Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images courtesy of DTM Media.
After René Rast’s clean sweep during the Nürburgring-round, the DTM circus goes to yet another track that seems well-suited for Audi as they claimed all podium positions last year: round 17 and 18 take place in the Alps at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. As the end of the season nears, the battle between championship-leader Gary Paffett and his nearest competitor Paul Di Resta (both Mercedes) is reaching its climax.
Qualifying was held under wet conditions and Spaniard Dani Juncadella secured his third Pole Position in his career in the Mercedes C 63. Next to him on front row was the yellow BMW M4 of Timo Glock, followed by the best Audi RS 5 from Mike Rockenfeller. First title-contender was Paul Di Resta in 4th, René Rast (3rd in the standings) qualified 9th while Gary Paffett had to start the race from p10. Guest driver for Mercedes and 5 times WRC-champion Sébastien Ogier started from p19.
The race started on a drying track: the ideal line was dry, but besides that the track was still damp. All cars except Eriksson did start on slicks. When the lights turned off Juncadella had a great start and immediately pulled a gap towards the first corner. The whole field came through turn 1 unharmed. Di Resta and the others that were on the inside - and still somewhat wet – line lost positions: Di Resta went from 4th to 6th, Glock from 2nd to 4th and Auer from 6th to 7th. Paffett had a bad start and first corner as well, probably a little bit too careful, and dropped from p10 to p13.
Disaster struck at corner 2: with a couple of cars bumper to bumper in midfield it looked as if Duval’s Audi gave a slight push to the back of Philipp Eng’s BMW, he tapped the back of Frijns’ RS 5 who spun around and could not be avoided by Paffett and Duval, who hit the Dutchman head on. Paffett’s front bumper was severely damaged as well as Frijns’, but both could stay in the race. Duval broke his front left suspension and was forced to retire his car.
When the dust settled the safety car was out and Dani Juncadella (Mercedes) was in the lead. Rockenfeller in the Audi was 2nd followed by three BMW M4’s: Glock, Farfus and Wittmann. Di Resta was down to p6, Auer was in p7, Rast p8, Müller p9 and Eng closed the top-10. Paffett had to restart the race in p17.
After 4 laps the safety car came in and Juncadella led the field to turn 1. Rockenfeller was immediately on his rear bumper and pushed Juncadella into an error in corner 2: he missed his apex and ‘Rocky’ managed to pass the Mercedes on the inside.
Conditions on track were very tricky: the dry line was tight and the wet parts beside it made it very difficult to overtake. Rockenfeller managed to pull a small gap to Juncadella of little over a second, just as Juncadella could to Glock. The group behind from 3rd to 9th was about 1.5 seconds away with only tenths separating the cars. It was waiting for the track to dry a little more to make it easier to overtake.
Towards the halfway point in the race Juncadella had caught back up to the rear of Rockenfeller. At the beginning of lap 15 he was only 0.6 seconds behind. Juncadella didn’t spend much time behind Rockenfeller: one corner later he managed to pass the white-green RS5 round the outside of turn 2 and quickly created a 1 second gap to the Audi. They both had pulled away from the rest and now had a 5.5 second gap towards Glock as the first cars were coming in for their mandatory pitstop.
Müller from p9 was the first of the top 10 to come in at the end of lap 14. A lap later, Di Resta followed and came back on track some 2 seconds in front of Müller. But as we’ve seen so often in DTM, were tire-warmers are not allowed, the car with warmer tires has a huge advantage. This time was not different: Di Resta first missed his apex in turn 2, and again in turn 3 which gave Müller the opportunity to pass the white C 63 on the inside.
Farfus came in a lap later from p5 and almost suffered the same fate Di Resta did: the Brazilian however managed to keep Müller (close) behind until his tires were also up to temperature.
At the end of lap 17, some 32 minutes into the race, it got really interesting as a large part of the remaining top-10 cars came in for fresh rubber: Rockenfeller, Glock, Wittmann and Rast. The latter three came out a second or three in front of the group Müller-Farfus-Di Resta, but they were on warmer tires. Müller made a move on Farfus in corner 1, which led to success only after corner 2. Side by side they headed towards turn 3 when Di Resta could also pull aside. Three wide they reached turn 3 and Müller came out first, Di Resta next and Farfus lost two positions. The three now charging toward the group Glock-Wittmann-Rast who was now only tenths away.
When they reached the Start-finish line the groups already melted into one group with only tenths separating the six cars. Two corners later it was Glock who first succumbed under the pressure: he missed his braking point for turn 2 and dropped back to right in front of Müller, the latter having the momentum and passing Glock in turn 3. This also gave Di Resta the opportunity to pass the yellow BMW for (virtually) p6.
In the meantime Juncadella also made his stop, coming out a second or three in front of Rockenfeller.
Wittmann, virtually in 3rd, now came under immense pressure from Rast. Things got serious halfway through lap 22 when Rast had a better exit out of corner 3 and pulled up to the side of Wittmann’s BMW. They went door-to-door (literally) for several corners after which Wittmann managed to defend his position. For now.
After everybody made his stop, the top-10 looked as follows: Juncadella was back in the lead with a 2.2 second gap to Rockenfeller. 11 seconds later was the group p3-p8 with Wittmann, Rast, Müller, Di Resta, Glock and Farfus. Some 4 seconds behind them was the group with Green, Auer and Mortara.
With some 14 minutes to go, late stopper Auer managed to pass Green for p9 and quickly pulled away towards Farfus, Mortara followed a lap later. At the beginning of lap 32, some 5 minutes later, he’d closed the gap and was under the rear wing of Farfus. Not wasting any time, local hero Auer passed the BMW in corner 1. In the same lap, Rast gave it another try to pass Wittmann: both went door-to-door again towards turn 2, but Wittmann successfully defended his position yet again. Rast was forced to go a little wide which gave Müller and Di Resta the opportunity to pass. Müller immediately also tried to pass Wittmann in front but failed as well, now giving Di Resta the opportunity to take p4. A corner later however Di Resta went too wide and Müller was able to take the position back.
During all this fighting, Glock had to park his M4 at the narrow piece of asphalt outside the second to last turn. As the car was difficult to recover, this brought out the safety car for a second time this race and more importantly: the field was back together again for a final sprint to the finish with only 2.5 minutes to go at the restart. Juncadella was very much awake and managed to defend his lead, as Rockenfeller could defend p2. In a spectacular end of the race, cars sometimes going 4 wide over the track, René Rast surprisingly came out as the big winner. In the last lap he managed to pass both Müller and Rockenfeller (who slowed down) to take 2nd. And, in literally the last meters of the race, leader Juncadella was penalized with a drive-through penalty for not following the rules at the restart (probably for not keeping a constant speed), which handed Rast even the win, making it three in a row following his two Nürburgring wins. Wittmann was lost in the turmoil after the restart and dropped from p3 to p9 at the finish.
So, in the end it was yet again 3 Audis on the podium. Paul Di Resta brought home his Mercedes in p4, Jamie Green managed to avoid all trouble and finished in p5 (from p15 at the start). Auer, Wittmann, Eng, Mortara and Farfus completed the top-10. Paffett, after all his troubles this race just missed out on the points, finishing in p11.
Paul Di Resta is now back in the lead with 216 points, Paffett is second with 206. Rast follows in 3rd with 174 points. Best BMW is Marco Wittmann with 143 points in p4. Three races remain in this season, the first is tomorrow.
Full results click here.
For standings click here.
Race highlights click here.