Thomas Preining commanded his way to victory during the opening DTM race at Hockenheim which extended his championship lead for Manthey EMA.
The penultimate race on the 2023 schedule provoked wheel-to-wheel racing on the eighth venue and final venue of the season, as the championship title fight edged closer to its conclusion.
Preining extended his championship after he took pole position, thus claimed the three points on offer for the privilege.
Mirko Bortolotti started in eighth position, as he attempted to close down the 13-point gap during the 1-hour Saturday race.
As the lights went out, Preining retained his lead ahead of Christian Engelhart’s #19 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2, before Dennis Olsen quickly made a move to take second place.
This set Manthey EMA’s two Porsche 911 GT3.Rs in 1-2 formation at the front of the field as Jack Aitken jumped up to fourth place in his Ferrari 296 GT3.
Further back, there were several fights taking place with drivers keen to leave little room to spare.
Sheldon van der Linde’s BMW made contact with Jusuf Owega’s Team HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3 amidst the tension, as the pair fell back to the rear of the 28-car field.
Ricardo Feller, who is third in the standings, had his sights down on on Aitken’s fourth place.
After 10 minutes and seven laps completed, the field was more settled although a noticeable two-second gap separated third-placed Engelhart and Aitken behind, as the Emil Frey Racing driver faced more pressure from the cars which trailed him.
His position ahead of the closely-matched field enabled the front three runners to build a gap over Aitken, who was kept busy with defending from Feller.
Bortolotti ran in seventh position as his title rival pulled away, and his Grasser Racing teammate Franck Perera was with him in eighth.
After 20 minutes of racing, the (20-minute-long) pit window opened which saw Aitken and Feller each make their mandatory pit stop.
Bortolotti also pitted, keen to set himself about taking a fresh set of tyres as early as possible.
At the 26-minute mark, Preining made his pit stop having run a comfortable lead and emerged in third, although regained his lead after Olsen and Engelhart pitted.
Olsen emerged 10th as a handful of competitors had not yet pitted, nevertheless behind his teammate.
Their formation enabled Preining to keep the lead as Olsen was on-hand to fend off competitors, if need be, with a championship title at priority in the Manthey EMA.
Perera was awarded a penalty lap for speeding in the pitlane, hampering his proximity to teammate Bortolotti.
Speaking of which, Bortolotti was racing closely with Kelvin van der Linde.
K. van der Linde was waved a black-and-white (warning) flag after momentarily forcing Bortolotti off the circuit.
Meanwhile, Feller managed a cunning move on Aitken for net-fourth position.
Rene Rast’s race turned to misfortune as tyre damage was struck on his BMW M4 GT3, after wanting to defend himself after his pit stop on cold tyres which forced him to retire from the race.
As Preining led by four seconds over his teammate, and Bortolotti remained seventh, therefore the Lamborghini driver needed to climb at least one more position if he was to keep his title chances alive into Sunday’s race day.
Kelvin van der Linde was keen not to give away his vital sixth position to Bortolotti, though was kept on the stewards’ attention with a few track limits warnings.
With 10-minutes to go, Bortolotti made a push for sixth place stick in his Lamborghini.
Aitken was now being chased by Bortolotti, who was adamant to make up more places with his capable form.
Into the final five minutes, Aitken made a mistake which opened the door for Bortolotti and Feller to jump into the top-five runners.
By the chequered flag, Preining commanded the race lead ahead of his teammate Olsen, fronting a 1-2 for Manthey EMA and the Teams’ Championship.
Engelhart finished third in his #19 GRT Lamborghini, ahead of Feller and Bortolotti.
Sixth place was taken by K. van der Linde, who took the position in the final laps from Aitken, who finished in seventh position.
Eighth place was claimed by Luca Stoltz for Team HRT, as the highest-finishing Mercedes-AMG.
In ninth position was the highest-placed BMW of Marco Wittmann for Project 1, as Laurin Heinrich rounded off the top-10 positions.
Preining extended his championship lead to 218 points, after he took three for pole and 25 for the race win.
Bortolotti’s fifth place earned him 11 points, making his latest total points at 191.
He must claim first or second position in qualifying tomorrow in order to mathematically stay in the title fight.