Dominating in the DTM (German Touring Car Championship) is extremely difficult due to the tight regulations. Nevertheless, this is exactly what Audi did at the first two DTM races of 2008: with two commanding victories at Hockenheim and Oschersleben, the new Audi A4 DTM hit the headlines. The same is true for Timo Scheider, who celebrated his first DTM win and, on the first weekend in May, will go to a DTM race as the leader of the standings for the first time in his career.
The 29 year-old German, who lives in Lochau, Austria, is now regarded as the "man to beat" in the DTM. In his eighth year in the series he has made his debut as a member of the small circle of title candidates. A self-professed fan of Italy, he is particularly looking forward to the DTM's Italian round at Mugello - although his memories of the circuit in Tuscany are not necessarily the best: last year he retired after a collision on the first lap, and earlier this year he slid off the track in the new A4 DTM while testing in the rain.
The perfect start to the season has given Scheider as much self-confidence as it has to the entire Audi squad. Meanwhile, their rivals and the media tend to be more puzzled about how the new Audi A4 DTM is so fast. At Audi Sport in Ingolstadt the answer is pretty clear, but the squad intends to keep it on close hold for as long as possible in order to retain its advantage.
Despite the technological advantage, conditions at the new Audi A4 DTM's first international showing in Italy will be anything but easy: the cars driven by Mattias Ekstrm, Tom Kristensen, Timo Scheider and Martin Tomczyk will weigh 20 kilograms more than the 08-spec Mercedes-Benz cars at Mugello - as required by the DTM regulations. And - according to computer simulations performed by Audi Sport - 20kg at Mugello could cost 0.5sec per lap.
On the other hand, the new A4 DTM should be able to play to its strengths in the areas of aerodynamics and weight distribution, particularly on the longest - and arguably most demanding - circuit on the DTM's schedule. Last year, Audi dominated Mugello as well - even though, due to a safety car period, Mika Hkkinen won in a Mercedes. This means that Audi still has a score to settle.
The quickest driver at the pre-season tests at Mugello was Markus Winkelhock, suggesting that the A4 cars from last year can still be counted on as well.
Who will actually have the best chances at Mugello will be revealed no later than at Saturday's (3 May) qualifying practice. The free practice session on Saturday morning will be broadcast live on www.dtm.tv.
DTM drivers' standings after 2 of 11 rounds:
1 Timo Scheider GW:plus/Top Service Audi A4 DTM 18
2 Martin Tomczyk Red Bull Audi A4 DTM 12
3 Mattias Ekstrm Red Bull Audi A4 DTM 11
4 Bruno Spengler Mercedes 11
5 Jamie Green Mercedes 7
6 Tom Kristensen Audi A4 DTM 6
7 Paul di Resta Mercedes 5
8 Markus Winkelhock Playboy Audi A4 DTM 3
9 Mike Rockenfeller S line Audi A4 DTM 2
10 Gary Paffett Mercedes 2
11 Bernd Schneider Mercedes 1
DTM teams' standings after 2 of 11 rounds:
1 Audi Sport Team Abt 24
2 Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline 23
3 Mercedes-Benz Bank AMG 16
4 Salzgitter/OriginalTeile AMG Mercedes 8
5 Audi Sport Team Rosberg 5
6 stern/Pixum AMG Mercedes 2
Facts on the DTM race at Mugello
Did you know that ...
... the 2008-spec Audi A4 DTM is coming to Mugello undefeated and has clinched five of six possible podium positions so far?
... the A4 has not been beaten in qualifying either? In both of the previous two rounds, Timo Scheider took the pole position.
... DTM leader of the standings Timo Scheider is contesting his 80th DTM race at Mugello (including the invitation race at Shanghai in 2004)?
... the circuit at Mugello, with a distance of 5.245 kilometres, is the longest on this year's DTM schedule?
... the number of laps to be driven at Mugello therefore amounts to only 33?
... the window for the two mandatory pit stops at the circuit in Tuscany will only be open from lap eleven to lap 22?
... Audi at the first round of the new DTM at Mugello on 14 July 2007 started an impressive string of seven pole positions, which has not been broken to this day?
... during this string as many as five Audi drivers occupied the first five positions on the grid?
... Audi driver Mattias Ekstrm at that time stormed towards the pole position with an average speed of almost 182kph (113mph), which made Mugello the fastest circuit on the DTM schedule as well?
... Audi is very popular with Italian fans? With 59,123 vehicles delivered (2007), Italy is Audi's third-largest European market and fifth-largest worldwide.
... the ten A4 DTM cars are not the only Audi racing cars to compete at Mugello on 4 May? In the Superstars series, Audi Sport Italia will contest the race with the Audi RS 4 as the title defender and leader of the standings.
... the team around Hans-Jrgen Abt with its two squads scored 47 points in the teams' championship at Hockenheim and Oschersleben, thus having a higher points score than the total of all other teams?
... Abt Sportsline at Oschersleben celebrated its 25th victory in the DTM?
... it is becoming increasingly hard for Audi to continue its series of exploits? The ballast-of-success weight rule requires the Audi A4 DTM to run with 20kg more weight than the current models of their Mercedes-Benz rivals.