It may now be more than two years since he last won a race in the series, but Tom Kristensen has expressed his desire to return to the DTM again in 2009 - and prove that he is good enough to be champion.

The Dane has been affectionately dubbed 'Mr Le Mans' for his record-breaking eight glories in the legendary French round-the-clock endurance classic, but to-date he has never enjoyed the same level of success in Europe's premier touring car series, triumphing just three times in 50 races.

That said, in both 2005 and 2006 he wound up third in the final drivers' standings in the fiercely-contested championship, and in the latter campaign he was Audi's leading light, taking the fight to the dominant Mercedes-Benz duo of Bernd Schneider and Bruno Spengler with some brio.

In the following two years, however, Kristensen has placed just 14th and eighth respectively, the legacy of a hospitalising accident in the opening meeting at Hockenheim last season that forced him to miss the following three rounds, and a wave of ill-fortune in 2008 that he argues cost him what would have been a much higher finish.

"I'm ready for another crack at the DTM," the 41-year-old told Radio, "because this was not my best year results-wise. I was fast many times, but I would say I certainly got the short end of the stick when I was on pole - one time I made a jump-start and two times I took the wrong tyres big-time for the conditions. The maximum 30 points I potentially lost there would obviously have made quite a big difference."

That they would, but as ever, the 2009 campaign is likely to see the man from Hobro battling on dual fronts, as he equally spearheads Audi's sportscar challenge. Though, suffering like all car makers from the current global credit crunch, the Ingolstadt manufacturer has announced its intention to curtail its American Le Mans Series programme next year, Kristensen is convinced it is the correct way to go.

"Every time Audi has gone in with a new car, it has been a three-year programme," he explained, "and with the R10 TDi, after the three years it bows out. In the first year of the R10, it was only Sebring and Le Mans and then afterwards you would look at the whole season. For the moment there's nothing new to that, just that they won't race the old car.

"We have the new R15 TDi from Audi (for the Sebring 12 Hours and Le Mans 24 Hours), and Dr Ullrich at the moment is trying to make sure that we will keep expanding the programme. We have the Audi R8 LMS as well (for customer teams).

"It's true that they may be cutting budgets, but I think it's also true that they are being very clever and wise in trying to make a profit with the Audi R8 LMS. The car is very attractive to a lot of teams and a lot of people at the moment, so in that sense I would say they're using their energy and force a little bit on that.

"In due course Dr Ullrich will reveal what exactly will happen with the drivers and where they will race. Maybe you won't see us racing so much until at least after Le Mans, but I've had my talk with him and I said I'm ready; wherever Audi wants me to go I will do that."

Kristensen was talking during the annual Race of Champions end-of-season extravaganza at Wembley Stadium, where he and Audi DTM team-mate Mattias Ekstr?m were narrowly pipped to Nations' Cup glory by the German pairing of Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, before he went out in the first round of the drivers' contest to the seven-time Formula 1 World Champion too.

"We finished in the final of the Nations' Cup," he affirmed, "and I had the pleasure of having very good fights in the front wheel-drive Fiat Abarth Turbo against Yvan Muller, then beating Jenson Button in the same car, and then in the Race of Champions car against [Andy] Priaulx.

"To have two runs in the RoC car against Michael and lose by less than two tenths or something like that, I would say it was a job not done to perfection, but close. If you look at the times, I think we set the fastest time in the RoC car all day.

"Unfortunately I was a little bit slower in the drivers' competition, and for sure you can choose worse than Michael Schumacher to go out against. He did very well in that car last year too - it seems to be his favourite - so in that sense I was pretty pleased.

"David [Coulthard] basically crashed everything and he made it to the final, so those were the tactics [to take], and well done. Obviously it would have been lovely to see him win in a year where he bowed out of the big one (F1). He certainly entertained the crowds, but he kept the mechanics busy too!"

by Russell Atkins



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