Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images courtesy of DTM Media.
The last race of the 2018 DTM season at the Hockenheimring would be a special race for multiple reasons. It marked the last race of Mercedes’ involvement in the series as the Stuttgart brand decided to shift its focus to Formula E for the 2019 season. The same reason why Audi left WEC two years ago. Gary Paffett steps over to the electric series as well, being one of Mercedes’ drivers in Formula E. He could part from the series as champion.
In a title race we haven’t seen so close for quite some years, three gladiators still made a chance of winning the most important touring car championship in the world. Gary Paffett for Mercedes led the championship since Saturday’s race with 239 points, 6 more than his team colleague Paul Di Resta with 233. But with an incredible winning streak of now 5 races in row, René Rast in his Audi RS5 was not far behind with 224 points, with 28 points still for grabs in the last race.
Like yesterday, pole position was not won by one of the title contenders: Marco Wittmann, former champion, put his BMW M4 on pole only 5 hundreds of a second before Rast. 3rd was Paffett, meaning that he now had 240 points and Rast 226. If Rast would win the race, Paffett needed at least a 4th place (12 points) to win the title. Rast had to finish at least 3rd to even make a chance of winning the title, in that case Paffett should not score any points. Di Resta again didn’t have a great qualifying. In fact, it was even worse than yesterday: p11 was his share. He was now exactly 7 points behind Paffett, meaning that Paffett could let Di Resta win the race and finish 2nd and still would be champion based on the number of 2nd places this season. BMW was also well represented on the starting grid; beside Wittmann on pole it was Spengler on p4, Farfus on p5, Eriksson on p7 and Eng on p8.
When the lights went out Rast immediately took the lead, winning the sprint to the first corner from Wittmann. Paffett followed in p3. Di Resta moved up to p8 in lap 1 but did so forcing Eng off the track. He had to give back the position and fell back to p10 doing so.
5 laps into the race and the top-3, Rast, Wittmann and Paffett had already separated themselves from the rest of the field. They opened a three second gap to Mortara in p4. If Paffett could stay in p3 he would be champion at the finish. Di Resta, still in p10, had to try something to keep his title aspirations alive; at the end of lap 6 he was the first to make his mandatory stop.
The next couple of laps were mostly about waiting who would make his stop first. Paffett could simply wait for Rast to make his stop and follow with him, not letting the German getting out of his sight. Most excitement in this phase of the race came from Robin Frijns. Started from the back, the Dutchman showed a great race pace: in lap 11 he moved up to p11.
At the end of lap 11, Paffett decided to make his mandatory stop, not taking too much risk with a possible safety car in the remainder of the race. He rejoined well in front of Di Resta in p16, leading the (small) group of cars that already made their stop. A lap later it were Mortara and Spengler from p4 and p6 respectively, who almost collided in pit lane. This could lead to a penalty for Mortara for an unsafe release, thereby bartering away his buffer position for Paffett.
Next up was Rast to make his stop in lap 13, the German rejoined the track well before Paffett. However, unfortunately for Rast there were no cars between them, meaning that Paffett could simply follow Rast for now and wait it out until the finish.
Halfway through the race Rast was in p11, leading the pack that already made his stop. Paffett was some 4 seconds behind. In front it were Marco Wittmann for BMW and Müller 6 seconds behind for Audi in p2. Would they be able to squeeze their cars in between Rast and Paffett?
The answer would follow soon as Wittmann made his stop at the end of lap 17. Surprisingly, he rejoined behind Paffett! As it looked like making a late stop would not be an advantage, this meant chances that Paffett would be able to claim p2 the moment everyone made his stop grew significantly. But would Audi still have a trick up their sleeve to get some more cars in between Rast and Paffett? At the moment they were still in the middle of the field in p7 and p8.
But like yesterday, the Mercedes’ didn’t show their best pace in the last part of the race. In the couple of laps after the stops, Wittmann closed the gap to Paffett and passed him in lap 23. But with Paffett in p3 the Brit was still safe, and Spengler in p4 was some 7 seconds behind. Could Spengler close the gap to the Brit as well in the remaining 15 minutes of the race?
Behind Spengler it were two Audi’s that were charging through the field: Müller and Frijns even closed the gap and passed Spengler in lap 33 and 34. Now it was Müller charging towards Paffett. But even if Müller could bridge the now 5 second gap with only 2 minutes and a lap to go, this would still not be enough for Rast to defend his 2017 title. A 4th place would still be enough for Paffett to claim the title. But Müller didn’t make it to the rear wing of the Brit, and despite that Rast won his 6th race in a row, Paffett managed to finish 3rd and so grabbed his 2nd DTM title after his first in 2005. Rast got to 4 points from the Brit, but his amazing winning streak could not make him defend his title. Di Resta had a terrible last phase of the race and didn’t manage to score any points this race, he laid claim to the third place in the championship this year.
Next season starts off, traditionally, in the first weekend of May next year. Without Mercedes for the first time in 30 years but with a newcomer: Aston Martin joins Audi and BMW in 2019 as R-Motorsports joins up with HWA.
Full race results click here.
Final standings click here.
Race highlights withs English commentary click here.