Drama until the very end, René Rast versus Nico Müller: the big showdown of the DTM at Hockenheim from 6-8 November will turn into an open duel between the defending champion from Germany and his challenger from Switzerland. Robin Frijns (NED), the third Audi driver in the circle of the title candidates, only has theoretical chances after innocently having become involved in an accident at Zolder. The former Grand Prix circuit in Belgium provided drama in the battle for the DTM title. Since the start of the season, Müller had been leading the drivers’ standings and had an advantage of 47 points over third-placed Rast. Rast, however, conquered Zolder, won all four races on the two back-to-back weekends and turned around the tables in an unexpected, but impressive way. Now, Rast is heading towards the traditional finale at the Motodrom in Baden-Württemberg with a margin of 19 points from Müller. For Müller, meanwhile, second place in the race on Sunday was his best result at Zolder. In the 16th of this season’s 18 races, Pole Robert Kubica sparked a surprise. By virtue of a clever strategy and entertaining overtaking manoeuvres, the ex-Formula 1 driver worked his way up to finish third, his maiden podium finish in his first DTM season. In the process, Kubica also kept all the six works BMWs at bay.
A pair of safety car interventions, drama for Frijns
At the start, Müller made it already clear that he is not one to give in early in the battle for the title. The Swiss had a rocket start, opting for the middle to move up between compatriot Fabio Scherer (Audi) and Frijns, his teammate in the Audi Sport Team Abt Sportsline, from fifth to third place. At the front of the field, Ferdinand Habsburg, who had claimed a convincing maiden pole position with the privateer Audi of the WRT team, initially was in control and maintained the lead while Rast remained within striking distance in second place, waiting for his chance.
Soon after that, a heavy crash caused a stir: Jonathan Aberdein (RSA, BMW) locked up under braking and hit the rear of Scherer’s Audi. Scherer was unable to avoid a spin and also hit Frijns, who was in front of him, as he swerved. For a three drivers involved, the race was over. However, the main victim of the accident is Frijns, who, as a result of the retirement, is now 41 points down on points’ leader Rast (304) and 22 points down on Müller (285) and, with 56 points still at stake in the Hockenheim finale, only has theoretical chances.
Pole sitter Habsburg drops back with tyre problems in the race
Habsburg also defended his lead from Rast after the first safety car intervention while Müller remained third. After another accident, a collision between the two BMW drivers Lucas Auer (AUT) and his compatriot Philipp Eng, the safety car came out once more. At the restart, the order in the top three again remained unchanged. That was to change after the mandatory pit stops: Rast, who had stopped one lap later than Habsburg and Müller, took the lead and gradually extended it until the finish. For Habsburg, however, things went from bad to worse: the Austrian had increasing tyre problems and lost one position after another. Just before the end, the WRT team even opted for a second tyre change, after which Habsburg dropped back to tenth place.
» Quotes – race 2, Zolder 2
“First of all, I feel sorry for Robin Frijns that he has largely lost his chances in the battle for the title, for which he was absolutely innocent. Next year, he is an undisputed title candidate in my book. René Rast has again proven his consistency and his class. He may now have a slight margin, but there are still 56 points at stake. Moreover, the weather can be playing a role at Hockenheim in November as well, so that Frijns still has outside chances, too. Pole position for Ferdinand Habsburg was impressive. He is highly talented and has a very good speed. Great that a privateer team like WRT can take on the works teams. The same can be said for BMW customer team ART that scored its maiden podium finish with Robert Kubica. With that result, Kubica has now finally arrived in the DTM as well. The duel between the two Audi teams Abt and Rosberg is thrilling, too, although, from my perspective, Jamie Green overdid it a bit with his support for René Rast. I am convinced that one should let drivers who are in contention for the title battle it out freely. Anyway, I am looking forward to a thrilling finale at Hockenheim.“
Gerhard Berger, chairman, ITR e.V.
“It is unbelievable: I have won all four races at Zolder, almost scored the maximum number of points. That is totally unexpected. My start was good, but then I ran a bit wide in the first corner. The safety car was out twice, that mixed up things a bit each time. Keeping cool wasn’t easy, especially at the restarts. Ferdinand Habsburg and Nico Müller came in early for their tyre changes. One lap later, we tried an over-cut that worked out. I didn’t know who was second and I tried to look into the rearview mirror in vain to find out how much I had to save my tyres. I hoped that the tyres would last and that was the case. It seems like I can deal slightly better with cooler temperatures, so I hope we won’t have 30 degrees for the finale at Hockenheim.”
René Rast, Audi, winner
“The ten days here at Zolder were quite tough for me. Today, I have to be very happy with second place, that was the maximum possible. At the start, everything worked. Only after the pit stop, many cars rejoined the track right in front of me, we hadn’t expected that. I was livid in the cockpit. At this stage, I wore out my tyres more than I wanted. Today, I did everything I could. Our pace wasn’t good enough to follow René Rast. Now, there will be a great showdown at Hockenheim.”
Nico Müller, Audi, 2nd place
“I am very happy, no doubt about it. We didn’t expect this at all, but you have to take the opportunities as they come. That was the case today. Our strategy was perfect. Just in the pit stop, not everything worked perfectly, but nobody noted it: the lollypop didn’t go up, so at a certain point, I just drove off. Otherwise, I would still be standing there. Then, I had Nico Müller in front of me and was slightly faster at that stage, but at the end, it was more important to manage the tyres and bring third place home. This is a big moment for us, for the entire team. I am a DTM rookie, the team is new as well and the season was difficult so far. I am really overjoyed.”
Robert Kubica, BMW, 3rd place
» Results – race 2, Zolder 2
01. René Rast (GER), Audi RS 5 DTM, 40 laps in 1h 00m 29.757s
02. Nico Müller (SUI), Audi RS 5 DTM, + 11.500s
03. Robert Kubica (POL), BMW M4 DTM, + 25.785s
04. Timo Glock (GER), BMW M4 DTM, + 29.572s
05. Jamie Green (GBR), Audi RS 5 DTM, + 30.209s
06. Mike Rockenfeller (GER), Audi RS 5 DTM, + 31.971s
07. Sheldon van der Linde (RSA), BMW M4 DTM, + 33.095s
08. Marco Wittmann (GER), BMW M4 DTM, + 47.199s
09. Harrison Newey (GBR), Audi RS 5 DTM, + 47.651s
10. Ferdinand Habsburg (AUT), Audi RS 5 DTM, – 1 lap
Fastest lap: René Rast (GER), Audi RS 5 DTM, 1m 20.140s
Pole position: Ferdinand Habsburg (AUT), Audi RS 5 DTM, 1m 18.879s
Weather conditions: 12°C, cloudy
Track conditions: 14°C, dry surface