Bruno Spengler pokes at a chocolate- and fresh-fruit-covered crepe with his fork before slicing off a healthy chunk and popping it in his mouth.
Wearing a blue BMW sweater and jeans, Spengler’s slim but chiselled frame leaves no doubt that he is a top athlete; his team kit makes it obvious the 29-year-old from St-Hippolyte, Que., is a racing driver.
But as he snacks on his gooey prize, no one in the breakfast joint on Montreal`s Nun`s Island – just minutes away from the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – appears to notice the Quebec racing driver who just won this country’s first major professional motor racing championship in a decade: the 2012 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) title. Even those who should be in the know – Canada’s sports reporters – overlooked him when voting for the 2012 Lou Marsh award, given to the Canadian athlete of the year.
“It’s not like I’m totally unknown in Canada,” Spengler protests almost half-heartedly, before adding, “but, of course, when you go to Germany and 150,000 fans come to the races, you get pretty well known.”
“At the beginning of my DTM career, it was only those who were very interested in motorsport, but I’ve started to get more and more e-mails from people who were watching and cheering from over here, which is very nice.”
It’s a wonder anyone knows about him at all. Spengler’s touring car series – which features Audi, BMW and Mercedes as manufacturers – gets no TV exposure in Canada and the few die-hard fans who follow his career rely on hard-to-find and often-spotty Internet streams of his races. The lack of coverage means most missed his spine-tingling, come-from-behind championship performance with a first-year BMW team. His performance was akin to a rookie winning the National Hockey League scoring title and leading his team to the Stanley Cup.
Spengler’s title – Canada’s first in a top-tier professional series since Paul Tracy won the Champ Car crown in 2003 – marked a comeback for this country in international racing and may make the DTM Series a magnet for its budding racing stars. With another Canadian – Guelph, Ont.’s Robert Wickens – joining DTM after not being able to raise the cash needed to secure a Formula One seat, it’s already happening.
And, if a DTM North America Series gets going in 2015 as planned, Spengler thinks it will draw more Canadians and make him more recognized at home.
He’s already received international recognition: BMW announced last year that it will produce 54 limited-edition BMW M3s styled after Spengler’s all-black DTM racer to celebrate his title.
BMW’s exuberance was understandable considering most experts felt the Bavarian auto maker’s DTM squad would be hard-pressed to win a race in 2012 after 20 years away from the series. But Spengler, who jumped to the BMW camp in 2012 after seven years with Mercedes, notched up a victory in the second start of the season. However, he trailed championship leader Gary Paffett of Mercedes by 40 points after four of 10 races and, with drivers getting 25 points for a win, most experts felt the championship was already over.
Spengler closed the gap to just three points by the time the season finale rolled around at the famed Hockenheimring in southwest Germany. He drove flawlessly despite intense pressure from his rival, who stayed glued to the Canadian’s rear bumper for most of the race. In the end, Spengler’s season-high fourth win was enough to edge Paffett by a slim four points.
As Spengler did his trademark hood surf in the winner’s circle to celebrate the victory and his DTM maiden title, his father Alexis sat in the grandstands. Long after fireworks bracketed the front straight as his son crossed the finish line, Alexis pondered the long road the Spengler clan had travelled to reach that championship moment.
“I stayed in the stands for about half an hour after he won – everyone was gone and I was still sitting there,” Alexis recalls. “Of course, it was a very great feeling. From the first season he arrived in DTM, he was always in the championship battle and this year shows you need a little bit of luck to get there.”