Realising he was losing advantage, the Frenchman entered the pit lane on lap 19 but emerged comfortably behind Schneider – whom he was ahead of early on – and also Phoenix team-mate Abt, giving the first clues that an early pit strategy would prove the most beneficial. Spotting this, Hakkinen was into the pit lane immediately to negate the potential disadvantage but he too would return to the circuit just behind Schneider.
Perhaps at the surprise of seeing the silver car circulating in front of him, Hakkinen was back in the pit lane for his second stop just nine laps later, the Finn being followed by Lucas Luhr, Premat and Paffett in completing their mandatory stops early. The tactic worked when Schneider returned to the pit lane three laps later and emerged behind Hakkinen again.
Back at the front of the field, Spengler and Ekstrom were clear in front prompting them to make their first pit stops a lap apart, the two maintaining the status quo in an effective first and second, albeit with one more stop to do.
What followed was a determined flurry of laps intended to build a gap big enough to complete a pit stop, Ekstrom taking the plunge first by returning to the pit lane again 12 laps after his opening stop. However, the Swede had not done enough and slotted in a comfortable distance behind Hakkinen and Schneider in the lead.
Next it was Spengler's turn but any hopes the Canadian would retain the lead were ruined when he stalled briefly when coming off the jacks. Crucially delayed, Spengler was behind Ekstrom too when he returned to the circuit, leaving Hakkinen and Schneider revolving in tandem out front.
Somewhat unnoticed though, the leader was now Tomczyk, the German still with a stop to make but gradually eking out a useful gap over Hakkinen, the Finn now paying for his early second stop with waning tyres by dropping an increasing amount of time to the Audi.
Spotting this, Mercedes pulled a team move to get a slightly fresher Schneider ahead and stem Tomczyk's flow, as he began playing himself into the race.
Tomczyk finally pitted on lap 62, but despite a superb pit-stop by his Abt Sportsline team he emerged just behind Schneider and right in front of team-mate Ekstrom, the former champion having muscled his way past a faltering Hakkinen at Clearways a few laps earlier.
On fresher tyres, Tomczyk immediately latched onto the back of Schneider in an attempt to pressure his counterpart into a mistake around a circuit that was offering precious few overtaking opportunities. Nonetheless, 'Mr DTM' did not betray his immense experience, holding Tomczyk at bay to secure a first win of the season.
Tomczyk was an excellent second having started eighth on the grid, his strategy of pitting later paying off, but not quite enough for him to record a second-ever DTM victory. Nonetheless, despite having not tasted the winners champagne so far this year, Tomczyk goes to the fifth round at Norisring with the lead of the championship.