Kelvin van der Linde marked his 25th birthday in fine style as he dominated the second DTM race at Monza in his Team Abt Sportsline Audi R8 LMS.
Starting from pole position, van der Linde fended off a first-corner challenge from a fast-starting Liam Lawson – winner of race one – and from then on pulled clear as he took an untroubled lights-to-flag victory by more than three seconds over the chasing pack behind.
His cruise to the flag was assisted thanks to some almighty squabbles behind. The first involved brother Sheldon – driving for ROWE Racing – who was involved in a three-way scrap for second involving Lawson and Team Rosberg’s Nico Müller.
On the second lap, Müller and Lawson were battling door-to-door going through the Curva Grande and into the second chicane. A moment of rubbing between them slowed the pair down and allowed Sheldon van der Linde to slingshot his way through to second in his BMW M6 GT3 on the run into the Lesmos.
Having lost second, Lawson quickly lost third to Müller at the Parabolica. His race then got even tougher in the next run through the Variante della Roggia as he tried to out-muscle Esteban Muth, but the pair made contact going through the chicane and Lawson span out to the back of the field – narrowly missing being fully collected by Vincent Abril’s Haupt Racing Team Mercedes.
Those battles allowed Kelvin to pull more than five seconds over the pack behind as he made his mandatory stop just before the halfway mark. A clean stop allowed him to come back out just ahead of Müller who also had a solid stop.
With those two clear ahead – and Lucas Auer powering up to third thanks to some rapid laps on fresh Michelins having pitted first – the action descended into squabbles for the places outside the podium.
One of the first battles was the one for fourth, as Sheldon van der Linde was forced to make his already wide BMW even wider to fend off Marco Wittmann in the similar Walkenhorst Motorsport M6.
Benefitting from slick pit work to come out in sixth, Wittmann made easy work of passing Philip Ellis around the outside of the Rettifilo before coming right onto the back of van der Linde. The latter, though, was too canny to Wittmann’s attacks and held on to secure fourth with Wittmann settling for fifth.
Having retired on the opening lap of the season-opener, Mercedes driver Ellis was on a mission to secure as many points as possible and did a great job to maintain sixth at the line despite coming under some serious pressure from Alpha Tauri AF Corse racer Alex Albon.
The ex-F1 racer was making progress up the field having once again qualified outside the top 10 as he adapts to GT3 racing, with the quickest pitstop of the race allowing the Ferrari man to push up to seventh and another handy haul of points.
Towards the bottom of the points-paying positions, there was a captivating fight for eighth between Audi’s Mike Rockenfeller and Muth. The latter, in his T3 Motorsports Lamborghini Huracán Evo, lacked the same pace in his closing stint that put him as high as second in the opening laps, and found himself under pressure from Rockenfeller in the Team Abt Sportsline R8.
Muth was defending with all his might for a number of laps, and just as it seemed as though the young Belgian would maintain the position, Rockenfeller pulled off a remarkable move round the outside through the Lesmos to slingshot himself up into eighth.
Max Götz rounded out the top 10 in his Haupt Racing Team Mercedes-AMG GT3, holding off a train of Mercedes entries which included Saturday’s podium finisher Vincent Abril, as well as Dani Juncadella who finished 12th.
Lawson ultimately finished 14th after his early spin through the gravel, just behind Maxi Buhk, and ahead of Dev Gore – having passed the American with just a few laps remaining.
The next round of the DTM takes the field back to Germany and a trip to the Lausitzring on 24 & 25 July with Kelvin van der Linde in the lead of the championship.
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