Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: DTM Media.
Mike Rockenfeller won his first race of the season in a race that had an important twist in the end: the tires seemed the crucial element at the "Cathedral of Speed". With its long and high speed bends, tire degradation was higher than expected on the first warm and dry running of the weekend. René Rast was long on pole position to grab his 4th win of the season, but was one of the victims caught by the sudden high tire degradation.
Bad luck for yesterdays' pole sitter and winner Marco Wittmann: some technical issues with the turbo in his first stint in qualifying forced him to come in and have his BMW M4 repaired. The team managed to get the car out again, but there was not enough time left to set a time. Wittmann had to begin the race from the back. The Audi's were in much better shape, blocking out the top-5 on the grid: championship leader Rast secured his 4th pole of the season ahead of rookie Jonathan Aberdein. The South African displays great pace at the "Cathedral of Speed" in Assen, yesterday he already claimed p6 in the race. Rockenfeller, Müller and local hero Frijns were the other Audi's up front. Sheldon van der Linde was the first BMW in p6.
Under sunny conditions, much the opposite of yesterday, the race got underway. Rast had a good start and was first to reach turn 1, but Aberdein from p2 had a lot more difficulty getting off the line. He found himself in p8 after a terrible start. Rockenfeller moved up to p2, ahead of Frijns who also had a good start, and Nico Müller. Van der Linde was first of the BMW's in p5. From the back, Marco Wittmann also had a great opening phase of the race and found himself in p11 after two laps. A lap later he passed Dani Juncadella in the best placed Aston Martin to enter the top-10.
At the end of lap 6, Loïc Duval from p7 was the first of the top-10 to make his stop. Gaps at the front somewhat stabilized: Rast had a gap about 7 tenths towards Rockenfeller, the gaps behind were more or less the same all the way to Aberdein in p6. Excitement in this stage of the race came from Marco Wittmann, who seemed the only BMW able to bring the fight to the Audi's in front. Aberdein was first to fell victim to the M4 that started the race all the way from the back. The gap towards Fittipaldi ahead was about 1.3 seconds. Within two laps the white-green BMW was under the rear wing of the young South African, but due to the track layout, somewhat catered to motorcycles with a lot of fast corners, make it difficult for cars to overtake. Even though the gap between Aberdein and Wittmann was only 3 tenths, Wittmann couldn't find a way past the Audi for three laps and decided to make his stop to prevent being stuck for too long.
A lap later Müller also came in from p4, but had somewhat of a slow stop due to a stuck wheel. He lost valuable time and rejoined behind Wittmann and Spengler. Rast and Frijns came in a lap later and rejoined right in front of Wittmann. With the BMW already on warm tires, Frijns tried to put up a fight but stand a chance to withstand the pressure from Wittmann. Frijns managed to prevent Wittmann from passing him on the outside of the long left hander, but a corner later he missed his breaking point and went off track. This error costed the Dutchman two positions.
Duval, who made an early stop, became the leader of the stopped cars almost unnoticed. It didn't take Rast and Wittmann long however to catch up to the Frenchman on their newer tires and overtake the Audi quickly. Duval was clearly suffering from his old tires as he saw Rockenfeller, Frijns and Müller also come past in the next couple of laps. He decided to even make a second stop a bit later.
After all cars made their stops, with some 20 minutes left of the clock, Rast was comfortably leading the race. The gap towards Wittmann was some 6 seconds, with Rockenfeller following at 8 tenths. Frijns, Müller, Fittipaldi and Jamie Green all followed with considerable gaps between them.
The only fight worth mentioning in this stage of the race was that between Wittmann and Rockenfeller. After some three laps of seeking and peeking, Rockenfeller found a way to pass the BMW in the chicane at the back of the track. It became more and more evident that tire wear was really becoming a topic on this track with all it's fast corners. Rockenfeller, who made a late stop, closed the gap of 5 seconds to Rast in two laps, and passed him a lap later to take the lead. Audi anticipated quickly and called in Rast for a second stop with 11 minutes to go. The championship leader rejoined in 14th... The question was which other drivers would suffer the same fate? Which drivers had managed their tires best? And would Rast on his newer tires be able to fight his way back into the top-10?
The top-4, consisting of Rockenfeller, Wittmann, Müller and Frijns didn't seem to have any issues yet. Rast, on his new tires, quickly passed Van der Linde, Glock, von Habsburg and Loïc Duval to reenter the top-10, but then faced a 10 second gap to Fittipaldi with 5 minutes to go. At that time, the tires of Frijns and Wittmann also went over the cliff: Müller closed the gap towards Wittmann within a lap, Frijns suddenly found Aberdein back under his rear wing.
Rast in the meantime was some 5 seconds a lap faster than the cars on old tires. Frijns was first to lose his position to Aberdein, while Fittipaldi, Green and Di Resta fell victim to Rast. The championship leader then continued to quickly overtake Juncadella and even Frijns, clearly a sitting duck, to finish p5. In front, Rockenfeller drove to his first victory of the season. Marco Wittmann had an amazing race and successfully defended his position to Nico Müller, claiming p2 from the last position on the grid. After Müller in p3, Aberdein finished p4. Behind Rast, Frijns managed to fend of the Aston Martins of Juncadella and Di Resta to grab p6. Jamie Green and Pietro Fittipaldi completed the top-10.
René Rast lost a bit of his lead in the championship to Nico Müller, but with 158 points he still has a 22-point advantage over his brand colleague who has 136. The M4s of Wittmann and Phillip Eng follow at 118 and 111 points. Mike Rockenfeller climbs to p5 with 94 points.
Championship standings click here.
Next raced are at Brands Hatch GP on the 10th and 11th of August!
Full race highlights (ENG):