Park Omega Days
Born in the western French town of Schiltigheim, just kilometres from the German border, Bruno’s parents immigrated to Canada when he was a toddler. He spent much of his formative years working with the wildlife alongside Alexis and Corinne at the Park Omega business they started near Montebello, Que.
“He helped us in the kitchen and feeding the animals,” Alexis says. “He had fun with that and, from the time he was about six or seven years old, he was always driving the pickup.”
The place made such an impression on young Bruno that he began carrying around a little stuffed caribou (it just might be a moose) he got from the park’s gift shop soon after he started karting. The good-luck charm has attended every race since 1998.
“I was car crazy when I was a kid and I knew everything possible,” Bruno says. “I would always be able to see the difference between a car from one year to the next: If the light was a bit different in the front, a different shape, I was going to see it immediately. I could see all details.”
The young Bruno always wanted to go faster when riding in the family car and often urged dad to overtake on the highway.
Once he got into a go-kart seat, Bruno was hooked even before it moved. “I just wanted to drive fast and nothing gave me that adrenaline and feeling like a car, like a racing car. I just wanted to be sitting in a car 24/7.”
Soon, the family’s summers were spent driving from race to race in a motor home as Bruno climbed the karting ladder with dad playing mechanic. After taking both North American and French titles, it was time to try formula cars.
Philippe Létourneau remembers Spengler as the kid who never made a mistake.
The future host of the Discovery Channel’s Canada’s Worst Driver was the chief instructor when Spengler arrived to take a driving school at the Autodrome St-Eustache, Que., northeast of Montreal, about 13 years ago.
“It was actually scary how good he was,” said Létourneau, who is now BMW’s chief driving instructor.
“For Bruno it seemed that it was just natural; regardless of the type of car, the adjustment was made right away and he was super-quick – the consistency was fantastic. After 10 years of coaching and teaching, I knew those kinds of drivers are rare.”
At the time, Spengler was entertaining an offer of a factory drive with one of the kart manufacturers, but Létourneau encouraged his father to keep the young racer moving towards cars. It was good advice.
After getting his feet wet in cars by racing in a pair of European Formula Renault Series in 2001, Spengler entered the North American Formula Renault Series the next year and won the championship
After missing the opening six races of his first F3 season in Europe, Spengler couldn’t wait to get back into his car. In a year where seven of the top-10 overall finishers in F3 points that year went on to a role in F1 as a race or test driver, Spengler ended the season an incredible 10th overall despite missing almost a third of the schedule.
The great expectations fizzled quickly in his sophomore F3 year, as he never got to grips with his 2004 car and struggled though the season. After finishing 11th overall, Spengler worried that his lacklustre performance had put his career back in the pits.
Once again, Haug had a surprise in store for the young Canadian. Despite the rough year, the Mercedes motorsport boss saw a spark in Spengler and wanted to see how he would handle the DTM car.
At the time, DTM was essentially split into two camps: the factory teams running brand-new cars and the “satellite teams” that raced the previous year’s models, which were marginally slower. The year-old cars were given to young drivers who used them in a learning year to help the manufacturers decide whether the prospects deserved a seat with a top factory team.
For Spengler, it represented his last shot at making a career of racing, but he found perspective in his own private fishbowl.
“Of course you feel pressure; you think, if I don’t show this year, maybe I don’t have a second chance, but on the other side, the nice part was much bigger,” he said with a satisfied grin. “To be honest, I felt more happiness – I was like a relief: I was a professional driver so, for me, it was more like, ‘Now it really starts and who knows where it can take you. It’s only up to you’.”