Newly-crowned DTM champion Rene Rast says he thought his title challenge was over with three rounds to run when he slipped 47 points behind Audi stablemate Nico Muller.
Amid the dominance of the Abt team during the first part of the season, Muller and Robin Frijns emerged as the favourites for the title, with Rast reduced to the role of an outside contender.
However, the 34-year-old staged a remarkable turnaround in Zolder by winning four races on the trot, completing a 66-point swing to snatch the championship lead from Muller.
Muller fought back in the Hockenheim decider with a victory and a second place, but he was ultimately powerless to prevent an in-form Rast from securing the drivers’ crown.
Rast, who will compete in Formula E next year for Audi after an impressive showing in the final six races of the 2019/20 season as a replacement for the ousted Daniel Abt, said he wasn’t expecting to win a third DTM title this year.
“If somebody would have told me five, six weeks ago [that I would win the title], I would have said that he has no idea about motorsport,” Rast said.
“But obviously since Zolder we are on a high and we kept it on the line, and the last laps the whole race was very emotional. I knew we had the pace but today my car was just flying. Half of the race I was alone.
“For me it was very difficult to focus because I had so many thoughts in my mind, I had to really tell myself to focus on the corners, not just think about the season too much. Almost winning four championships in four years is something incredible and outstanding. Nobody really believed we would come back like that.
“I went to Zolder and said, ‘The championship is anyway over, we just give it the beans and see what happens’. But for it to turn out like that, to act like that and to be champion now, who would have thought that before Zolder.”
Rast’s 2020 triumph was his third in the DTM and he is now Audi’s most successful driver in the series in terms of both race wins (24) and championships.
Asked to compare his three successes in the DTM, Rast said: “I think the first one was the most surprising one in 2017. Nobody expected me to win the championship. Very emotional as well.
“Last year was not very emotional to be honest. I was happy with my own performance in races. It was like the whole season we were on a roll. We were kind of very quick and dominating. We were expected to win the title. So the emotions weren’t very high that year.
“But this year after such a struggle… to fight for the title in the last race is always very special. To win the title with a victory is cherry on top of the cake. So it was a very emotional one. Now I’m Audi’s most successful driver ever and last laps with those [Class One] race cars. ‘17 and ‘20 are on a very similar level.“
The upturn in the performance of Team Rosberg was also made evident by Rast’s teammate Jamie Green, who signed off the 2020 season with back-to-back podiums at Hockenheim – his first rostrum appearances since the opening round at Spa in August.
Team boss Kimmo Liimatainen believes the cooler conditions in October and November played into the hands of his squad.
“Let’s not forget that now it’s November and the temperatures are cooler, that has helped us a bit,’ he said. “Basically on a one lap pace for me Rene was there. It was just tyre management in the race. I think the cool temperatures definitely helped us a bit.
“Obviously we didn’t expect these problems [in the summer] but we had these problems. Summer’s gone and at some stage we realised at Zolder the weather helps us. That’s part of the learning process. But nobody could foresee what happens.”
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