Mike Rockenfeller took his first win of the 2019 DTM Series in a thrilling second and final race of the Assen weekend, but Marco Wittmann produced the drive of the day.
Rockenfeller kept his Audi‘s tyres fresh enough to take a 4.518 second victory over Wittmann and Nico Müller, while championship leader René Rast finished fifth after starting from pole – but the German was forced into an alternate two-stop strategy.
Wittmann started from the pitlane after suffering a turbo issue in qualifying on Sunday morning, and did not get to set a fastest lap, but produced a sterling comeback drive to second place with just one pitstop to move past BMW team-mate Philipp Eng and into third in the Drivers’ Championship.
Audi locked out the first five spots on the grid, but Jonathan Aberdein‘s poor start from second immediately ruffled the order on the first lap.
Rast held his lead ahead of Rockenfeller, Robin Frijns, Müller and the fast-starting BMW of Sheldon van der Linde at the start of the second lap – as Aberdein fell to eighth.
But van der Linde’s hard work at the start was swiftly undone as he came under pressure from Loïc Duval, forcing the Audi off the track at the final chicane and irking the stewards – who forced the South African to give the place to Duval.
Pietro Fittipaldi and Eng also squeezed past van der Linde, who proved to be a bit more generous than he had initially hoped, demoting him to ninth.
In another BMW, Wittmann continued his sensational charge into the points by displacing the lead Aston Martin of Daniel Juncadella from tenth place at Turn 4 on lap four of the 55 minute/37-lap race.
Wittmann and Müller’s pitstops on laps 13 and 14 triggered movement in the pitlane from the frontrunners, with the rear tyres proving to be troublesome around the traction-heavy Assen circuit.
Rast and Frijns made their first stops the following lap from first and third respectively, rejoining inside the top 10 and ahead of Wittmann and Müller – but the former used his warmer tyres to muscle past Frijns around the outside of Turn 5.
Frijns tried a retort into the chicane of Turns 6 and 7, but locked up and was forced to snake around the polystyrene boards in the middle of the runoff area.
Rockenfeller had kept his tyres one lap longer and capitalised on Frijns’ misfortune to rejoin ahead of his fellow Audi in ninth positon.
For a chunk of the mid-part of the race Duval looked to be the net leader after a very early stop on lap 6, but his challenge soon faded once the drivers on fresher tyres approached him.
The Frenchman did play a pivotal role in deciding the outcome of the race by pitting again on lap 23, a move copied four laps later by the recovering van der Linde.
Rast too came in for a second set of tyres after Rockenfeller breezed into the lead on the pit straight, with the aid of superior traction out of the final chicane.
The unscheduled stop left Rast in thirteenth place, but fresher tyres handed him an advantage of up to 5s a lap for the final 10 minutes of the race.
As Müller swarmed all over the back of a very resolute Wittmann in the battle for second, Rockenfeller edged further ahead in the lead and Rast started his late fightback.
In the space of the final two laps, the reigning champion passed Duval, Fittipaldi, Jamie Green and Paul di Resta before completing a sensational double overtake on Juncadella and Frijns around the outside of Turn 9 to take a very commendable fifth place.
Wittmann managed to hold off Müller’s tyre advantage to hold second place behind Rockenfeller, who now moves into the top five of the championship – as Bruno Spengler retired with long-standing steering issues.
Aberdein’s poor start cost him a shot of a podium finish, but he was fortunate that the clock prevented Rast from attacking his fourth place.
Frijns struggled with excessive tyre wear on his Audi, but held off Aston Martin duo Juncadella and di Resta – as R-Motorsport enjoyed better race pace over its qualifying form.
Green and Fittipaldi rounded out the top 10, with Duval the only Audi outside the points in eleventh.
Jake Dennis and Spengler retired in the pits on lap 20 with braking and steering issues respectively, while Joel Eriksson was the only other retirement with suspected engine failure on lap 30.
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