Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images courtesy of DTM Media and Audi Sport
Can Paul Di Resta secure the 2018 DTM this weekend? Or can Gary Paffett still snatch it from under his nose? Only 4 points separate them after the Spielberg round three weeks ago. Will one of the Brits claim the title in Mercedes’ last weekend in DTM, or might René Rast be the dark horse in his Audi? Difficult questions before the beginning of the weekend, but soon, they’ll all be answered. In Race 1 on Saturday…
The two runners up in the championship, Paffett and Rast, qualified best by taking p2 and p4 respectively. Pole was taken by another C 63: Lucas Auer, nephew of former F1 driver and DTM boss Gerhard Berger, secured already his 3rd pole position of the year. Championship leader Di Resta had to start the race from a little bit further back, he put his Mercedes on p8. Best BMW M4 was put on p3 by Timo Glock, exactly as during the opening race weekend of the season also in Hockenheim, where he went on and scored a 3rd place and a victory and left Hockenheim as championship leader. However, a penalty afterward made Glock drop down to p8 and left p3 for René Rast, right behind Paffet. Di Resta moved up to 7th.
At the start Lucas Auer took full advantage of his Pole and led the field through the first couple of turns. Right behind Paffett followed in p2 while Farfus, in his M4 managed to overtake Rast at the start for p3. Robin Frijns had an amazing start from p7 to p5, closely followed by Di Resta. A couple of turns later however Di Resta could overtake the Dutchman accelerating out of the hairpin. At the same time Auer in the lead gave his position up for Paffett, probably to function as a buffer to René Rast who had to finish in front of Di Resta and Paffett to keep his title hopes alive.
In three laps Paffett managed to build up a 1.5 second lead over Auer, who himself had a one second gap to Farfus. At the hairpin however, Rast saw an opening on the inside of the Brazilian, taking over p3. Di Resta behind peeked if he could follow, but decided to wait just a bit longer. Rast’s was now headed towards the orange C 63 of Auer in front. A lap later Auer suddenly lost a bit of pace due to a gas pedal problem, giving Rast the opportunity to take 2nd and head for Paffett.
In lap 6 Farfus, Di Resta, Frijns and Glock already caught up to the rear of Auer. This led to mayhem in the hairpin where Auer tried to defend from Farfus, but Di Resta and Frijns made a move as well. Farfus came out on top, now in p3, followed by Frijns, Glock and Di Resta who lost a place in all the turmoil. Auer parked his car in the pitbox at the end of the lap. Di Resta was helped a bit by Race Control as Frijns was ordered to give back his position for forcing Di Resta off track at the hairpin.
Rast was now putting in some blistering lap times and quickly closed the gap in front to Paffett. By the start of lap 9 he was already under the rear wing of the Brit and opened a 5.5second gap to Glock in p3. After Di Resta got back his position from Frijns, he was now stuck behind Farfus, who was losing ground considerably from Glock. Two laps later however he did find a gap and managed to take p4. All three title contenders were now in the top 4, although Di Resta was already 11 seconds behind on Paffett and Rast. But if it would finish with Paffett in the lead and Di Resta in p4, this would entail that Paffett would go into the last race with an 11 points lead over Di Resta, with Rasts title chances down the drain.
Rast didn’t plan on going down so easily and decided to come in first at the end of lap 13, some 25 minutes into the race. Hoping that he could profit from his already warm tires when Paffett would make his mandatory stop later and try to overtake. Paffett however countered immediately and came in a lap later. As Rasts stop went flawless, this would have to be the same for Paffett and it did; he rejoined the track well in front Rast. The latter however had the advantage of warm tires and had closed the gap at the hairpin. Paffett was forced to defend heavily with the red Audi RS 5 under his rear wing but he managed to make it through the first lap on cold tires to make it a level playing field. This didn’t stop Rast and heading towards the hairpin a lap later, he had a better exit out of the corner and succeeded in passing the Mercedes on the straight. Paffett though could counter in the hairpin itself and took back p1 again. But Rast profited from a better exit yet again and now firmly took p1 on the straight towards the Mercedes grandstand.
This wasn’t the end of the fight as it continued for a couple of laps, which led the cameras to miss the pitstop of Paul Di Resta. His stop didn’t go completely according to plan as he rejoined behind Juncadella (who made his stop as early as lap 5) and Timo Glock. He managed to pass Glock quite fast but had a considerable gap of some 8 seconds towards the C 63 of the Spaniard in front. This however wasn’t the biggest concern for the Di Resta: he couldn’t shake Glock and a lap later the yellow BMW managed to take his position back from the Brit. Moreover, another lap later he also lost a position to the Audi of Loïc Duval and continued to lose ground. The odds were shifting more and more towards Gary Paffett as he was still under Rast’s rear wing, while his team colleague was losing more and more places.
In lap 23 Paffett made his move, and again the hairpin proved to be the decider. Paffett came next to Rast on the straight towards, had a better exit out of the hairpin and managed to stay on the outside of the Audi heading door to door towards the Mercedes grandstand for which he was now on the inside. Paffett came out in the lead, but a lap later, the story was the other way around. The exact same happened and now Rast was back in the lead again! What a fantastic fight this was turning out to be: two title contenders going head to head in a fight for the lead that lasted for laps!
The battle for the lead was broken up temporarily by the safety car, which came out on track in lap 26 after Farfus lost his left door on the straight towards the hairpin and left it lying on the tarmac. This played to the advantage of Di Resta who not only won a place from Farfus, but also was back in reach of the head of the field.
When the safety car went in two laps later with only 9 minutes plus one lap, and we had the “Indycar style”-restart Rast was most awake and took the lead even before turn 1. Paffett followed, Glock was in 3rd, then Juncadella, Duval, Di Resta, who immediately lost a place to Müller, Frijns, Eng and Rockenfeller to complete the top-10. Rast in front was able to immediately pull a gap of about 1.5 seconds while Paffett behind had to defend from Timo Glock. A lap later Rast was already 3 seconds away and with only 5 minutes to go, his victory seemed certain. A couple of turns later the odds came even more in Rast’s favour when Glock managed to pass Paffett for p2.
Behind the three leaders Robin Frijns was literally marching through the field. In p8 at the restart, we found him under the rear wing of Paffett in p4 only 4 laps later. Frijns, who was clearly profiting from his late stop and fresh tires, clearly had the fastest car: he managed to pass Paffett in the hairpin in lap 32 with only 2 minutes to go and took Glock a lap later to secure p2. He was even able to overtake Rast, but of course that was never going to happen. It was very well possible however that the Dutchman, in what was his second to last race in DTM as he signed a Formula E deal for 2019, took his first victory in his penultimate race. Furthermore, Di Resta, in p6 until the very last lap, couldn’t stay in front of both Müller and Rockenfeller, and had to settle for p8 at the finish.
And so, it was yet again serial winner Rast who now took his 5th (!!!) win in a row. Paffett, scoring 12 points with his 4th place was back in the lead of the championship with 239 points, Di Resta is now 2nd with 233 and Rast in 3rd with 224. There are still 28 points to score in the last race of the season tomorrow. Still three drivers have a chance of becoming the 2018 DTM champion!
Full race results click here.
For standings click here.
Race highlights with English commentary click here.