A suspected exhaust manifold problem caused Robin Frijns's Audi RS5 car to fill with smoke for the "last 20 laps" of the DTM's first race at Brands Hatch.
Frijns went on to take fourth place in the Brands opener after a late move on Loic Duval, having qualified fifth in the changeable conditions during Saturday's qualifying.
The Audi driver has suffered a torrid run of form since his Formula E victory in April, managing to win the FE season finale in New York, but also suffering a series of problems in both the DTM and the all-electric series that hampered his title bids.
Explaining his run of poor results, Frijns told Autosport: "I'm so damn happy I could see the finish line [this time]!
"I'm happy with the car, the balance. [But it is] just the fact that [in] the last 20 laps I had smoke in my car because the exhaust broke, and I was almost passing out for the last five laps.
"That's why I was happy to see the flag, I was counting down [the laps]."
The DTM has a ban on in-race radio communication meaning that, while Frijns could report the problem to Audi, he could not receive advice from his team.
Asked why he did not stop the car when the problem first arose, Frijns said: "I knew if I would stop, the car would burn."
He continued: "I needed to keep driving because I knew if I was getting out, the flames were coming in.
"It never happened before with all the [Audi] cars - [the exhaust] breaking or getting loose - but the exhaust melts, and the smoke is getting in."
Audi motorsport boss Dieter Gass told Autosport that the problem was related to the exhaust manifold.
"From what we have seen, it is an exhaust manifold [problem]," said Gass.
"He came on the radio and was quite concerned.
"He managed to finish in a good position, so it is OK."