Kelvin van der Linde took victory in Race 1 of DTM’s double-header at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, after executing a solid pit-stop strategy amidst changeable conditions.
The ABT Sportsline Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO II pilot finished ahead of maiden polesitter Laurin Heinrich in the Team 75 Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3.R and Ricardo Feller in the second ABT Sportsline Audi, who climbed from 26th to third.
The race got underway in damp, greasy conditions, with only a handful of drivers gambling to option for slick tyres, which proved to be a mistake with the damp conditions holding in the early exchanges.
Polesitter Heinrich took the field to green after two formation laps and the Team 75 Motorsport driver held onto the holeshot into the first corner in his Porsche 911 GT3.R.
K. van der Linde challenged Heinrich all the way to Turn 3, but ran deep, falling back to fight as the rest of the runners shuffled, slipped and slid behind the leader.
Heinrich’s teammate Ayhancan Güven managed to cycle through to second in the opening laps, to give the Team75 Motorsport squad an early 1-2.
Thanks to the greasy circuit conditions, there was fighting all the way down the field, with Championship leader Mirko Bortolotti battling in 10th early on and reigning champion Sheldon van der Linde trying to climb through the order to keep himself in contention for this year’s title.
As the field approached the pit-stop window, Heinrich held a three-second lead over Maro Engel’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 and K. van der Linde, who’d battled past Güven, resided in third.
Rene Rast had steered his Schubert Motorsport BMW M4 GT3 ahead of Thomas Preining’s Manthey EMA Porsche and Güven to take fourth, with Preining also passing Güven as the pit window opened and a dry line had started to appear, rain threatened to intervene again.
And intervene it did as the field kept circulating despite the pit window being open, with rain starting to fall.
Meanwhile, Bortolotti was charging hard, putting two wheels on the gravel to pass Marco Wittmann’s Project 1 BMW for eighth, before dispatching Dennis Olsen’s Manthey Porsche for seventh, as the rain decided to ease with 13 minutes of the pit window remaining.
With 12 minutes of the window remaining, the first few runners headed to pit lane, Marvin Dienst, Jusuf Owega and Luca Stolz being amongst the first to switch tyres, with the latter gambling to take on slicks.
But the front runners continued around the Red Bull Ring – waiting for the opportune moment to pit.
Championship contender Feller chose to switch to slick tyres in his ABT Sportsline Audi with just under 10 minutes of the pit-stop window left to run.
A flurry of midfield runners then gambled to pit for slick tyres, with the the leaders still running out front on wet tyres.
K. van der Linde was the first of the leading pack to head to pit lane and pulling the plug first out of the leading pack would pay dividends with Heinrich, Engel, Rast and Preining pitting a few minutes later and Bortolotti pitting a lap later still.
As the window came to a close, Emil Frey Racing’s Thierry Vermeulen was sent into the gravel in the second-to-last corner by Clemens Schmid, bringing out the Safety Car.
As the field circulated under caution, K. van der Linde had inherited the lead with Heinrich falling to second, Engel third, Preining fourth, Feller fifth and Bortolotti slipping all the way down to ninth in the pit window reshuffle.
The Safety Car came in with just over 13 minutes of the race remaining and K. van der Linde got the perfect restart to streak away.
K. van der Linde maintained his advantage all the way to the chequered flag to take a resounding victory, his first since 2021, ahead of Heinrich and Feller, who completed a remarkable 23-place charge after a late defence against the hard-charging Rast in fourth with the pair swapping places and paintwork on multiple occasions in numerous thrilling exchanges.
Preining pounced on Engel on the penultimate lap to take fifth, with Luca Stolz in the Team HRT Mercedes finishing seventh behind Engel.
Wittmann took eighth, with championship leader Borotlotti finishing ninth, maintaining his championship lead over Preining with a margin of six points.
The top 10 was completed by Olsen in what was an enthralling DTM race in Austria.
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