The summer break is over in DTM, as the field makes the longest trip of the season towards Moscow. The final four weekends will decide the winners in a closely-contested season, each of the three camps having strong arguments for its charge.
Moscow Raceway is the youngest race in the DTM calendar, this year being only the fourth time we visit Russia. There have been wins for all three brands here, on a track that very few drivers actually enjoy. It may not be just because of the actual configuration of the circuit, but also the restrictive environment and the fatigue that a longer flight implies. Still, when you have a lot of success on a particular piece of tarmac, you start to love it, as we have seen with Yvan Muller in the WTCC, the veteran being a solitary voice when it comes to praising Moscow Raceway.
In DTM, the 2013 was dominated by Audi (1-2-4), with eventual champion Rockenfeller claiming his second win of the season, followed by Ekstrom. Farfus stepped onto the podium for BMW that year and next time around we had a mirrored result: 1-2-4 for BMW and an Audi intruder in third (Ekstrom). Maxime Martin was the 2014 winner, claiming his first triumph in DTM at his 6th race. Mercedes retaliated in 2015 with Pascal Wehrlein overtaking Marco Wittmann to level the scores at one each, while the next day we had Mike Rockenfeller in a state of grace. It was not just his only win of the year, but also his sole podium appearance in 2015. Bruno Spengler and Mattias Ekstrom raised their Russian podiums tally to three apiece.
The current state of affairs in DTM gives everyone a chance: BMW leads the standings, Mercedes could have been on top without the Zandvoort punctures and Audi has won the most races, 5 out of 10, and has the most podium appearances with 13 of 30. Every full-time racer has scored at least one point until now and we cannot underline a clear group of title favorites. 15 different drivers have stepped onto the podium and four champions have not tasted champagne yet: Spengler, Tomczyk, Rockenfeller and Scheider.
Marco Wittmann has claimed nine consecutive top-8 finishes and leads the standings with 105 points. His consistency has been the greatest asset, even when all other BMWs struggled. Statistics may be irrelevant, but Jens Marquardt gladly recalls that his cars have claimed 6 of 12 podium places in Moscow and two poles out of four qualifying sessions. Ernest Knoors, MTEK team principal, states that qualifying has been the weak spot this year, as good race pace is a pale consolation when you have too much ground to make up. Bruno Spengler aims to get his campaign started with a podium (at least), recalling how last year he had his best weekend as a whole (2 podiums) in Moscow. It goes without saying that Maxime Martin aims for another win here after the one in 2014, while Antonio Felix da Costa had won races on this track in other championships. That may give him a much-needed boost.
Jamie Green leads the Audi chase, just seven points behind Wittmann after a very solid run that included his first win of the year in Zandvoort. Right behind him is Edo Mortara, who recently became a father. The Italian still reckons that he should have been higher up front, had it not been the unjustified penalty in the Netherlands. Still, it may be the right time for the veterans to shine, since both Ekstrom and Rockenfeller felt at ease on the Russian track. Mattias recently lost the lead in the World RX standings and he needs to change his mindset in order to avoid contacts in DTM. Last year, he had a momentary lapse of reason when he went for a gap that disappeared as Glock turned in. 12 months later, there had been several other blots on Eki’s copybook since then, especially at the Norisring this year.
Mercedes seems to shift its focus from Paul di Resta, who led their chase early in the season, towards Robert Wickens. The Canadian has been super consistent lately, but the late-race puncture in Zandvoort gave an unexpected breather to Marco Wittmann. Wickens is now 22 points adrift, but his stellar pace in qualy and races could bring him closer in no time. Vietoris suffered the same fate near the North Sea and Ulrich Fritz rues the missed points that could have brought Mercedes a lot closer to their rivals.
All eyes will be in the ART Grand Prix garage, where Felix Rosenqvist makes his debut in place of Esteban Ocon, who recently got the call to step up into Formula 1 with Mercedes backing. The Swedish racer had raced in Moscow two years ago, when the track was still in the Formula 3 calendar. Felix had to give up on the final Indy Lights outing at Laguna Seca once he accepted the DTM offer with no hesitation.
All bets are open for the last 8 races of the year and no matter what happens in Russia, it will keep on being tight at the top in DTM. Everything will then be decided in the last third of the season, as the caravan heads consecutively towards the Nurburgring, the Hungaroring and the traditional season ending at Hockenheim.