Bernd Schneider claimed a historic 38th DTM win at a sunny Brands Hatch following a thriller of race that turned into a surprise head to head between himself and Martin Tomczyk.

In a race defined by strategy rather than overtaking manoeuvres, neither Schneider nor Tomczyk had featured too much all weekend but nonetheless came good when it mattered to embark on a exciting t?te-?-t?te that eventually saw the elder German prevail.

A much more competitive battle between Mercedes and Audi over the course of the race, four C-Class' and four A4s featured in the points, but it was the Stuttgart marque that prevailed for the third time this season, even if the identity of the winning driver remained a mystery for much of the race.

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Indeed, from the off it was Bruno Spengler that got the best getaway, defying pole sitter Mika Hakkinen into Paddock Hill Bend by surging round the outside of the Finn to claim the lead. Third place Alex Premat, who arguably got the best start of the front runners, tried something similar but instead slipped behind Audi counterpart Mattias Ekstrom by Druids.

Not all drivers made it through the hairpin though after a flurry of contact resulted in the retirement of championship leader Paul di Resta and Mike Rockenfeller. The chain reaction appeared to be kicked off by Timo Scheider, who got into the back of team-mate Markus Winkelhock, spinning him round as a result.

The confusion of avoiding the revolving Audi forced drivers to take evasive action, including Alex Margaritis, who in turn went into the side of di Resta to force him into the gravel and out of the race, ending a bitterly disappointing homecoming for the erstwhile leader.

Rockenfeller was also out on the spot, albeit only after arriving at the accident late following a poor start and sliding off in sympathy, while Vanina Ickx, Adam Carroll and Susie Stoddart were also caught up, but managed to continue.

With the safety car off the track at the end of lap six and the pit lane opening as a result, the first few strategists attempted their method of pitting early to gain an advantage. These included Schneider, Jamie Green Gary Paffett and Christian Abt, the quartet all entering the pit lane within three laps of each other.

From here the order became increasingly tricky to fathom as strategies played out, but at the front Spengler, Hakkinen and Ekstrom began pulling out a gap, the trio leaving Premat behind.

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.

He in turn is two points up on Ekstrom, who joined Tomczyk on the podium in third, while a rather disappointed Hakkinen and Spengler had to be content with fourth and fifth. Green finished a lonely sixth, the Brit complaining of a wayward Mercedes after being involved in the first lap collision.

Although not as good as their qualifying positions had suggested, Premat and Abt nonetheless kicked off their season's points tally in seventh and eighth.

Elsewhere, the Brits did not fare so well, Paffett finishing next best in tenth, but only after being involved in collisions with firstly Mathias Lauda and then Vanina Ickx. Adam Carroll was forced to serve a drive-thru penalty to finish down in 15th, while a mix-up with pit-stops meant Susie Stoddart crossed the line a disappointing 16th.