Liam Lawson fought off late pressure from Max Götz to convert his pole position to victory in the first DTM race of the weekend at the Red Bull Ring, in a a race that was full of action from the very start.
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At the start, Lawson made the best getaway as the race went green in his AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3, with Götz a fraction slower on the reactions. The German tried the inside line at Turn One in his Haupt Racing Team Mercedes, but couldn’t quite get close enough to really challenge.
That allowed Lawson to escape up the road, with Götz running a slightly lonely second as a thrilling fight emerging for third allowed him to focus on trying to stop Lawson from completely disappearing up the road.
Arjun Maini was the man trying to defend his third place at the start, and was under intense pressure from both Sheldon van der Linde and Philip Ellis on the run up the hill to Turn 3.
Van der Linde was side-by-side with Maini in the run into the corner, but Ellis – in the Winward Mercedes-AMG GT3 – pulled off an audacious dive up the inside of the pair of them to slingshot his way up from fifth to third. He didn’t quite make the move stick however, as Maini fought back with a better run out of the right-hander to continue running side by-side down to Turn 4.
Maini managed to wrestle third back, with Ellis holding on to fourth as van der Line was left hung out to dry down in fifth in his BMW M6 GT3.
With Maini allowed to disappear slightly, the action turned into a two-way scrap for fourth between Ellis and van der Linde with the BMW better on the brakes into Turn 3, but Ellis able to use the grunt of the Mercedes to get a better exit out of the corners.
Just as the battle looked like it was about to reach boiling point, Ellis elected to call in to make his mandatory pitstop, with van der Linde doing the same a couple of laps later.
The pair didn’t have chance to do battle again. Shortly after his stop, van der Linde went straight into the gravel at Turn 4 and through the other side, stopping on the escape road with what appeared to be an issue with his M6 which caused an early retirement.
With just under 30 minutes of the race remaining, the key battle was a captivating battle for what would be fifth on the road – thanks to some drivers ahead electing for a very late final stop – between Maini and Alex Albon.
The duo were battling nose-to-tail for lap after lap in a battle which lasted for about half-a-dozen laps with Albon trying aggressive moves on Maini to try and get into fourth. He was late on the brakes on a number of occasions going into turns 3 and 4 to try and lead into the corner, but Maini would always managed to get back ahead with a better exit.
It wasn’t until after 10 minutes of attacking that Albon managed to get his Ferrari ahead. He got alongside Maini coming into Turn 3 and held the inside line into the next corner, fending off the pressure of the Mercedes to stay ahead.
Released from behind Maini, Albon closed the gap to championship leader Kelvin van der Linde running in a net fourth after his early stop.
Albon tried the same lunge on van der Linde that he tried on Maini at Turn 3 with seven minutes to go, but ran too deep and allowed the Team Abt Sportsline driver to get back ahead. The pressure undoubtedly got to the South African though, as two laps later he outbraked himself going into that tight uphill right turn and that gave Albon the gap to sneak through.
On the last lap, the pair joined onto the back of Ellis for the final spot on the podium to make it a three car train. Going round Turn 7, it looked like Albon was going to rob Ellis of third, but a nudge on the rear from van der Linde just unsettled Albon enough that he had to drop back from the Mercedes. Ellis crossed the line third, with Albon a second back in fourth and van der Linde a fraction behind in fifth.
Their battle for third allowed the lead battle to be a straight slog between Lawson and Götz. A 0.6sec quicker stop allowed Götz to close in on Lawson and general quicker pace from the Mercedes driver allowed him to put the pressure onto Lawson. With two laps remaining the gap had crept under one second.
It looked like Götz would make a serious attempt for the lead, but couldn’t quite close down that deficit any further with Lawson holding on to take his second victory of the season by 1.007sec.
Maini used the squabbling for third to close back in, but couldn’t find a way past, settling instead for sixth just ahead of Walkenhorst Motorsport’s Marco Wittmann, who faded slightly to seventh in the closing stint.
Lucas Auer took a lonely eighth, a couple of seconds ahead of Vincent Abril, the latter losing out to a great move by Auer to rob him of the place at Turn 9 after the pair came out together from their mandatory stop.
Timo Glock rounded out the top ten, to claim his second points scoring finish of the year in his ROWE Racing BMW.
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