Among the leading Mercedes-Benz runners in 2003, Marcel F?ssler has made the surprise decision to change his allegiance and join Opel for the 2004 DTM campaign.

The Swiss driver finished third overall in this year's series, chasing eventual champion Bernd Schneider and runner-up Christijan Albers, but will line-up against his former stable-mates after switching to the Opel squad this week. German Formula Three vice-champion in 1999 while powered by an Opel engine, Fassler has been competing in the DTM since 2000. For the first three seasons, the 27-year old finished the championship in fourth place, before moving up to a career-best third place in 2003. His track record so far includes three race wins, including back-to-back successes at Austria's A1-Ring.

"I look forward to this new challenge with Opel with great anticipation," Fassler said on signing his contract in R?sselsheim, 'With Opel and the Vectra GTS, I have good prospects of continuing to fight for top positions in the DTM."

Opel motorsport director Volker Strycek was equally pleased to have landed a major player as the new member of his squad.

"Marcel F?ssler is one of the best drivers in the DTM," he enthused, "He is highly experienced, sensible as well as being a strong fighter, and is capable of winning races. We're convinced that he will be a tremendous asset to our team."

Despite opting to run the all-new Vectra GTS V8 next year, Opel intends to prepare at least four such cars in a total of seven entries. In addition to Fassler, the marque also confirmed that Peter Dumbreck and Manuel Reuter have been signed up for 2004.

Dumbreck renewed his contract with Opel prior to the DTM finale at Hockenheim, having proven to be the squad's best-placed driver in 2003. The 30-year old Scot - who switched to Opel from Mercedes for this year's campaign - took a season's best of second at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz.

"Opel has given my career a new boost," Dumbreck said, "This year with them has whetted my appetite for more, and I'm convinced that the team has a lot more potential."

Reuter's contract, which has been in effect for the past ten years, remains in place, despite a disappointing 2003 campaign, but veteran Joachim Winkelhock appears to have called time on his 25-year racing career, although he will remain with Opel by taking over various responsibilities as an 'OPC ambassador'.

The rest of the seven-man team remains unconfirmed, with Strycek admitting that he has several interesting options open to him.

"We will select the drivers for our 2004 line-up very carefully," he stressed, "We're talking to our previous drivers as well as some new names - including some from Formula One."

In two evaluations held at Misano and Vallelunga, Opel scrutinised ten drivers from different motorsport categories.

"These evaluations have again been very interesting and conclusive," Strycek revealed, "Last year, we signed three drivers who participated in those appraisals. Now, we're going to evaluate if any of the drivers from this year's evaluations are eligible candidates for the DTM and, if so, who they are."

 

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