Canadian racer Bruno Spengler is a quick study.
In a season where his newly minted BMW squad didn’t expect to even win one race while the manufacturer learned the ropes and got up to speed during its return to Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) competition, Spengler was an honour student all year who aced the final exam to finish at the top of his class.
The 29-year-old from St-Hippolyte, Que., scored his season-high fourth win of 2012 on Sunday, which was exactly what he needed to clinch his maiden DTM championship by four points over Mercedes driver Gary Paffett, who finished second in the 42-lap finale at Hockenheim, Germany.
“This is a dream come true for me,” said Spengler who watched two previous DTM titles slip through his grasp in season finale showdowns in 2007 and 2010.
“I have come close to winning the drivers’ championship a few times already, but it never worked out and then I win the title in my first season with BMW – that is simply unbelievable. It will probably take me a few days to fully grasp what BMW Team Schnitzer and the entire BMW Motorsport team have achieved this season.”
In addition to taking the drivers’ championship, Spengler helped BMW finish first in manufacturers’ points while his Schnitzer outfit was the top team.
Spengler moved to BMW this year after seven seasons with Mercedes. After completing an apprenticeship in a year-old car as a rookie in 2005, Spengler became a title contender after moving to a top Mercedes team. In the six seasons beginning in 2006, he finished second in points twice, never ended a year worse than fifth overall, and scored the most wins of all DTM drivers along the way.
He continued that success after joining BMW in its return to DTM following a 20-year absence, taking the chequered flag in the season’s second race. The surprising victory was BMW’s 50 th win in DTM competition.
He added two more wins before going into the season finale with a three-point deficit to 2005 DTM champion Paffett knowing that the easiest way to guarantee a title was to put up his fourth win of 2012.
He delivered the victory, but the British driver didn’t make it easy. Paffett moved to second after the first round of pit stops and nipped at Spengler’s heels for the final 18 laps as he tried to pressure his rival into a mistake. He closed the gap to about a second with 10 laps to go but the cool Canadian responded to the challenge in the final few laps and kept Paffett at bay. The Mercedes driver faded in the final few laps and crossed the line 2.214 seconds back.
“My team has done brilliantly well this season in terms of performance and it is very unfortunate that we missed winning the championship title in the last race by four points,” Paffett said.
“So, in the immediate aftermath of the race, disappointment sits deep, of course, because from my point of view we deserved to win the championship title just as much as Bruno Spengler and BMW. Congratulations to Bruno on his first DTM title.”
In the end, Paffett’s undoing was a slow get away from the starting grid, which threw the advantage to Spengler.
After qualifying third behind pole sitter and fellow BMW driver Augusto Farfus and Paffett, Spengler took advantage of a poor start by his championship rival to move into second place at the first turn. Farfus let him pass before the end of the opening lap and Spengler never looked back, leading all the way, except when the field was jumbled due to pitstops.
With Paffett breathing down his neck, Spengler insisted the final few laps were the longest of his racing career.
“Honestly, I was really nervous,” he said.
“I kept looking in my rear view mirror to see where Gary Paffett was and just hoped I would finally see the chequered flag. Never in my career have I been so desperate for a race to end.”
The win made Spengler the first Canadian to become champion of a major international professional racing since Paul Tracy, of Scarborough, Ont., took the 2003 Champ Car crown and the first of a European-based series since Iberville, Que.’s, Jacques Villeneuve’s 1997 Formula One world championship. While Guelph, Ont.’s, Robert Wickens won the 2011 World Series by Renault title last year, it is considered a development series.
Although Spengler won a season-high four of the 10 starts this year, two retirements in the first four races due to collisions that were not his fault forced him to do extra homework to be champion.
The turning point came after Spengler retired from the fourth race at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, and looked to be a long shot for the title. At the time, he dropped 40 points behind championship leader Paffett, who scored two wins in the first four races. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
The next time out at the Norisring, Spengler began a run of six consecutive races where he outscored Paffett including three wins in the second half of the 10-stop DTM season. In the stretch, Spengler brought home 106 points to Paffett’s 62. The only time Spengler led the championship standings was after the final race was completed.
A key to the championship was Spengler’s amazing performance in the penultimate race at Valencia, Spain, where he averted disaster and kept himself in the title hunt. Despite qualifying a disappointing 12th and taking an early drive thru penalty for a jump start, the Canadian battled back and climbed his way up the field.
The eight valuable points he scored for a sixth place finish that kept him in a position to take the title in the final round on Sunday. Had Spengler not earned those hard-fought points in Valencia on a day when his rival retired and didn’t score any, Paffett would have been 2012 champion.
The story of the season was how quickly Spengler and BMW got up to speed, with the Canadian quickly becoming the manufacturer’s star driver. He left most of his teammates to sniff his exhaust for much of the season, finishing with more than double the points of the next best BMW driver, Augusto Farfus, who managed 69 points and one win this year.
And while he had tremendous personal success this year, Spengler quickly pointed out that his title wasn’t an individual accomplishment.
“In motorsport, you never win alone: A championship win is always a success for the entire team,” he said.
“Even in the final race, when everything was at stake, we had a perfect car again. BMW Team Schnitzer did a sensational job again and in a race in which we were obviously feeling the pressure. We wanted to make the most of our opportunity to win the title. We did not make any mistakes, and that is why we deserved to win in the end.”
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