Marco Wittmann saw off an intense late challenge from René Rast to take victory for BMW Team RMG in the first DTM Series race of the weekend at Brands Hatch.
Wittmann led from pole position for the majority of the 42-lap, 55-minute plus one lap race – finishing a mere 0.374 seconds ahead of the Audi Sport Team Rosberg car of championship leader Rast.
Nico Müller‘s lonely third place finish helped Audi extend its lead in the Manufacturer’s standings over BMW with two podiums.
Wittmann surrendered his advantage from the start to the fast-starting Aston Martin of Paul di Resta, who bravely squeezed past Rast from fourth on the grid to lead around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend as more rain threatened to challenge the slick-tyre shod field.
The Scot managed to keep Wittmann at a comfortable length in the opening stages, but was handed a five-second pitstop penalty for a jump start as Aston Martin’s afternoon rapidly deteriorated.
Dry weather and pleasant sunshine soon greeted Brands, to the pleasure of all the teams and drivers who had opted for a dry weather setup.
A barrage of early pitstops in the midfield did not tempt the frontrunners to change their strategies, with Müller the first of the leading pack to pit from fifth on lap 13 and rejoining towards the back of field.
Rast’s recovery from a sluggish start began with a pass on his fellow Audi Loïc Duval for third on the run up to the fast Hawthorn’s corner, the two also following each other in to the pits on lap 15.
One lap prior to that, Wittmann made his mandatory tyre stop from second place – returning in eleventh ahead of a feisty Jamie Green.
Wittmann was powerless on cold tyres to prevent Green from passing him on the exit of Turn 3 and had to camp behind the Audi as his Hankooks came up to temperature.
But Green could not hold the BMW behind for long, skating wide at Turn 1 in the mania of Rast and Duval exiting the pitlane.
Wittmann took the chance to make an opportunistic move through the middle of Rast and the recovering Green to return to an effective second place.
Di Resta lengthened his first stint to lap 16 in the knowledge that he would be delayed at his pitstop, and was dumped outside the points on his return.
Audi’s Robin Frijns had a brief spell in the lead after di Resta’s stop until his tyre change on lap 24 as light rain hit the circuit once again.
In the lead for the first time since the first hundred metres, Wittmann maintained around a five second lead to Rast, who could not make the most of his marginally younger tyres.
But in the final stages, Rast produced lap times that were two seconds per lap quicker than the BMW driver, scything the gap down to 1.4s heading into the final lap.
Rast closed menacingly on the back straight but could not get close enough in the final sector to make a move, with Wittmann taking his fourth victory of the 2019 season.
With the three bonus points for pole position and the race win, Rast now has a 32-point lead to Wittmann – the latter bringing it down by eight points.
Frijns passed Mike Rockenfeller and Duval late on with the help of fresher tyres to take fourth place, 15.6s behind Wittmann.
Duval held on to his fifth place, but Rockenfeller’s sixth place fell prey to the second best-placed BMW of Philipp Eng on the penultimate lap.
Sheldon van der Linde led his fellow South African Jonathan Aberdein in eighth – Aberdein did well to recover after starting the formation lap from the pitlane due to a small crash in qualifying.
Daniel Juncadella was judged to have caused a collision with Aston Martin team-mate Jake Dennis and Timo Glock, resulting in Dennis’s retirement with rear wing damage, and received a drive-through penalty – but still managed to finish in the top 10.
Juncadella was the highest finisher out of the Aston Martins after such a promising qualifying, with Ferdinand Habsburg finishing four laps down and di Resta retiring late on in the garage.
Pietro Fittipaldi and Joel Eriksson did not take the start after crash damage for the Audi and a technical issue for the BMW.
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