Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: DTM Media
Nico Müller succeeded in making the title race in DTM a bit tenser at the Lausitzring. Maximizing the profit on René Rast's DNF with the win on Saturday, and keeping the damage to a minimum with a second place on Sunday meant he closed the gap by 17 points to only 20. Rast's pole on Saturday and win on Sunday brings him to a total of 234, while Müller has 214, with four races left and 112 points up for grabs...
The skies seemed pretty clear for René Rast initially, after scoring his 6th pole of the season on Saturday morning. Like at Brands Hatch, the top-10 at the grid was again dominated by Audi's: Behind Rast it was Jamie Green, his team colleague at Team Rosberg, with his best qualifying position of the year. Nico Müller and Robin Frijns were on row 2 for Team Abt, then Marco Wittmann as the best BMW on p5 after which came the Audi's of Rockenfeller and Fittipaldi. The top-10 was completed by Eng, Glock and Eriksson for BMW. Jake Dennis put the first of the Aston Martins on p13.
Jamie Green could have acted as a great buffer for Rast but amazing starts of both Müller and Wittmann prevented that. Rast managed to keep the lead through the first couple of turns with Müller, Wittmann, Green and Frijns closed behind. This status quo was maintained for the first 7 laps: Rast had about a 1 second gap to Müller, who led the rest of the top 5. Then there was a small gap to Eng, Rockenfeller, Fittipaldi and Eriksson behind. But then, in the first section of corners in lap 7, Müller suddenly had to evade Rast and defend from Wittmann as the pace of the leader suddenly dropped. Wittmann almost succeeded in profiting of the chaos but Müller stayed in front, although barely. Rast limped on for a couple of turns, tried to reset the car on the side of the road, managed to get on his way again before he finally had to park the car two laps later. After the race the team found a defect sensor was the cause of the issue.
Frijns was the first of the top 5 to make his mandatory pitstop in lap 12 and he managed to maximize his undercut. On his warmed up new Hankooks, he managed to pass Wittmann who pitted a lap later. The German BMW ace came out in front of Frijns but with his cold tires he was no match for the Audi. Next up was Müller who pitted in lap 15 and came out right in front of Frijns. The Dutchman of course wouldn't attack his team mate who had a great chance of cutting his point gap to Rast in the championship in half. Jamie Green was the last of the top 5 to make his stop. It seemed a tad late, as he rejoined the track behind not only Wittmann, but also Mike Rockenfeller. Then, a penalty for an unsafe release at the stop ruined his chance for the podium.
In the last phase of the race, most attention went to Mike Rockenfeller. He managed to close a mere 8 second gap towards Wittmann, BMWs last hope in the championship, and pass the M4 in the last 20 minutes to make it a 1-2-3 for Audi at the finish. After Wittmann Eng came in 5th ahead of Duval, Fittipaldi, Eriksson, Spengler and Jamie Green. The gap between Müller and Rast dropped down to only 14 points after this race.
On Sunday, we had a season premiere as Jamie Green, quick all weekend, took his first pole of the season. The Brit, who already won three races at the Lausitzring in his career, was little over a tenth quicker as rookie Jonathan Aberdein an so started DTM's 500th race from the front. Title contenders Rast and Müller locked out the 2nd row on the grid, with Müller having the upper hand at p3. Frijns was in p5 ahead of best BMW driver Marco Wittmann. The top-10 consisted of 8 Audi's in total (Duval 7th, Fittipaldi 8th and Rockenfeller 10th) as Timo Glock on p9 was the only other non-Audi driver to get into the top 10.
Jamie Green had a good start an led the field through the first couple of turns. Rast blasted himself to p2 with a great start and Müller suffered a whole different fate: a slow start dropped him to no less than 10th! After Green and Rast, Frijns moved up to third, ahead of Aberdein, Fittipaldi, Rockenfeller, Duval and Wittmann in p8. Müller had quickly passed Eng for p10 and it took him only two laps to also overtake Joel Eriksson for p9.
At the beginning of lap 4, Jamie Green allowed teammate René Rast, who had to recover as many points possible after yesterday's DNF, to take over the lead. He now acted as a buffer towards Nico Müller's teammate Robin Frijns in p3.
By the end of lap 8, Müller decided to embark on an aggressive strategy and pitted early. Rockenfeller and Eng followed with him, all three trying to profit from warm tires when their competitors in the top-10 would make their stop. Three laps later, Aberdein (Audi) from p4 and Eriksson (BMW) from p8 were the next to follow. Aberdein only just managed to rejoin in front of Müller, but on his cold tires he was quickly set aside by the young Swiss. This meant his pitstop had already brought Müller virtually in p5, behind Rast, Green, Frijns and Rockenfeller, the last who was now right in front of Müller.
A lap later Rast and Frijns also made their stop from p1 and p3. They rejoined, Rast a second or two ahead of Frijns, right in front of Nico Müller, who'd just passed Rockenfeller. Frijns of course wouldn't hold up Müller and immediately let him by, but also had to let Rockenfeller go along with him. The bad exit out of the corner even gave Jonathan Aberdein the opportunity to also move up a place at the cost of the blue RS 5. It didn't get any worse for him as he successfully defended from the BMW of Eng who was now (literally) on his rear bumper.
Jamie Green and Marco Wittmann decided to make a late stop and only came in the pits in lap 18, gambling on better tire quality in the last phase of the race to make up some places. Green, who's pitstop didn't entirely go according to plan, came back on track right behind Frijns in (virtually) p6, Wittmann p8. In the remainder of the race, Rast, slowly but steadily, increased the gap to Müller to little over 5 seconds at the finish, thereby clawing back some of the lost points of yesterday. Green managed to overtake Frijns but missed out on the podium, the last step was taken by Mike Rockenfeller, by 6 tenths, making this little from optimal pitstop an expensive one. With only a sixth place, Marco Wittmann theoretically still has a chance of the championship, but the gap to Rast is now 73 points. Two other fun facts: Müller has now scored points in all 14 races of this season, and René Rast scores his third Sunday victory after a Saturday's retirement.
Aston Martin couldn't really play a role of importance this weekend, clearly missing out on top speed: no top-10 finishes this weekend and three DNF's in Sunday's race.
We head to the Nürburgring in two weeks with Rast leading the championship by 20 points to Nico Müller (234 over 214). Wittmann is third with 167. By scoring a 1-2-3-4-5 finish in the 2nd race at the Lausitzring, Audi has already secured the manufacturer's title in the 2019 season.
Race results click here.
Championship standings click here.