Alesi Dominates in Hockenheim

Jean Alesi drove a commanding race after an early safety car period to claim the season opening DTM race at the Hockenheimring

Alesi Dominates in Hockenheim

Alesi, who started from fifth on the grid, had an average start, while ahead of him Gary Paffett took the lead from polesitter Mattias Ekstrom, followed through turn one by Manuel Fassler and Jamie Green as chaos reigned behind them.

Laurent Aiello, who had a quick start, ran wide into the first turn and spun on the kerb, dragging a number of others with him as the field fought for a way around the melee. When the smoke cleared Aiello, Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello and Manuel Reuter were out on the spot, sparking a full course yellow and the implementation of the safety car.

Martin Tomczyk came in for quick stop the first time around but the repairs were to no avail - one lap later he was back in the pits for good.

The field were stuck behind the safety car until lap six, when the drivers tried to make up for lost time. Paffett and Ekstrom ran side by side for a number of corners, coming together and causing the Briton's door to swing open uselessly while Heinz-Harald Frentzen drove up the back of Alexandros Margaritis at the hairpin, creating more work for the panel builders.

The leading pair dived in for the first of their two stops one lap later, handing the lead to Alesi, who had found a way by Green and Berndt Schneider. The rookie came in for his stop one lap later, putting himself out behind the former lead pair as Paffett's door popped open again despite some rapid repairs.

The new leading trio was the slightly out of sequence grouping of Alesi, Stefan Mucke and Christian Abt, while on the other side of the circuit, Margaritis managed to spin at the hairpin by himself, shedding bodywork to the wind as he went.

Schneider, who had stopped under the caution period, claimed the lead from Alesi after the latter stopped on lap 14, coming out ahead of the constantly sparring Paffett and Ekstrom.

The Briton's door was clearly causing him some grief, but in the absence of a call from the marshalls he was determined to continue on until his next scheduled stop, which came on lap 16 along with mechanics bearing duct tape for more running repairs.

The stop, which did little to hold the door in place, gave Paffett just one lap respite from the scuffle with Ekstrom, who came out from his stop right on Paffett's tail, with a fast charging Schneider popping out ahead of the pair.

The stops handed Alesi the lead again, and he used the clean track in front of him to pull away from Green and Abt - the Frenchman clearly sensed a win was on the cards, and was pulling out all stops to build as much of a lead as possible before his final stop.

The impressively quick Green was in on lap 19, while on track Fassler was chasing down Bruno Spengler, who blocked his challenger ahead of the hairpin before running wide out of the turn. Fassler was a passenger at that stage, spinning off the kerb but astonishingly keeping his car off the inside wall before slowly heading back towards the main complex.

A lap later Schneider was surprising in again - it was his third stop in a two stop race, and his speed didn't point to any sort of car problem. Alesi followed him in two laps later for the last of his late stops - running long had worked out well for him, as after the pit stops had shaken out the running order was Alesi from Paffett, Ekstrom, Schneider and Green.

Schneider laughed off suggestions that he had any problems by easily dispatching Ekstrom on lap 26, setting up a Mercedes 1-2-3 on track to the obvious delight of the crowd.

Further back in the pack Kaffer suffered a flat front right tyre after hitting Spengler at the hairpin, causing the German to limp back to the pits and retirement.

Behind the leading trio Green was putting Ekstrom under a lot of pressure, the rookie not deferring in any way to the champion. The pair swapped positions all over the track, with Green looking to have come out on top at last at the hairpin - Ekstrom stayed on his tail and, a few turns later, just caught the rear of Green's car, causing the Briton to run wide and opening up the track.

Unfortunately for Ekstrom he didn't have the track to himself - Abt had been trailing the pair, and sailed straight by them both to claim fourth for himself.

Schneider was applying pressure to Paffett, but he wasn't able to get quite close enough to take a look - he kept the pressure on all the way to the flag, but just didn't have enough to make a move. Further back Mika Hakkinen was trying the same moves on Mucke, but a wayward move over the kerbs was enough to make him hold station for the last lap.

Well ahead of the battles Alesi sailed on serenely, taking the chequered flag to the clear approval of the flare waving fans, who were rewarded on the slow down lap by the emotional Frenchman stopping in front of Mercedes stand to get out and wave before heading back to kiss the ground on the front straight. 

Alesi was exultant, stating afterwards: "I feel really happy! The race was really tough at the start, but to start the season like this with Mercedes in the first three was fantastic for the whole team."

Paffett was sanguine about his second position, noting: "For sure with the door open the aero wasn't so good and there was a lot of oversteer, so considering that second was pretty good. Second is a good start to the season, but we look forward to the next race."

Schneider seemed more contented with his day's work, claiming: "Honestly the car was brilliant in the race. The team worked really well and we had a good strategy, a three stop strategy, and to be honest third was probably more than we expected."

But the day belonged to Alesi, who was handed the winner's trophy on the podium to roars of approval from the large crowd.

DTM race, Hockenheimring:

Pos Driver Team Time 1. Jean Alesi AMG-Mercedes C-Class 1h04:48.245 2. Gary Paffett AMG-Mercedes C-Class + 5.643 3. Bernd Schneider AMG-Mercedes C-Class + 6.420 4. Christian Abt Audi A4 DTM + 8.955 5. Mattias Ekstrom Audi A4 DTM + 12.937 6. Jamie Green AMG-Mercedes C-Class + 16.421 7. Stefan Mucke AMG-Mercedes C-Class + 20.565 8. Mika Hakkinen AMG-Mercedes C-Class + 22.065 9. Marcel Fassler Opel Vectra GTS V8 + 27.588 10. Frank Stippler Audi A4 DTM + 28.002 11. Allan McNish Audi A4 DTM + 36.232 12. Bruno Spengler AMG-Mercedes C-Class + 36.805 13. Pierre Kaffer Audi A4 DTM + 9 laps 14. Alexandros Margaritis AMG-Mercedes C-Class + 22 laps 15. Heinz-Harald Frentzen Opel Vectra GTS V8 + 25 laps 16. Martin Tomczyk Audi A4 DTM + 34 laps 17. Manuel Reuter Opel Vectra GTS V8 + 36 laps 18. Tom Kristensen Audi A4 DTM + 37 laps 19. Laurent Aiello Opel Vectra GTS V8 + 37 laps 20. Rinaldo Capello Audi A4 DTM + 37 laps All Timing Unofficial 
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