Mike Rockenfeller takes his first win in two years at Assen
Audi Sport Team Phoenix’s Mike Rockenfeller made the most of a race that proved to highly demanding for the tyres on Sunday at Assen to achieve his first victory of the season and also first win in two years, ahead of a recovering Marco Wittmann.
Wittmann had started from the pit lane as not only had he failed to set a significant lap time in qualifying, but his team had to break the parc fermé in order to repair the turbo issues that hampered his session.
René Rast made a perfect start to take the lead from pole position, followed by Rockenfeller and Team Abt Sportsline’s Robin Frijns and Nico Müller, with WRT’s Jonathan Aberdein slow off the blocks from second and falling to eighth place.
Further back, Wittmann was making his way through the pack, and was up to 12th place by the second lap. The Team RMG driver continued his way forward, overtaking R-Motorsport’s Daniel Juncadella for tenth place on lap four.
Wittmann overtook fellow BMW drivers Philipp Eng and Sheldon van der Linde to be up to eighth place as Team Phoenix’s Loïc Duval was the first to pit at the end of lap six. That left Wittmann in seventh place behind an Audi six-pack.
Wittmann overtook Aberdein on lap ten, and then started his attack on his WRT team-mate Pietro Fittipaldi.
Wittmann was, however, unable to get through Fittipaldi, completing his obligatory pit stop at the end of lap 13 in the hope of undercutting some of his predecessors.
Müller was the first of the leading group to mirror the BMW driver’s move, pitting a lap later. His mechanics, however, had a problem with the front right tyre, with the Swiss driver losing valuable time in the pits.
Rast was next in the pits, followed by Frijns. Both returned to the track in front of Wittmann, but the Team RMG driver then went side-by-side with the Dutchman, with Frijns going off track as he tried to defend on cold tyres. Rast was already up to speed, but with Wittmann barely one second behind.
The virtual leaders continued their way forward but they soon encountered Duval, with Rast going through on lap 19 but Wittmann having more problems trying to follow and losing ground to the Audi driver.
R-Motorsport’s Daniel Juncadella was the last to pit at the end of lap 22, with Duval also returning to the pits for a second tyre change. That left Rast in the lead of the race, with Wittmann six seconds adrift and under pressure from Rockenfeller.
As the BMW driver resisted the Audi’s attacks, Frijns also gradually closed the gap to the pair. Rockenfeller then overtook Wittmann for second place on lap 26.
Rockenfeller continued at a blistering pace, lapping over two seconds a lap faster than Rast, coming up to the Team Rosberg driver’s rear bumper two laps later, with Rast called in for a second stop with his tyres clearly fading fast.
Rast pitted for the second time at the end of lap 29, returning to the track in 14th place, as Wittmann was advised to nurse his tyres.
Müller soon caught up with Wittmann, attacking for second place. Further behind, Aberdein overtook Frijns for fourth position. R-Motorsport’s Daniel Juncadella and Paul di Resta also overtook Team Rosberg’s Jamie Green, who was struggling with his tyres.
Rast was recovering ground, lapping five seconds faster than the leaders, soon overtaking Green and di Resta on a charge to score as many points as possible. Juncadella also caught and attacked Frijns on the last lap as Rast rapidly approached behind them, overtaking both a few corners before the chequered flag.
Rockenfeller took his first victory of the season, with Wittmann and Müller completing the podium.
Aberdein was fourth, with Rast next, ahead of Frijns and Juncadella. Di Resta was eighth, followed by Green, with Fittipaldi completing the top ten.
After the fifth round of the season, Rast leads the championship on 158 points, with Müller 22 points behind. Wittmann is third, 40 points adrift.
The next round of the season takes place at Brands Hatch from the 11th to the 12th of August.