Written for and published by Prescott Motorsport.
Images courtesy of DTM Media.
A lot of firsts in DTM this weekend: the first ever night race in the championship (start was at 22.30 local time), the first DTM race at Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli and the debut of Alessandro Zanardi to DTM in a BMW adjusted to his needs. Where a couple of drivers had experience racing at night (René Rast is a 24h Le Mans regular, Gary Paffett and Jamie Green both raced the 24h of Spa, Philipp Eng even drove the Blancpain GT Series night races at Misano), many had not.
In qualifying, championship runner-up Paul Di Resta in his Mercedes c63 scored his second Pole Position in a row as the only driver under 1.46s. Edoardo Mortara, 5th in the standings, joined him on the first row. Right behind were reigning champion René Rast in the first Audi with next to him the current leader in the standings Gary Paffett. The first BMW M4 was from Timo Glock in 5th position. The third Brit on the grid, Jamie Green, qualified in 17th position. The 51-year old rookie, Alessandro Zanardi qualified his M4 at the back of the grid.
Although it was dry at the start, the track was still damp from a light shower before. Some driver chose therefore to start on intermediates, among them pole sitter Di Resta. This cost him in the first meters, but helped him in turn 1 which wasn’t quite dry yet. Paffett had a great start and jumped from 4th to 2nd, Mortara was 3rd while Rast dropped to 6th in the first lap. Glock also made it up from 5th to 4th as first placed BMW-driver.
In lap 5 the first of the leaders came in to make their pitstops: Mortara (3rd) and Glock (4th) decided to change to slicks early. They came out in the same order. Di Resta and Paffett, with now a second or three between them and a 5 second gap to Auer, decided to stay out two laps longer. The gap between stayed around 3 seconds, but Paffett came out right in front of Mortara, the latter already on warm tires. As we’ve seen in previous races this is indeed a big advantage, as was this time: Paffett had to defend heavily to local hero Mortara, who even made a move on the inside of the Brit. The two touched slightly, leading to an imbalance in Mortara’s car which benefitted Paffett. He could stay in front for now.
Disaster struck for the Brit a lap later: it seemed that braking for the same left turn where Mortara and Paffett came together a lap before, the left front tire of the blue Mercedes c63 blew. Paffett only just managed to keep the car on track, but Mortara, shadowed by Philipp Eng, was already on the inside of Paffett. Unable to avoid a collision, the two met yet again, now breaking the left front suspension of Paffett’s car; his race was over.
Mortara didn’t have any time to celebrate gaining a position as he had Philipp Eng now literally under his rear wing. The BMW-driver with the most experience on this track, even at night, made his pitstop as early as lap 3 and his strategy obviously paid off. As Paffett’s car was hard to remove, the safety car was called on track to give the marshals the opportunity to tow the car.
Now that the leader in the championship was out of the race, his pursuers saw their chances. The (new for this season) indycar-restart, where the cars line up as they would for a rolling start, was most beneficial for Di Resta in 3rd, as all the cars around him still had to stop anyway. He didn’t count on Philipp Eng though who managed to pass Di Resta on the outside in the turmoil of the first turn after the restart.
Two laps later and now halfway through the race, the safety car was called out again as a result of crash a couple of turns after the restart that took two casualties: Bruno Spengler, Jamie Green and René Rast ruined each other’s race when they collided, , Green and Spengler had to park their car in the grass a bit further up the track, Rast had to retire his RS5 in the pitbox. At the same time, Ericsson pushed Auer, the latter also forced to park his c63 while Ericsson had to serve a drive through penalty later.
At the restart it was now Di Resta who got the advantage over Eng, passing him on the inside to take 2nd place. Farfus was in the lead, but he still had to make his stop, Mortara was in 4th. Juncadella, race winner at Brands Hatch, was in 5th but also still had to make his stop.
Eng, still right under the rear wing of Di Resta, had not yet given up on the race win and in lap 18, just over 20 minutes to go, he got another chance. He managed to profit from Di Resta going a bit wide after a slight imbalance, passing the Scot on the inside. Eng clearly had the faster car, as he could pull a gap immediately, and was already 2.5 seconds away after two laps.
10 minutes in which attention shifted to the thrilling fight for 4th later, Di Resta caught back up to Eng’s rear wing. Eng might had asked too much of his tires as Di Resta now clearly had the faster car. This was demonstrated by the fact that after a lap on the bumper, Di Resta decided he had waited long enough and passed the M4 round the outside. Mortara followed two turns later and now put the pressure on Di Resta immediately. The Italian, 5th in the standings in his Mercedes and having won already twice this season, saw his chance take his third win but Di Resta could fend him off for now.
In the meantime, Eng was really struggling with his M4. Quickly losing ground to Di Resta and Mortara, he now fell back to right in front of Loïc Duval, Robin Frijns and Nico Müller in their Audis. He was not the only BMW losing pace as Glock, who was running in 4th before, also fell back to 8th. The fight had an amazing climax as while Eng trying to block Duval on the inside, Frijns took both cars over on the outside of a long turn in what can only be the move of the race. He was now in 4th, while Juncadella in front still had to make his stop. Frijns was now on course to score his first podium in DTM in his rookie year with only 5 minutes to go.
Instead of settling for third, Frijns went into overdrive mode and quickly closed the 3 second gap to Mortara. With a minute plus one lap to go he caught up to the Italian and the fight could begin. With only 3 to 4 tenths of a second between them, Frijns only had one lap to make his move. In the long turn where the battle between Spengler, Rast and Green ended in tears earlier, he put his RS5 beside the Mercedes of Mortara. The Italian however, in his home race, did not move aside so easily. Racing side by side for several turns, it was the Mercedes at last that came out in front. But two turns later and three before the end, Frijns made another bold move, this time successful. After peaking left, he forced Mortara to defend the outside of the corner, quickly switching to the inside himself and passing the Mercedes. Another fantastic move by the Dutchman, driving his best race of the season so far.
The more than intense battle for 2nd, meant that Di Resta in front did not have to worry too much in the last two laps. He crowned himself to King of the Night, taking both the first DTM Pole and race win in the dark. Scoring 28 points while Paffett scored none, he is now only one point behind Paffett in the standings: 177 for Paffett, 176 for Di Resta. Mortara moves up to third with 118 points.
TIP: official link to the full race, re-live with English commentary here (please let us now in the comments if the video is available in the UK).