2017 produced another competitive DTM Series which ended with Audi‘s Rene Rast being crowned champion in his rookie season. The title came down to an all Audi showdown in the final race of the season as Rast, Mattias Ekström, Jamie Green and Mike Rockenfeller battled it out for the crown.
It was a strong season for Audi who claimed the Manufacturers Title and the Teams’ Title with Team Rosberg in addition to the Drivers’ Title. It was the first time in 13 years that Audi have claimed all three titles on offer.
As always the season had many thrills, spills and was not without controversy.
Going into the finale six drivers – the four Audi’s, Marco Wittmann and Lucas Auer all held a mathematical shot at claiming the crown but Rast edged out Ekström by just three points in the end.
Rast was helped by closest rivals Ekström and Green – both of whom were actually ahead of him in the standings – having to take grid penalties for the final race of the season at the Hockenheimring.
Rast had completed a couple of one off races towards the end of the 2016 season, but 2017 was his official rookie season in the DTM, with Loic Duval being the only other rookie in the championship finishing 18th, and last, in the overall with just 22 points to his name proving the remarkable season Rast had.
It did not take long for Rast to get his season underway, claiming his first podium in the third race of the season at the Lausitzring which he followed up three races later at the Hungaroring with his maiden victory of the series – he also claimed both pole positions on offer for that weekend.
Rast won two further races in the season, one at the Moscow Raceway and the other at the Red Bull Ring.
The fact a rookie was able to come into the series and become champion on his first attempt just goes to show not only Rast’s talents but the competitive nature of the category as a whole – especially when six drivers still had a mathematical shot of the title heading to the final round of the series.
Qualifying was clearly Rast’s strong point throughout the season starting in the top three places on the grid eight times this season, joint most with Wittmann, starting from second place on five of those occasions.
Winning the title in the final race was not all plain sailing for Rast but was best placed after difficult qualifying sessions for his rivals. At the start he was pushed out by Auer, before a sensor impeded his vision after it became dislodged – Rast managed to keep himself composed to bring his car home in second place to be crowned the 2017 DTM Series champion.
Pressure will be on for Rast to perform in his next full campaign after out performing the expectations of many in his first full year.
In doing so Rast became the first rookie champion since Nicola Larini back in 1993, and the first of the DTM Series in its current form.
Ekström – King of Consistency
Having been in the DTM since 2001 and winning the title in 2004 and 2007 it is hardly surprising the level of consistency Ekström has in the series.
The Swede claimed six podiums from the 18 races – joint highest with Rockenfeller – however, only one of these was a victory which came at the penultimate round at the Red Bull Ring.
As well, finding himself out of the points on only four occasions whereas Rast did not score in six races demonstrates the consistency of the Swede.
Ultimately for Ekström it was his qualifying performances that cost him his third title. Qualifying in the top three positions only four times, with Rast doing so twice that, the opportunity to gain the bonus points on offer was not taken. This was proven most costly for Ekström in the finale race at the Hockenheimring when Rast qualified second – gaining two bonus points in the process to cut his deficit from 11 points to nine – and the Swede could only manage 10th which he then had to serve a penalty on top of and started in 14th as a result.
Ekström lost out on the title by just three points, but had he finished the season level with Rast the German still would have been champion due to having more victories over the season.
However, Ekström lost three points at the finish at the Norisring in what has become the iconic shot of the 2017 season. Having been running in third place and battling with the BMW of Wittmann and Mercedes of Edoardo Mortara the trio crossed the finish line astern with Mortara just edging out the Audi-man for third in a moment that has been cemented in DTM history.
The double champion will be as determined as ever next season after placing as runner up for the fourth time in his career to claim his third title.
Green’s season had a positive start, winning the Sunday races at Hockenheim and the Lausitzring before being disqualified from the Hungaroring for changes being made to a mandatory part on the 18 cars.
From then to Spielberg, it was all midfield points finishes before claiming second place in the first Austrian race – it could have been the victory but he allowed Ekström by so he could claim it instead.
Green had been looking to win Sunday’s race when a technical issue affected the Briton with only a few minutes remaining on the clock as he tumbled down the order to 14th.
Had neither incident occured, Green would have left Austria going into the final on top of the standings.
It was a turbulent season for 2013 champion Rockenfeller in 2017 having a year filled will mixed fortune.
The main talking point of his season came in the second race at the Norisring where he found himself the helpless bystander in a huge crash with Gary Paffett. The Mercedes driver made contact whilst battling with Green, throwing Paffett into the barrier before he slid along it and into Rockenfeller. Both cars were ripped apart and the Audi-man was seen limping away.
There were doubts as to whether Rockenfeller would be able to take part in the next round in Moscow with Audi putting McLaren Junior Driver Nyck de Vries on standby but Rockenfeller returned to action and in some style as well by claiming second and hobbling onto the podium still on crutches.
His only victory of the year came the following round at Zandvoort after the disqualification of Wittmann. Three podium finishes in the final three races cemented Rockenfeller’s championship charge, missing out on the title by just 12 points.
Coming into 2017 as the reigning champion, Wittmann would have had high hopes to retain his crown, a feat last achieved by Timo Scheider back in 2009, but it turned out to be a difficult season for the Bavarian marque.
Strong qualifying performances were key to Wittmann’s title challenge starting from pole on one occasion, and in either second or third a further six times – Wittmann claimed the points for pole position at the Moscow Raceway but a penalty demoted him down the grid.
Wittmann looked to have gotten himself back into the title hunt at Zandvoort by claiming the Sunday race victory but was disqualified after the organisers were unable to extract 1kg of fuel from his car.
Had Wittmann kept the race victory at Zandvoort – given Rast did not score in the race – he would have ended the season as champion.
Entering his third year in the DTM, Auer had been showing clear signs of progress in his career after claiming his maiden victory at the Lausitzring in 2016.
The Austrian got the season started in the best possible way by claiming victory at the opening race at the Hockenheiming from pole position, before repeating the feat at the Lausitzring.
Other than a podium at the Norisring, Auer’s season took a hit with him not returning to winning ways until the Nurburgring.
Heading back to Hockenehim it realistically would have needed a miracle for him to finish as champion.
What is to come in 2018?
The 2018 season will be an important one for the DTM, it will be the final season for the current 4.0 litre V8 naturally-aspirated engine package that debuted when the series was reborn back in 2000.
From 2019 the so called Class One regulations will be introduced as a new engine package will be introduced in a joint venture with Super GT.
It will also be the final season for Mercedes who have chosen to withdraw their entry to the series as they enter a new venture in the FIA Formula E from the 2019-20 season – ending Mercedes’ tenure in the DTM after 19 years.
Having been scrapped with immediate effect following the round at the Nurburgring the controversial performance weights system opened up for Audi dominance in the final few races. Heading into next year the equal weights parts will be better refined than when it was scrapped mid-season.
Attracting new manufacturers will be important to guarantee the survival of the series, especially after the agreement Audi and Mercedes made prior to BMW’s return about not allowing the series to be reduced to just two manufacturers.
The Lausitzring will not feature on the DTM calendar anymore after it was purchased by insurance company DEKRA who plan to convert the track into an autonomous vehicle test track, meaning a replacement track needs to be found so the 2018 calendar can be finalised.