The ingredients for the final round of the 2003 DTM season are a guarantee for drama and excitement at the Hockenheimring Baden-W?rttemberg this weekend.

For the first time in the four-year history of the new-look DTM, the battle for the championship crown will be decided at the remodelled German circuit in the final round and, as if the tension could not be heightened any further, the two rivals for the title - AMG Mercedes team-mates Bernd Schneider and Christijan Albers - are separated by only one point.

The rivals for the title can hardly be more different. At 39 years, points leader Schneider is the most successful DTM driver ever, while 24-year old Dutchman Albers only graduated into the Mercedes works team HWA at the start of the season. Regarding season wins, it is 4-2 in favour of the newcomer, who had made a name for himself before 2003 with a one-year old CLK. Having only just been promoted to the 'A-team' however, Albers surprised with his maiden victory in the second season round at the Adria Raceway.

"Bernd will be very strong, but I will give everything - like in every race," the youngster insisted.

Three-time champion Schneider is optimistic.

"Hockenheim is my home round," he pointed out, "I like the track very much - I know every corner and I have had a lot of successes here. I am convinced that we will see one of the most dramatic races of this year's DTM."

Mercedes-Benz motorsport director Norbert Haug knows that he can't really lose this weekend, but refuses to try and pick a winner.

"With Bernd and Christijan separated by only one point, the title race is completely open before the final at Hockenheim, and we are all looking forward to a great race in front of a capacity crowd," he said, "There will be some 12,000 Mercedes-Benz employees keeping their fingers crossed for Bernd and Christijan at the circuit. Whichever of them wins the championship after this season really has deserved the title. Our rivals Audi and Opel will be strong at Hockenheim, but it would be nice if we can finish this successful season for Mercedes-Benz with a victory."

However, the final ingredient in a tasty weekend comes in the shape of an eager and hungry supporting cast, all aiming for a victory with which to polish off the season. Opel's Timo Scheider, in particular, will be looking to put the record straight, having only just missed out on a race win at Zandvoort through not fault of his own. Then there is fellow Opel driver Peter Dumbreck, who has been avidly collecting points and has already been on the podium this season after finishing second at the Lausitzring.

Scheider has unfinished business after having been the tragic hero of the ninth round in Holland. There, the 24-year old had taken pole position with the Opel Astra V8 Coup? before turning this into the race lead with an excellent start. However, problems during his normally efficient pit-stop prevented the German from claiming his first-ever DTM win.

"Our team was strong at Zandvoort as a whole, we were the strongest make out there," he said, "We have shown that we are capable of winning a race with our Astra Coup?, and that gives us courage and energy for the final. We will be fighting until the final lap."

Manuel Reuter, the 1996 ITC champion with the Opel Calibra V6, also believes the weekend looks promising.

"At Hockenheim, our fans can expect an Opel crew that is 100 per cent motivated," he said, "I think that we are quite well sorted for the final. The grand prix track - with its good combination of rather slow and fast corners - is fun and it should suit our car, too. Moreover, there are opportunities for overtaking there. We would like to thank our fans for their loyalty with a race win."

Opel motorsport director Volker Strycek confirmed that the marque would be holding nothing back.

"We are well prepared going into the final and we will do everything to show a similarly strong performance like at Zandvoort," he said, "The most beautiful thing would be when we would get the reward for our performance, too."

Of course, it is also the goal of Laurent Aiello to bow out of his championship year with a victory in his Abt-Audi TT-R, and team-mate Mattias Ekstr?m also has his mind set on first place after showing his abilities once again with a sensational recovery drive in the Netherlands.

"I will be giving everything to bow out of my championship year with a victory," the Frenchman confirmed.

Having become champion in 2002 with four race wins, Aiello has only won at the N?rburgring so far this year, but last year's most dominant driver has also had opposition from within his own team this year, with 25-year old colleague Ekstr?m leading the way. After a spirited drive towards a podium place at the most recent round at Zandvoort, the Swede demoted the multiple touring car champion from fourth place in the championship standings.

"My goal is clear - I want to win the final," Ekstr?m insisted, "It will be a flat-out fight at Hockenheim, so the others better be prepared. For me, it isn't a big thing in which place of the championship I will eventually be. Winning is the only thing that counts - after all, I was runner-up last year."

"Mattias has shown at Zandvoort that he could have been further up on the podium had it not been for his problems at the start," team principal Hans-J?rgen Abt admitted, "Our car was among the frontrunners, which was shown by the lap times. We are looking forward and will be attacking again during the final."

The fans know that the recipe is a good one, too - some 45,000 tickets have already been sold prior to the event, creating a record for the DTM.

 

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