Back at the Sharp End.

Race Report: DTM 2020.
Round 1 (27/2/20).
Benfleet City Circuit.

The 2020 DTM season at Falcon Raceway got underway at the Benfleet City Circuit, and was a night of contrasting fortunes. At the sharp end, Lee and Darren picked up where they left off last season – with a clear lead over the rest of the field. Meanwhile, at the other end of the field, Steve had a torrid time, and was left wishing he’d made more progress with the build of his new BMW in close-season.

Switch

Steve was not the only racer planning to switch to new machinery in 2020; Darren too had spend the winter months building a new BMW, but with limited running, his new car was some way off the pace in free practice. The 2019 champion therefore opted to start his championship defence with the car which won him two titles since the inaugural DTM season in 2015.

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It was Lee who grabbed the lead from pole-sitter Darren was race one got underway, but Darren was shadowing him all the way, applying pressure where he could. Scott and Darren were some way back in these early stages – with Anthony in particular struggling for pace. Scott too seemed to be holding back, getting accustomed to his hastily borrowed Audi when a problem with his Mercedes caused a restart. Anthony looked to conserve in his opening stint rather than trying to push, and it paid off, enabling him to make his first stop much later than the others.

Catapult

Anthony’s fuel strategy saw him catapult his Audi up to the rear wings of the leaders in the later stages of the race, but he’d taken a gamble with his fuel. It almost paid off, too. Though his fuel was running low at the end of the race, Scott’s was worse, and he’d been forced to slow down to reach the finish. Anthony finished half a car length behind third-place Scott.

Status Quo

The leading duo, meanwhile, played a game of cat and mouse with fuel throughout the second half of the race, with Leader Lee covering Darren’s every move and maintaining the status quo. In the end two big crashes for Lee swung the race in Darren’s favour. The first came with just nine laps to go, but Lee managed to hold on to his lead. When the second happened, the gap was now such that not only did Darren take the lead, but there was now too little time for Lee to fight back.

Race One Result:
1st Darren – BMW M4
Laps: 40; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 12.951
2nd Lee – BMW M4
Laps: 40 – Grid: 2; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 12.242
3rd Scott – Audi RS5
Laps: 39; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 12.593
4th Anthony – Audi RS5
Laps: 39; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 12.905

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George was able to convert pole into a race lead at the start, and set about pulling out a lead over second-placed Darren. He was to hold onto the lead until the first stops, when Darren gratefully took over at the front, with Scott now bearing down on him in second. Scott’s charge was to come to an abrupt end when an – at the time – inexplicable power surge launched his car off the track. Later diagnosed as a failing battery in his handset, it compromised Scott’s race, and allowed George back up into second.

Miserable

Further back, Steve was having a miserable time with his ageing Mercedes. Having missed most of free practice, his car had been given no running since the final race of the 2019 season – five months ago. Well off the pace, Steve was pushing the car hard to try to keep up, and was using up his fuel and an alarming rate. He’d made his first stop five laps earlier than anyone else, and ran out of fuel on the pit entry when trying to make his second stop.

Trouble

Pit trouble was to settle things at the front too. The leading duo both came in for late stops on lap 38, but in his haste to get away before Darren, George powered away just as Scott was passing the pit exit. Colliding with the Audi, George crashed over the line, failing to register his penultimate lap. He therefore finished the race behind Darren, who took his second win of the night.

Race Two Result:
1st Darren – BMW M4
Laps: 40; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 5
Fastest race lap: 12.796
2nd George – BMW M4
Laps: 40; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 12.719
3rd Scott – Audi RS5
Laps: 39; Grid: 2; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 12.659
4th Steve – Mercedes C-Coupe
Laps: 26*; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 13.115
*Out of fuel

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Steve took advantage of a front row grid slot and a crash for pole-man Lee to take the lead early on, but again down on pace, he’d dropped to fourth by the end of the second lap. His only other involvement in the race was a brief tussle with Lee when the BMW crashed out of the lead and shared the same area of track as the Mercedes for a lap or two. This excitement had used up the Mercedes’ fuel without Steve noticing and he ground to a halt on just the fifteenth lap.

Muscled

Anthony had taken the lead when Lee had crashed out, and kept the place until the first stops, when George emerged at the front. Lee, now recovered from his early woes, and muscled his way by Anthony going onto the flyover and was now second. Closing steadily throughout the second stint, Lee was now right on George’s tail when both made their second stops with ten laps to go. Both drivers tried to short-fuel to gain the upper hand, and George again took the lead. As it transpired, George was forced to make another stop at the start of the penultimate lap, allowing Lee to take the lead and the win, crossing the line with just fumes left in his tank.

Race Three Result:
1st Lee – BMW M4
Laps: 40; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 12.696
2nd George – BMW M4
Laps: 40; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: 12.568
3rd Anthony – Audi RS5
Laps: 39; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 12.689
4th Steve – Mercedes C-Coupe
Laps: 15*; Grid: 2;  Pit stops: 0
Fastest race lap: 13.033

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Race four saw Scott reunited with his now repaired Mercedes, and a start from pole position. A poor start, however, dropped Scott back to fourth and allowed Anthony and Darren to pull away at the front. The leading pair enjoyed a tight scrap for the first ten laps. Anthony was to lead for the first five laps – his Audi seemingly benefiting from some consistent running and relishing in some improved pace. Darren was again quick with the BMW though, and made a pass stick halfway round lap five. Anthony fought back, retaking the lead on lap seven when Darren ran into traffic.

Pressure

A spin for Darren on lap 10 gave Anthony some breathing room and also brought the rest of the field into play, with Scott harrying the BMW for a handful of laps, but was unable to fashion an overtake. The pit stops shook up the order; and although Lee and Darren were able to stay out much later, it was Anthony back in front when the first stops were complete. He was under pressure from Lee, however, and another round of stops saw the Audi drop to third. Third was to become fourth when Scott – light on fuel – passed him on the back straight. Further late stops for all but Anthony saw the 2017 and 2018 DTM champion back up to second, but too far back to take the win.

Race Four Result:
1st Lee – BMW M4
Laps: 40; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 12.399
2nd Anthony – Audi RS5
Laps: 39; Grid: 2; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 13.131
3rd Darren – BMW M4
Laps: 39; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 13.020
4th Scott – Mercedes C-Coupe
Laps: 39; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: 13.119

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Race five was perhaps the most closely contested of the evening, and also saw Steve’s best performance in an otherwise dismal outing for the 2016 runner-up. Steve had started from pole, and his Mercedes now seemed to have a little more pace than had been available to him in his previous two races. He lost out to Darren at the start, but with George and Scott both spinning on the opening lap, he didn’t come under immediate pressure and was able to consolidate second place.

Balanced

All four cars remained on the same lap throughout, and all seemed to mirror each other’s pit strategies. After the second stops, George had taken second, demoting Steve to third, but had not been able to get on terms with leader Darren. With the race delicately balanced, things finally came to a head on the final lap. First, George ran out of fuel, promoting Steve back up to second. Then, for the third time in three races, Steve ran out of fuel too! He’d already made a final splash n’ dash before the penultimate lap, believing he’d taken on enough to get him home before Scott could catch him. He was to run out less than a car length before the finish line, allowing Scott to take second.

Race Five Result:
1st Darren – BMW M4
Laps: 40; Grid: 2; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: 12.886
2nd Scott – Mercedes C-Coupe
Laps: 40; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 12.918
3rd George  – BMW M4
Laps: 39*; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 12.580
4th Steve – Mercedes C-Coupe
Laps: 39*; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: 12.947

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The final race saw Lee come from the back of the grid to take the lead. Once he’d built a modest gap back to the rest of the field he started to conserve his fuel and was able to make a one-stop strategy work – indeed, his was the only attempt to do so all night. Anthony had taken the lead from pole, but a crash early in the race had dropped him down to third, from where he never really recovered.

More Pressure

Anthony was to come under pressure from behind, however. Behind him, Steve was again having an awful race – this time frustration had crept into his race, and crash after crash saw him drop further and further behind. Ahead of Anthony, George lead the challenge on Lee, but although he managed to close right up on the leader, he had to settle for second in the end.

Race Six Result:
1st Lee – BMW M4
Laps: 40; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 12.414
2nd George – BMW M4
Laps: 40; Grid: 2; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 12.641
3rd Anthony – Audi RS5
Laps: 39; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 12.712
4th Steve – Mercedes C-Coupe
Laps: 36; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 12.971

Another win for Lee sees him take an early lead in the DTM championship, but Darren isn’t far behind. Can anyone else improve to join the fight at the front next round? DTM returns on 23rd April!

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DTM 2020 – Round One Result:

1st Lee – 116.25
2nd Darren – 112.5
3rd George – 86.25
4th Anthony – 75
= Scott – 75
6th Steve – 60

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Championship Positions:

Round 1: Round 2: Round 3: Round 4:Total
1
Lee

116.25

116.25
2
Darren

112.5

112.5
3
George

86.25

86.25
4
Anthony

75

75
4
Scott

75

75
6
Steve

60

60
7
8

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