The first encounter between the DTM drivers at Zandvoort for the ninth and penultimate round of the season saw the Abt-Audi drivers setting the pace, rather than the championship-leading Mercedes, with Opel in close attendance.

After 90 minutes of free practice, last year's race winner Mattias Ekstr?m established himself as the man on top. Running one of the Red Bull-backed Abt-Audi TT-Rs, he outpaced stable-mate Laurent Aiello by half a second to comfortably head the times.

"I did an impeccable lap, something that one does only rarely," Ekstr?m admitted, "My Audi was perfect, and the track - with its fast corners - is really fun."

Third place was occupied by another Audi driver, Karl Wendlinger, who led the first of the championship contenders, and local hero, Christijan Albers with the AMG-Mercedes CLK.

"The track is just great and a real challenge every time round," said Albers, who has already won three races this year, "Thinking of the fact that thousands of my compatriots will be supporting me sends shivers down my spine."

In fifth place, Peter Dumbreck was the fastest driver with an Opel Astra, while the second local favourite - Opel youngster Jeroen Bleekemolen - put his Astra Coup? in seventh place, ahead of stable-mates Manuel Reuter and Alain Menu.

"Maybe I have a little bit of a home advantage here," Bleekemolen, who grew up just down the road from Zandvoort, smiled, "After all, I did my first laps here at the age of eight!"

Points leader Bernd Schneider was only 13th.



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