Insight: How Rast made his way to a second DTM title

Rene Rast wrapped up the 2019 season with his second title strongly in hand, 72 points clear of Nico Müller, who had been his biggest threat to the crown. How did Rast make his way to a second championship? To find out, we’re taking a look at Rene Rast’s path to glory.

It should be noted that Rast was already a championship favorite before the season even began. He had already taken six wins en route to a second place finish behind Mercedes’ Gary Paffett in 2018. With Mercedes now out of the championship, the road seemingly looked clear for Rast to pick up where he left off.

Hockenheim: A cautious start

The 2019 DTM season kicked off at Hockenheim in May, and while Rast might have been seen as the favorite, his title challenge did not get off to a dream start. He retired with mechanical gremlins from the first race while in podium position, and then found himself starting from the back of the grid on Sunday. 

Rast's first win came at Hockenheim

He would then show a trait that would come in handy later in the season: an uncanny ability to stay calm and bounce back under pressure. Rast executed a masterful drive from sixteenth, and aided by a safety car and great strategy, took his first win of 2019. He left the Hockenheimring third in the drivers standings, nine points behind Marco Wittmann and six behind Audi colleague Robin Frijns.

Zolder: A sign of things to come

DTM’s first event at Zolder since 1984 gave both deja vu and a look into the future. On Saturday, Rast started from a strong position only to retire once again. But on Sunday, Rast would demonstrate just how dominant he could be on race day. Sheldon van der Linde started on pole, but Rast quickly caught and passed the South African rookie and disappeared into the distance, adding a second win to his tally. 

Rast now climbed to second in the championship, surpassing Wittmann and Frijns who both had bad weekends. Philipp Eng now climbed to the top of the table with a very strong showing which included a pole position on Sunday and his first DTM win on Saturday.

Misano: Taking the lead

Rast took two pole positions in Misano, further underlining that the Audi RS5 DTM really had become the package to beat this season. Race day was somewhat of a different tale, however. On Saturday, Rast was outperformed by Marco Wittmann, who came from the back of the grid and was simply in a league of his own as he took the chequered flag for his second win of the season.

Wittmann's performance was the highlight of Misano weekend

On Sunday, Rast showed a rare glimpse of weakness as he collided with his rival on the opening lap. Wittmann retired, and Rast still managed to take a podium. The two podiums, two pole positions and a worse weekend for Philipp Eng meant that Rast was now in the lead of the championship by ten points, a gap that would only get bigger.

Norisring: Damage control

In hindsight, the events at the Norisring could very easily have put a serious dent in Rast’s newly gained championship supremacy. On Saturday, he seemingly threw away a strong starting position when his Audi stalled on the grid, dropping him all the way down the order. Instead of letting frustration getting the better of him, Rast simply put his head down and went to work. An early safety car and a stunning recovery drive later, Rast was on the top step of the podium. On Sunday, it was a repeat scenario as Nico Müller pitched him into a spin on lap one. Rast recovered to a seventh place finish, still picking up some vital points.

The crazy nature of the Norisring weekend meant that, despite the setbacks, Rast still left it as championship leader. Not only that, he also managed to extend his championship lead by 15 points. Nico Müller now moved into second and surpassed Philipp Eng while Marco Wittmann’s challenge began to unravel in quick fashion.

Assen: Putting the championship first

DTM then arrived in the Netherlands, but not at the track many had become familiar with. Zandvoort had been traded in for Assen, a track well known for hosting MotoGP races. The weather on Saturday was traditionally Dutch and it was pouring with rain. Seemingly with the championship in mind, Rast took it easy and came home in third. On Sunday, a comfortable win was thrown out the window when Rast’s Hankook rubber suffered from high degradation, forcing an unplanned stop. He recovered to come home in fifth, but only saw his championship lead shrink by a handful points.

The events in the Dutch countryside perhaps showed the first glimpses of an insufficient challenge by Müller. With his opponent in trouble, the Swiss youngster failed to strike, much like he failed to strike at the Norisring on Sunday when he actually finished eighth, one place behind his rival.

Brands Hatch: Wittmann’s last gasp

Across the pond, Wittmann’s championship challenge seemed revived as he took pole position and victory for a maximum points haul, with Rast as runner-up. It then went downhill on Sunday, as Audi dominated qualifying by locking out the first eight grid slots, Rast quickest of all. Wittmann then brought home a single point as Rast led the way for win number four, Müller in tow in second.

The three-way title fight we could have had

The Swiss challenger was condemned to second violin in the Rast-Wittmann saga at Brands Hatch and despite putting on the pressure on Sunday, Müller was forced to watch as the gap was increased to 37 points. But if Müller thought his challenge was over, the DTM storybook was about to have another plot twist.

Lausitzring: Müller gets a lifeline

By the time the championship entered its final stages, the BMW runners were well and truly out of the picture and the championship looked to be in Rast’s hands as he once again took pole on Saturday. But then, the red-and-white Audi RS5 DTM spluttered to a halt in the early stages. The script had been torn up and thrown out the window, and Nico Müller finally did what he couldn’t before: he capitalized.

Müller's Lausitzring win brought the title fight back to life

The Castrol-branded RS5 was the first across the line on Saturday, bringing the lead down from 37 to 14 points. Rast answered on Sunday, taking victory from fourth on the grid to bring it back to 20 points. But it was clear: with four races left across two rounds, the championship battle was alive again.

Nürburgring: Müller breaks, Rast conquers

It was perhaps fitting that the conclusion to the title saga took place at Germany’s most famous racetrack. Nico Müller had one goal at the Nürburgring: further rope in Rast, and perhaps get in striking distance to topple him. But he failed. Müller seemed to crack under pressure on Saturday and massively jumped the start, earning a drivethrough penalty that left him out of the points. 

On Sunday, Rast needed seven additional points to take the title, and in a heart-pounding finale, a late pass by rookie Jonathan Aberdein dropped Müller down to sixth. A third place finish for Rast meant he scored 15 points against Müller’s 8, meaning Rast had clinched the 2019 DTM championship with two races to spare.

Hockenheim Finale: A win each to end the season

With the championship decided, DTM arrived back at the Hockenheimring for its grand finale, where it would share the track with three guest runners from the Japanese SUPER GT championship. Rast started from pole on Saturday and resisted a challenge from Marco Wittmann to take his seventh and final win of the season.

On Sunday, Müller was the one to start from pole after a Mike Rockenfeller penalty and ironically fought his way past the man he couldn’t beat for the title to add a third win to his tally, bringing the 2019 DTM championship to a definitive end.