Audi has confirmed speculation that it will return on a full-time basis to the DTM, but has had to face up to the news that it will not be accompanied by its leading runner over the past few years.

Last season, Audi's involvement was restricted to supporting customer and importer teams, but the famous marque will return to the series next season with a full complement of works teams. A total of six newly-developed 460bhp cars based on the A4 model, currently being developed by Audi Sport in Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm, will feature in two works teams contesting next season's DTM.

"The DTM has developed very strongly since its comeback four years ago," explained the company's head of sport Dr Wolfgang Ullrich, "Through Abt Sportsline, Audi was represented from the very beginning of the new DTM but, with our works involvement, we now make a logical step. The German market is extremely important for us, and the DTM is a perfect Europe-wide platform."

Team Abt Sportsline receives the status of works team, and will handle the cars of Christian Abt, shooting star Mattias Ekstr?m, DTM 'rookie' Tom Kristensen and former junior Martin Tomczyk.

Strengthening the squad in a prominent way will be a new team fielded by Reinhold Joest, who switches to the DTM after several seasons of dominating sportscar racing with the potent R8, including three back-to-back wins at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Joest will run two A4s, and retains his links with Le Mans winners Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro, who complete the high-calibre 2004 driver line-up.

Noticeable by his absence, however, is 2002 DTM champion Laurent Aiello. The Frenchman, who broke Mercedes' and Bernd Schneider's stranglehold on the series by winning for Abt, has said that he will not re-sign with the marque, and is rumoured to be seeking a move to either Mercedes or Opel for 2004.

Audi's return with a works team is expected to continue its successful tradition in touring car racing. It won from the word go in 1990 and 1991, taking the 'old' DTM title twice in succession with the V8 quattro. Between 1995 and 1999, the A4 quattro was the world's most successful super touring car and, since 2000, Team Abt Sportsline has shown that the TT-R coupe could compete with the best in the 'new' DTM.



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