Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: DTM Media, Audi, BMW.
René Rast continues his unbeatable status at the Nurburgring. After a clean sweep last year with two pole positions and two wins, he also took a pole and a win on the Saturday of this year's edition. As his only close competitor for the title, Nico Müller, scores zero today, Rasts' second title is now within close reach.
The two title contenders from Audi, Rast and Müller, started the race directly behind each other. Rast took pole, while Müller secured the third position on the grid. They were separated by Bruno Spengler in the matte black M4. Rockenfeller completed the second row in p4, ahead of rookie Jonathan Aberdein and Sheldon van der Linde. The only BMW-driver still in the title-race, Marco Wittmann, had a disappointing qualifying yet again. Not for the first time this season he dropped out of the top-10: p11 was his share this time. Best Aston Martin was Paul Di Resta in p13. Jamie Green was ninth on the grid.
When the lights went out the cars on the uneven side of the grid, Rast and Müller, got of their place best. They reached the turn 1 hairpin first, followed by Mike Rockenfeller. Suspicions were raised immediately about Nico Müllers start, who appeared to be off the line too soon. Behind Spengler was the Audi of Aberdein and Van der Linde's M4. Marco Wittmann moved up to p8, right behind the RS 5 of Loïc Duval.
Everyone's hopes of a thrilling fight between the two remaining championship contenders (although Wittmann also still has a theoretical chance) was lost in lap 2 of the race. The suspicions were confirmed and Nico Müller was penalised for a jump start with a drive through penalty. Rast immediately opened a 1.3 second gap towards Müller and 2.6 seconds to Rockenfeller. leaving no doubt of his intentions for this race. At the end of lap 3 Mülller took his drive through and rejoined at the back of the field.
Rockenfeller, now in p2, got under pressure from Bruno Spengler from the beginning of lap 5. At the beginning of lap 7, the Canadian made his first attempt to pass the Audi on the inside of the hairpin. Rockenfeller immediately countered and managed to take back p2 through the inside on the exit of the turn.
At the end of that same lap, Müller was back in the pits to make his mandatory stop for new tires. His hopes were now for a safety car to make up some positions.
The attack of Spengler on Rockenfeller cost him some time. This gave Aberdein and van der Linde the opportunity to catch up. After spending two laps in the clutches of the M4, Aberdein made his move in the NGK-chicane. Spengler managed to fend off the South African, giving van der Linde in p5 the chance to overtake his fellow-countryman on the short run-up to the last corner. Aberdein, taking a better exit out of that corner, successfully countered on the main straight, only to lose p5 again in the next hairpin. In definitely for the time. The skirmish between the South Africans gave Spengler some air in p3.
Another tough battle was found at the back of the field. Philipp Eng in the M4 had to work his way through the field after having started from the rear. Especially Paul Di Resta put up a harsh fight. The two exchanged paint on a couple occasions, until lap 9 when the Austrian decided to make his stop. He didn't find a way passed the Scot in the grey Aston.
First out of the top-10 to make their stop were Aberdein and Jamie Green at the end of lap 12. They were followed a lap later by Sheldon van der Linde and Loïc Duval. The latter two rejoined right in front of Aberdein and Green, but on cold tires. Five corners later the order was reversed. The cars on warm tires quickly got passed with daring moves.
With just over half an hour to go, leader of the race René Rast also came in for his stop. Rockenfeller followed some 5 seconds later. BMW took the opposite strategy of the Audi's. Philipp Eng was the only M4 that already made his stop. There were now four Bavarians in the lead: Spengler, Wittmann, Eriksson and Timo Glock.
Spengler was the first to stop by the end of lap 19. He rejoined well in front of Jamie Green, who right at that moment got passed Aberdein. This opened a gap again for van der Linde to put his car beside Aberdein, but the Audi-driver didn't plan on giving up so easily. They went door-to-door through the Mercedes Arena out of which Aberdein managed to come out first. Duval, who patiently waited for his chance, now attacked and also flew past the M4. Or at least he thought... Van der Linde held on on the outside of the right hand hairpin at the back, and stayed next to Duval. As the following corner was a left, he managed to get the upper hand on the Frenchman again. Only a corner later, the order shifted yet again. Duval had a better exit onto the straight towards the NGK chicane, giving him the opportunity to overtake the Shell-liveried M4 for the second time.
By the end of that lap, Wittmann and Eriksson came in for their stop as well. Wittmann had put in a couple of blistering laps and managed to come out of the pits ahead of Spengler, virtually in p3. Holding off Spengler was a bit too much for Wittmann on his cold tires. He did succeed in fending off Jamie Green in the first part of the lap. But the grip levels of his cold tires proved insufficient to keep the Brit behind him. In the braking zone towards the last chicane, Green took over p4. Still, his late stop brought Wittmann from eighth back to virtually fifth, on tires that were 7 laps fresher than those of Jamie Green.
This advantage paid out only three laps later. With his new Hankooks up to temperature, Wittmann took p4 from Green in the hairpin after the start-finish line. His next target was brand-colleague Bruno Spengler some six seconds in front. But first he was already given p3 as Mike Rockenfeller suffered a technical issue. He had to park his RS 5 in the box.
In the meantime, Green, with tires already wearing down, lost another position to Jonathan Aberdein. Right behind, Loïc Duval took p6 from van der Linde.
In the remainder of the race Wittmann didn't manage to reel in Spengler and had to settle for third. Rast took the win with a comfortable lead of over 10 seconds to Spengler. Jonathan Aberdein finished 4th. Jamie Green suffered a small drama as he saw Loïc Duval come by around the outside in the last corner. The Frenchman finished p5, Green had to settle for 6th. Van der Linde, Eriksson, Glock and Frijns completed the top 10.
A tough race for Aston Martin today. Jake Dennis had to retire his car in lap 25. Juncadella, von Habsburg and Paul di Resta finished 11th, 12th and 13th respectively.
René Rast continues to lead the championship, now with 262 points. Müller scores zero points today and stays on 215. If Rast scores 9 points more than Nico Müller tomorrow, he crowns himself as the 2019 DTM Champion. Wittmann is the best BMW in p3 with 182, giving him only a theoretical chance of still winning the championship.
Tomorrow is the second race of the weekend at 12.30 GMT.
For full results click here.
For championship standings click here.
Race highlights with English commentary: