29-year-old Franco-Canadian driver Bruno Spengler has been involved with racing on four wheels since 1995, having started competing in France in karting. The BMW Bank M3 DTM driver has been a firm fixture in the DTM series, since joining Mercedes-Benz in 2005, having driven for ASM in the F3 Euroseries, which has seen the likes of Paul Di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg and Sebastian Vettel rise through its ranks, going on to race in Formula One.
He has been runner up in the series in 2006 and 2007, having convinced the AMG board of directors for a works vehicle, and proved his worth, by finishing runner-up to 5-time DTM champion, Bernd Schneider in 2006, following that up the following year, coming second to Audi Sport’s Mattias Ekström, even with the Audi pullout at Barcelona that year.
He was mentioned as a possible candidate to land a seat in Formula One with Prodrive, with a future drive for McLaren in the pipeline, as this would possibly help F1′s credentials in North America. But Prodrive withdrew their attempt, and with Heikki Kovalainen signing for the Woking squad, Bruno carried on racing in the DTM. He even could have been in the frame to move to F1 after the 2010 season, if he had won the title, but Di Resta won the title, and is now racing for Sahara Force India in his second season in F1.
As the race for the DTM title hots up, Bruno was kind enough to speak to us here exclusively for theCheckeredFlag.co.uk, and answer some general questions about his move to BMW after his tenure at Mercedes, his highlights of the season so far, which was just before he secure his hat trick of pole positions for the Munich manufacturer this afternoon.
He explained that after being with the Stuttgart manufacturer for 7 years, it was time for a new challenge, which is what every racing driver searches for, and with BMW, it provided a unique opportunity: “I’m very happy I did, because developing a brand-new car with new people and a new team, especially with BMW on board, from scratch, is something that you don’t get to do every day. I had a lot of fun developing the new car in the winter with the team, and with winning our first race, I was very, very happy and very proud to represent BMW, and happy with the choice I made.”
Spengler is still, to this day, very optimistic about his initial expectations when joining the legendary Team Schnitzer, headed by Charly Lamm, but they were high, even though he was heading into a relatively unknown season with the team. But there was work to be done, as any new outfit finds out, irrespective of category, and the Canadian was wanting to do the best job possible, to help the new M3 DTM become as competitive as possible in the shortest timeframe: “We ended up winning the second race, which was amazing, and to be able to drive in Charly Lamm’s Team Schnitzer, which is a very historical team, for me, is something truly special.”
I then asked about how Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus have helped to develop the new car, but he added that both he and last year’s champion, Martin Tomczyk, were the most experienced hands, when it came to making the M3 a DTM car, but recognized the fact that both former WTCC drivers were a great help in the development phase: “Martin and I know how a DTM car should be, so as to be fast, and I gave as much input as I could from my past, and what I’d experienced to try to help develop the car. The experienced guys, to a point, can develop more than the other guys, but on the other side, they are also quick, they feel, and give feedback, which is good for the team to get different feedback.”
His highlights of the season so far, including, of course the two wins for BMW at Lausitzring and Nurburgring, were where BMW looked adversity in the face, and managed to make the best of any situation, as Spengler explains in further detail: “I would say, Norisring was a bit of a highlight, first of all, because the qualifying didn’t work out so well, as it was the worst qualifying I had ever suffered at Norisring, but then we turned this around in the race and this was definitely a good highlight. I think that a victory was maybe possible, but it didn’t work for whatever reason. You know, you cannot always win, but we managed to finish in the podium under difficult circumstances.”
“So starting 7th and getting to the podium was a great achievement, and for me, Zandvoort was a highlight too, as I started 18th after the mistake in qualifying, not having gone on the second set of tyres, but to finish in 6th place, in the points, this was definitely a big highlight, for sure, you know. It was something good, something special, and now I am looking forward to the last three races.”
In just their second race after a twenty-year absence from the DTM, it was a very emotional weekend for all at BMW at Lausitzring, as Bruno proved to both Mercedes and Audi that BMW wasn’t going to go without a fight, and secured Pole Position and the win that weekend, providing Munich with its 50th win in the series. But Bruno explains his feelings and emotions that day, which were overwhelming for him as well: “That’s really something difficult to describe. It was a very special weekend overall, as I had gotten the first Pole Position for the team, which had a lot of emotion, since BMW were back in the DTM. Very, very special, and a lot of emotions going through my mind, and then just feeling happy. And then crossing the start/finish line in first place, I had goosebumps all over my body, and it felt very special. It really felt like my first victory in the DTM at Norisring in 2006, so I knew how important this was for the whole team, who had worked so hard in the winter, because you start at the beginning of the season, and you don’t know where you are going to be, so it was a big relief for the whole team, and I wanted to bring that victory home.
“As a driver, you put yourself under a lot of pressure to bring success to the team, and when it works, it’s amazing. I was shouting in my helmet, and I couldn’t believe it, “Victory number 50! I did it!” I had just gotten BMW’s 50th victory, and I couldn’t believe it. It took me a bit of time to believe what had happened that weekend, you know, realise how things went. It was a great feeling.”
But lightning can sometimes strike twice, and in the case of BMW, it was at the celebrations of “40 years of M”, where Bruno repeated his achievements at Lausitzring, by winning at BMW M GmbH’s home, the Nurburgring, which was even more of a resounding success for the Munich manufacturer. Spengler mentioned that it made him happy to see all the team smiling and happy of what had been achieved, and on such a special weekend, but it had even more meaning this time around. He emphasises the fact that he is out there to win, and puts all his efforts into winning, because, as he puts it: “It’s what racing’s about, winning.”
Bruno is in no way superstitious, but it seemed as he seemed to be Munich’s lucky charm that weekend, and put into context, just how much being a part of BMW’s efforts in the DTM mean to him as a whole, as well as the euphoria of a race win: “But a race win, when it happens, nobody can take it away from you, it’s just such a special feeling that goes all the way through your body and soul, you feel amazing, you feel special that day, and winning at Nurburgring for the 40th birthday of BMW M had also been sensational.
“On Friday, when we had that little celebration, and when they asked me in that interview, “What do you wish for BMW for the “40 Years of M,” I said that I wished for Pole Position and victory, and on Saturday, I was on Pole Position, but to be honest, I was believing it was possible. That’s because you’re never sure before you never know, and it worked, because how often does this work in life, you know. This was very special, by bringing that victory, giving that present to BMW M, being there on that day, was for me, it was very special again, and it took me a bit of time to realize it, you know, because, for sure, a race win is a race win, but when there is something behind, like a special occasion like the 50th win or the “40 Years of ///M,” it is something even more special.”
But expectations can sometimes change as a season of competitive racing goes along at breakneck speed, coupled with possible added pressures, but Bruno said that pressure is something that a driver puts them self under every day of every race weekend, but he tries to keep both feet grounded, as he knew that there were a couple of tracks that BMW struggled with, and knew that this would be the case. BMW, however, like both its rivals, were pushing forward to get the best out of its M3 DTM during the summer break, where the Canadian shed some light on the hard work they’ve done, but says things are even tougher now: “We then had the test at Magny-Cours, where the team did an amazing job to really improve the car again, with another step for the end of the season. And we saw it, as we won in Nurburgring and were competitive in Zandvoort. Here, we will see, as it is a new track again. Even though I know we are competitive, it’s important for me to know that we still have to work.
“If you think, “OK, we won now, we are competitive,” it’s fine. But DTM is so competitive, it’s so difficult, that you always have to be on the edge, and always have to try and optimize yourself, as a driver, as well as the car, so you can never think that you’re always going to be competitive, and expect to win all the time.”
Even though Spengler is behind both Gary Paffett and Jamie Green in the championship, he is concentrating on what is important, in BMW’s formative year back in the DTM. This means that the efforts BMW have made so far, will continue onwards as planned, but Bruno is relishing the challenger against his former stable mates: ”What I am doing, and what I will continue to do, is to concentrate on ourselves, like we have done until now and work really well. But I’m not focusing too much over the title contenders, but just focusing about me, my team and my car, and to try to optimize the car as best I can for Qualifying, and try to do the best job I can in every race weekend. Here is a new track, and we don’t really know where we are, and at the moment it looks pretty good.
The weekend is long, and anything can happen, and then there is Valencia and Hockenheim, two very different tracks, so I’m expecting a good fight, a hard fight, and we might struggle a bit, but we won’t be the only ones struggling. It is going to be interesting these last few races, and I will take every race individually, and make the best result out of every race.”
BMW and Bruno Spengler have shown that even with a blank sheet of paper, anything is possible these days, especially when it comes to racing to new regulations. It looks as if he will fight hard, and show that Audi and Mercedes will not be able to take a deep breath, with Munich hard on their heels, as this Canadian racer looks to go full throttle, and hopefully secure his third win in eight races for a returning motorsport power, that may have made the right choice by coming back home to the DTM.