The opening round of the 2002 DTM will see several firsts at the Hockenheimring's short circuit this weekend. For the first time in a race the cars will be lapping the track in under a minute, the races will for the first time both use a standing start, and Formula One style points structure has been adopted. Twenty-one cars are due to be on the grid - five Abt-Audi TT-Rs, ten Mercedes-Benz CLK-DTMs and six Opel Astra V8 Coup?s.

In testing at the track in April, Peter Dumbreck took his Mercedes round in 57.923 seconds, quicker than even the high-tech DTM-cars of the mid-1990s, fully loaded with electronic driver aids, managed achieve.

The increase in speed is the result of four factors, according to Opel works-driver Joachim Winkelhock: ''Our race cars are significantly faster, the new Dunlop tyres are great, the track is 34 metres shorter and the new tarmac gives more grip than the old, where even the pebble stones came out already.''

Not only the track has been resurfaced, the gravel traps have been covered with tarmac, too. The only regret for the Swabian local hero: ''The dip in the Opel corner is now less steep. In the past, you really drove into a hole and because of the compression, the cars oversteered a lot. That was great for the spectators - and pretty exciting for us as drivers.''

Winkelhock is impressed by his new Opel Astra V8 Coup?: ''I immediately felt at ease, because the Astra Coup? reacts very directly. This is just what a race car has to be like.''

Team Abt Sportsline's Christian Abt summed up his team's approach to the first meeting: ''I am really looking forward to Hockenheim and the first comparison with Mercedes-Benz and Opel. Now, all the trams must put their cards on the table and show what they are up to.''

While in previous years, the Abt-Audi TT-Rs built-up in Kempten were only ready just before the season opener, the drivers now have racked up several thousands of kilometres in testing. ''There is no time for sandbagging in Hockenheim anymore'', says Abt. ''With the new points scheme, only race wins count this year, when you want to challenge for the championship title. And that is just what we want.''.

The two former F1-drivers Jean Alesi and Karl Wendlinger, popular new signings in the DTM, are cautiously optimistic.

''It is my first goal to keep up with my team mates as soon as possible'', says Wendlinger. ''After all, Abt Sportsline already showed last year that they are among the frontrunners. I want to keep up there.''

Jean Alesi, who ended his Formula 1-career after 201 Grands Prix in October 2001, says: ''I want to be competitive from the word go and fight for top places.'' Furthermore, it is important for the 37-year old ''to give the fans a good show. Because when they are having fun, I am happy, too.''

In his first DTM-season, the Frenchman has to take on the hardest opponent. He is team-mate to triple DTM-champion Bernd Schneider, who has set himself no lesser goal than ''defending the title''. The DTM-rookie, however, has one advantage compared to the champion: Alesi is acquainted with the new starting procedure from Formula 1.

''Personally, I regret the change a little, as I am completely out of practice. I haven't had a standing start for more than ten years'', says Schneider, but he admits: ''The standing start is fairer than the flying, so therefore it is a good change.''