A dominant victory for Rene Rast at Zolder. Important points as he closes in on his rivals for the championship. Robin Frijns and Nico Mueller complete the podium, Timo Glock once again best of the BMWs in fourth.
Rast put himself back in the title contention after a lights-to-flag victory in the first race of the weekend. The reigning champion started from pole position, which earned him three points already. Then, in the race, he kept his head cool and dominated all the way through. In the end, he crossed the line with a margin of nearly 20 seconds.
Off the line, Rast, Frijns and Rockenfeller all made a perfect start. This despite starting from a wet side of the track. So, even though the BMWs had an advantage with their dry line, they dropped back. Glock lost one position to Mike Rockenfeller but gained it back on the second lap of the race. Meanwhile, Marco Wittmann and Sheldon van der Linde lost three and seven positions. A great start as well for WRT’s Harrison Newey, he moved up to fifth from eighth on the grid.
Initially, it seemed like Frijns could keep the pressure on Rast for the lead. It kept circling around one second. But then started to drop back a little. Of the drivers at the top, Mueller and Wittmann were the first ones to pit on lap 10 – followed by Glock one lap later. On lap 17, both Frijns and Van der Linde made their mandatory pitstop. Frijns rejoined the track just ahead of Glock. However, as he was on cold tyres, Glock passed him for second place on lap 18. Abt Sportsline Frijns then had to watch out and defend from his teammate Mueller. The gap between the pair was around one second.
Rast finally headed to the pits on lap 18 of the race. He had a tiny margin to Frijns before stopping. When he rejoined the track, the gap between him and Frijns was 5.7 seconds. From then on, nothing could stop the reigning champion. He kept expanding his lead and eventually took the chequered flag with a gap of 18.855 seconds to Frijns.
Frijns’ battle was far from over after his pitstop. Even though he was still defending from Mueller, he managed to slowly close the gap to Glock. On lap 24, he regained his second place with a move into Turn 1. Unfortunately, at that time Rast had built a gap of eight seconds already, which turned out to be too big for Frijns to be able to catch him.
‘My thanks go to my team today because I think we had by far the fastest car in the entire field,’ commented Rast after the race. ‘It’s a gigantic feeling to come back like this. Today we had the pace we were missing last time. We have shown that you shouldn’t write us off.’ Second-place finisher Frijns said: ‘Unfortunately, I lost a position to Timo [Glock] after my pitstop, which cost me quite a bit of time. I had to push my tyres very hard for a few laps to get back second place. After that, I just concentrated on securing second and took it easy on my tyres. The result is good, but tomorrow we have to be faster.’
Championship leader Mueller only started the race from seventh on the grid. In the early stages, the Swiss driver was stuck behind WRT’s Newey – who made an impressive start. Mueller did not manage to pass him on track. However, he benefited from an early pitstop to gain two places from Newey and Rockenfeller – moving up to fourth. Nine laps before the end, Mueller executed a bold move around the outside of Glock at the final chicane for third place. It’s Mueller’s tenth podium of the year.
Even though he got quite a fair amount of pressure from Newey in the final stages, Glock managed to hold onto the fourth position. ‘For sure, I would have been happy to be on the podium but it was clear to me that the Audis would have strong race pace. But in general, I’m happy with P4. We’ve scored some good points but against the top three, we are not strong enough at the moment. They are very good in terms of tyre management and that is where we are still struggling and need to improve.’
Newey finished the race in fifth place, by far his best race of the season. At some point, he was the fastest man on track. Van der Linde crossed the line in sixth, a great recovery drive after dropping to 13th at the start. Another WRT driver in the top ten – Ferdinand Habsburg finished seventh. Rockenfeller suffered a bad pitstop that lasted 26 seconds due to an issue with the air jack. This dropped him to the back. A great recovery drive meant that he finished eighth in the end. Completing the top ten are Philipp Eng and Loic Duval.
Two drivers did not make it to the finish. On lap 31, Jamie Green stopped as he picked up damage from his battle with BMW’s Eng. The second retirement came a few laps later. Wittmann was in a strong fifth place in the final stages. But he reported an issue with his gearbox which forced him to return to the pits.
Track action resumes tomorrow with qualifying at 10.40 local time (09.40 UK time). The second race of the weekend is scheduled to take place at 13.30 local time (12.30 UK time). There are only five races left in this season, so the battle for the championship is heating up.