my fellow countrymen - it is something very special when the fans are backing you."

Mercedes motorsport director Norbert Haug claimed that this year's DTM could rival the pinnacle of motorsport for excitement and tension, even though it was almost certain that one of his drivers would take the title.

"With two races to go, the title race in the DTM remains open and just as exciting as in Formula One," he said, "There is a chance that Bernd Schneider will become champion at Zandvoort, but Christijan Albers, who is three points down, and Marcel F?ssler, with nine points to make up, will do everything to make sure that Bernd's advantage is less than ten points before the final at Hockenheim on 5 October."

Determined to spoil the party, however, the Opel Astra V8 Coup? drivers are also confident - last year two of them finished in the top five at this Dutch circuit.

Alain Menu went well recently at the A1-Ring, as the Swiss ace made up a lot of ground from the back end of the field after an accident to take seventh place.

"I really like Zandvoort a lot, it is a great track for a driver, requiring courage with its fast corners that are a real challenge and are incredible fun," the double British Touring Car champion remarked, "Moreover, I think that we are quite well sorted for the character of the track with our Astra Coup?."

Fellow Opel driver Peter Dumbreck knows how tricky Zandvoort can be, but is keen to get back to the sort of form that had him challenging for podiums before the A1-Ring.

"Zandvoort is always a bit of a gamble, because the track conditions are extremely inconsistent - caused by the fact that the wind keeps blowing sand from the dunes onto the track," he explained, "However, I like the flair that this track has, with the spectators watching from the 'natural' grandstands in the dunes."

For Jeroen Bleekemolen, living only a stone's throw away from Zandvoort, the track is also something special.

"It is my goal to make it into Superpole for the second time this season," the 21-year old said, "and then score points during the race.

"I am so happy to see that the DTM is becoming more and more popular in the Netherlands. Now, even those people that aren't motorsport fans come and talk to me about the DTM."



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