BMW racer Marco Wittmann closed in on DTM championship leader Rene Rast today, following victory at the opening Brands Hatch race of the weekend.
The double champion only just edged Rast over the line, taking the win by a mere 0.3s from his Audi rival.
Nico Müller – currently 2nd in points – ended the race a solid 3rd position.
From pole position, Wittmann initially dropped to 2nd place behind the fast starting Paul di Resta (R-Motorsport Aston Martin); however it was quickly deemed that the Scot had just jumped the start, earning di Resta a five second pit penalty for his mandatory stop.
Until his stop, the Aston racer stayed out in front, with Wittmann holding station and keeping the gap to approximately 0.5s, until di Resta pulled off for his stop on lap 16, with the additional five seconds stationary costing di Resta at least seven positions.
Wittmann had already pitted at this stage, having stopped on lap 14 – a factor that came close to altering the final outcome. Emerging on the periphery of the top ten, Wittmann rose back through the order as others pitted for new Hankook’s.
A spectacular move splitting the tyre-worn Jamie Green (Audi) and freshly pitted Rast through Paddock Hill Bend, followed by a slip by Bruno Spengler (BMW) temporarily slowed Wittmann’s progress on the clock, but gave him a few more positions. As final stoppers Robin Frijns (Audi) and Philipp Eng (BMW) pulled away for new rubber, Wittmann took the lead with Rast chasing, some 5.9s adrift with 24 laps in the books.
With two-thirds of the race in the bag, this was proving a vital save for Rast, who had started poorly, with a different starting procedure and wheelspin dropping the 2017 champion from 2nd to 4th by the first turn. Rast changed his Hankook’s one lap after Wittmann – enduring a sluggish stop – but like his German rival, garnered several positions as strategies un ravelled around them.
For a time, it seemed as if the gap between Wittmann and Rast was going to stay at the 5s-5.8s mark, only for the gap to reduce slightly as race entered its final six laps. With four tours to go, that shrank to under five seconds for the first time, before Wittmann dropped another 1.8s and 1.6s in the next two laps.
As the battling duo started the final tour, Wittmann led by 1.4s, as Rast visibly gained on the BMW with each turn, but it would not be enough. As Rast charged hard exiting Clark Curve, Wittmann moved across the racing line to disturb Rast’s efforts and held the lead as they crossed the line to take a close and hard-fought victory.
Behind the Wittmann/Rast battle, Müller secured the final podium position, albeit some eight seconds adrift and with a further seven seconds of a gap behind him. Starting 8th, Müller took three places at the start, but stopped early on, as his Hankook’s began to fall away in the early tours.
It proved a clever strategy. Once his tyres came to temperature, Müller set a good pace, eventually gifting the Audi racer several positions as those ahead set slower times on aging tyres. Müller found himself ahead of Rast once the latter stopped, but could not hold the championship leader at bay, once Rast was in DRS range in the back end of the circuit at the half way mark, dropping Müller to 5th.
Knowing his Hankook’s were going to have to last, Müller kept a solid pace, dropping off of Rast’s tail, but also allowing him to build a gap on those still on their starting tyres and allowing the Swiss racer to claim 3rd once the last of the stoppers removed themselves from the action out front.
Frijns secured 4th with a late charge. As the last driver to stop, the Dutchman led for a brief period in the middle section of the race, but fell to 8th when he peeled off on lap 25. Passes on Green (lap 26), di Resta (lap 27), Rockenfeller (lap 35) and Duval (lap 36) gave Frijns a reasonable top four finish – a reasonable result following a bad start from 5th left him 7th by Druids on the opening tour.
Duval came home 5th in his Audi. From the second row, he lost a place as strategy unfolded and then another when Frijns when by. Duval had to work hatrd to keep a charging Eng at bay in the final tours. A good start from the sixth row propelled Eng to 9th on the opening tour, with the Austrian Eng staying out late in a similar fashion to Frijns.
Eng emerged further down the order, but a late charge taking Jonathan Aberdein (R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage), Sheldon van der Linde (BMW), di Resta (around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend, before finishing the move around Druids) and Rockenfeller brought Eng to the tail of Duval. It was as much as he could do – the BMW racer ended the day some sixth-tenths shy of Duval at the line, but still earning solid points in the process.
Mike Rockenfeller enjoyed a quiet race to claim 7th. Once Eng had passed, the former Le Mans winner fell away from the top six fight but held more than enough of a gap over van der Linde to ease his RS 5 DTM home.
Van der Linde secured 8th and four points, several seconds ahead of the Aberdein and Dani Juncadella fight over 9th and 10th places. It may have a case of “what if” for both drivers, as Aberdein went off during qualifying, forcing him to start last, while Juncadella was involved in a clash with Timo Glock at the start that earned the Spaniard a drive through penalty.
Green endured a tough race to finish 11th, ahead of Spengler (12th), while a hampered Glock took 13th and last. After being hit at the start, the former F1 driver was helpless and could not avoid Jake Dennis (R-Motorsport Aston), with the Briton receiving severe damage, forcing him to retire immediately.
Ferdinand Habsburg’s (R-Motorsport Aston) race became a test session, when his internal jack failed during his pitstop. This forced his team to manually jack up the car to allow a tyre change. He pitted a second time later in the race, as the Austrian secured unfussed laps around the Kent circuit.
Joel Ericsson did not start. The Swede had his qualifying times deleted when his car was worked on during Parc Ferme conditions. The BMW was hampered by broken front and rear anti-roll bars, ending Ericsson’s day before it had even started.