Part two of the DTM final sprint takes place at Zandvoort this weekend, as the drivers contest the ninth and penultimate round of the season on the tricky seaside circuit hidden in the sand dunes bordering the North Sea.

"Zandvoort is both difficult and attractive but, above all, it's a real driver's track," revealed veteran Joachim Winkelhock, "I particularly relish the atmosphere there, with so many spectators sitting and standing on the natural slopes of the sand dunes. This is truly unique and, if anything, might compare with the N?rburgring Nordschleife. Zandvoort brings back many pleasant memories from the beginning of my career when I used to drive the Renault Cup there, competing, among others, against Volker Strycek, who is now Opel's motorsport director."

Year after year, the former grand prix circuit fascinates drivers and spectators alike with its unique characteristics that virtually provoke thrilling races. Hence it comes as no surprise that more than 32,000 tickets have been sold in advance for the 2003 event.

"32,000 tickets sold in advance means we can again count on having a fantastic audience," Opel Motorsport boss Volker Strycek commented, "Spectator response at the A1-Ring was extremely impressive as well, as was the great atmosphere in the stands and in the paddock.

"After eight races of 2003, we've been averaging well over 58,000 spectators. Zandvoort and Hockenheim are both guaranteed to be exciting races, owing to the championship being decided then. Everyone is determined to give their level best once more before the winter break. This is true for Opel, too. We know the capabilities of our drivers and our Astra V8 Coup?: We definitely want to get back on the podium."

A year ago, Opel drivers Manuel Reuter and Timo Scheider finished the Zandvoort round in fourth and fifth places respectively, and the marque appears likely to be chasing similar positions this time around as Mercedes and Audi continue to hold sway in terms of race wins. Most recently, at the A1-Ring, Opel had to settle for a seventh-place finish from Alain Menu, after the two best-placed Astras - driven by Scheider and Peter Dumbreck - fell victim to a crash on the first lap and had to retire early.

"It's a real pity that I've not been able to score any points in two consecutive races," Dumbreck sighed, "Of course, this can always happen, but a crash like the one at the A1-Ring, on the opening lap, is definitely frustrating, especially given the fact that things had really been looking good for us there.

"Now, I'll do my level best to beef up my score at Zandvoort and, then, at the season finale at Hockenheim. Zandvoort is a circuit with many flowing corners, some of which are really fast. I love such corners, and the Astra's well-suited for them, too."

Taking advantage of the close proximity of the two tracks, Opel moved on to the Pannonia-Ring in Hungary immediately after the race at the A1-Ring in order to begin testing for Zandvoort. There, Dumbreck and Scheider ran alongside Menu, and conduced set-up tests, seemingly unhampered by the rain which was almost constant throughout.

"We can't rule out the possibility of rain in the two final races, can we?" Dumbreck smiled.

For Opel's junior driver, Jeroen Bleekemolen, the race at Zandvoort marks the highlight of the year. The 21-year old, who has been showing constant improvement in the 470bhp Astra of late, practically grew up at the track, and has done countless laps there, starting at the tender age of eight. Bleekemolen, who comes from a Dutch motorsport family, will not be the only one of his kin starting from the Zandvoort grid this weekend, as father Michael, whose extensive racing career saw him rise all the way to Formula One, will be contesting the Porsche Carrera Cup.

"The first time I drove at Zandvoort I was eight years old - of course, in the company of an adult - and the first race I drove in, in 1998 at the age of 16, was at Zandvoort, too, naturally," he grinned, eager to go home again, "I finished second straight away. And I even won my second race, again at Zandvoort.

"I live in Ardenhout, only a stone's throw away from the circuit, where I've probably done more laps than all of my fellow DTM drivers combined. Nevertheless, I don't think that this'll be of any benefit for me, really, as most of the other drivers have far more experience in the DTM than I have. In any case, my goal is to again make it into the superpole qualifying, and to score my first points. It would be smashing if I managed to do this in front of my home audience."

 

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