It’s time for Canada to get behind Bruno Spengler.
Yes, he races in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters Series, commonly known as DTM, which never touches North American shores and, apart from a few unreliable Internet live streams, fans in this country never get to see him compete, but he certainly deserves Canada’s support.
There’s no doubt that Spengler has not forgotten his roots, even after spending much of the past decade in Europe pursuing his racing dreams. He is in Canada as much as possible, including spending about a month in Quebec during this year’s DTM mid-season break, which coincided with the Summer Olympics. During his visit, he attended the Grand Prix Trois-Rivières at the beginning of August.
Having his country finally recognize his accomplishments could be a welcome, although belated, birthday present – he turned 29 last Thursday – for the St. Hippolyte, Que. native, who has toiled out of the spotlight for the past eight seasons in DTM, since signing with Mercedes in 2005.
In his rookie season, Spengler impressed his new Mercedes masters with three points finishes in a year-old car, which got him promoted to a top team for his sophomore year. He didn’t disappoint, taking four wins in 10 starts and ending the 2006 season second overall behind five-time DTM champion Bernd Schneider.
With the factory Mercedes team, Spengler scored nine wins, 11 poles, 27 podium finishes in 69 starts and never ended a year lower than fifth in points. He left Mercedes following the 2011 season, after continually being passed over by the manufacturer’s motorsport boss Norbert Haug for opportunities in Formula One.
Despite his top performances with the Mercedes team in DTM, Spengler never even got a whiff of a F1 test while other drivers in the manufacturer’s stable regularly drove for grand prix teams, notably Gary Paffett, who is a McLaren test driver, and Paul di Resta, now with Force India in F1.
Frustratingly, his name never appeared on Mercedes’ list of drivers for the young drivers’ test at the end of each F1 season, which was created to give talents like Spengler an opportunity to show their stuff.
The silliness of the situation was never more succinctly summed up when Haug told reporters at the Canadian Grand Prix a few years ago that “Bruno isn’t interested in F1” when asked about giving him a test. Apparently, Haug had never had an actual conversation with Spengler, who told many a reporter that he wanted a fair shot at the big prize.
With his contract with Mercedes expiring at the end of 2011, BMW’s fledgling DTM factory operation came calling. He joined the Bavarian auto maker late last year to help it get thorough what was expected to be a difficult first year with its M3 touring car in the highly competitive series.
Things haven’t exactly turned out that way, and Spengler has easily been the revelation of the 2012 racing year so far. In the second stop in a season where BMW’s bosses fully expected 2012 to be a “learning year” after two decades away from DTM, Spengler took a dominant victory from pole position at the EuroSpeedway in Lausitz. It was also BMW’s 50th win in DTM competition. The No. 7 BMW Bank driver was at it again in Round 6 at the Nurburgring where he put on another driving clinic, starting from pole and controlling the race from the front to take the chequered flag for BMW’s second win of 2012.
Remarkably, his sixth-place in Zandvoort on Sunday was his worst finish of the year – when he has crossed the line. So far, he has two wins and four podiums to go with his sixth in Holland, but he also has two retirements due to being caught up in accidents, which have robbed the Canadian of valuable points.
Despite not finishing twice in seven starts, Spengler remains only 18 points behind championship leader Gary Paffett of the powerful HWA Mercedes outfit that has won six of the past dozen DTM titles. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
When it comes to his teammates, Spengler is the class of the BMW field, which boasts reigning DTM champion Martin Tomczyk, three-time World Touring Car Champion (WTCC) Andy Priaulx, and 2011 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. Spengler sits 22 points ahead of his nearest teammate Tomczyk and 72 better than the third-best BMW driver, 15-time WTCC race winner Augusto Farfus.
With three stops to go in 2012 and 75 points up for grabs, Spengler has a legitimate shot at delivering a title for his rookie BMW Team Schnitzer and the Bavarian manufacturer.
It would be nice to see him try, but neither sports network in this country has shown any interest in broadcasting DTM races, despite two Canadians in the field. Robert Wickens of Guelph, Ont., who drives for Mercedes, is the other.
The next DTM race takes place Sept. 16 at the Oschersleben Circuit.
Record breaker Szoke is champion again
BMW rider Jordan Szoke clinched his record eighth national Superbike crown on Saturday with a second place finish in the 2012 season’s penultimate race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
Szoke crossed the line just 0.118 seconds behind race winner Kevin Lacombe, who eventually finished third in the points standings. Both ride BMW S1000RRs. He also finished second in the season’s final race on Sunday.
Szoke’s final points tally was 294, with another BMW rider, Andrew Nelson, second at 204 and Lacombe next with 193. Drivers get 50 points for a win.
A native of Branford, Ont., Szoke already held the record for most championships at seven. He won five straight titles beginning in 2006 to go with a pair of earlier championships in 2002 and 1998. His seventh title in 2010 surpassed the previous record of six by Steve Crevier. In addition, Szoke’s first title made him Canada’s youngest ever superbike champion.
Szoke also took his record 40th superbike win earlier this season. Crevier is second in victories with 26.
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