Just about everything around Bruno Spengler in 2012 may have been new, but it didn’t slow the Canadian racer one bit.
BMW driver Spengler heads to the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season finale trailing leader Gary Paffett of Mercedes by a slim three points as the drivers get ready for a winner-takes-all showdown in Hockenheim on Sunday.
A maiden DTM championship would end an amazing 2012 campaign for Spengler, who joined BMW this year after racing seven seasons in the series with Mercedes. With the Bavarian manufacturer returning to the highly competitive German touring car championship this season after two decades away from the series, scoring a title for BMW in its first year back would be quite a coup for the Canadian.
Unfortunately for Spengler, his first visit to Hockenheim in the 2012 season opener ended with a retirement after only three laps when he got caught up in an accident and lost the hood of his car. To make matters worse, 2005 DTM champion Paffett went on to win the race, making him the favourite to take his second title on Sunday.
Despite the outcome of the first race, Spengler thinks it’s a new ballgame this time around.
“You obviously cannot compare Hockenheim in April to Hockenheim in October,” he said.
“We were able to gain a lot of experience at this circuit on the first race weekend, so we are not starting from scratch this time.”
The scenarios are many but the bottom line for Paffett is that if he simply finishes ahead of his Canadian rival, he is champion. On the other hand, Spengler is champion if he wins or if he crosses the line second or third ahead of Paffett. Although the pair would be equal in points if Paffett was directly behind Spengler in the second scenario, the BMW driver would take the title on a tiebreaker due to more wins. Should Spengler finish anywhere from fourth to eighth, he must be at least two places ahead of Paffett to be champion. A finish of lower than eighth for Spengler would give Paffett the title no matter where the Briton ends up in Sunday’s race. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
Mercedes driver Jamie Green is also mathematically in the running, although he would need a miracle for the title to go his way. The only way the title would go to Green is a win for the Mercedes driver combined with Paffett finishing seventh or worse and Spengler ending the day sixth or worse.
While he has beaten the odds with his newly-minted team to get this far, history is also not on Spengler’s side after he failed to take the DTM title in three previous seasons where he was a contender.
The last time Spengler went into the final race of the year with the title on the line he had a weekend that can only be described as disastrous. In 2010, the Canadian arrived at the season finale on the streets of Shanghai, China, with a slim three-point lead over him main challenger, Paul Di Resta.
A crash into a wall in qualifying on the slick street course saw the Canadian start the race in 17th while his rival started on pole and ended the race second. Spengler never recovered from the accident and drove a terribly understeering car to a disappointing 13th-place finish. In the end, Spengler went from first to third in the championship, behind Di Resta, who now races with Force India in Formula One, and second-placed man Paffett.
In two previous championship challenges in 2006 and 2007, Spengler finished second overall.
This year, the 29-year-old from St-Hippolyte, Que., is back again after quickly becoming the BMW team leader in 2012. He has taken a season high three wins in nine starts so far this year, including BMW’s first victory since 1992 in only his second start with the manufacturer.
Despite two retirements, Spengler’s 124 points almost doubles the nearest BMW driver, Martin Tomczyk, who has 69. For the uninitiated, Tomczyk is the defending DTM champion and no slouch, making Spengler’s performance in 2012 all the more impressive.
To put it in perspective, the closest Mercedes drivers are Paffett and Green, who are 18 points apart. In the Audi camp, only four points separate its top-2 drivers, Mike Rockenfeller and Mattias Ekström.
The fledgling BMW squad also has a chance to take the team crown in its first season as Spengler’s Schnitzer outfit is just eight points behind Paffett’s HWA team. The manufacturer’s crown goes to the team whose two drivers score the most total points.
Should he finally claim the crown that has eluded him previously, Spengler would become the first Canadian to win a major international professional championship since Scarborough, Ont.’s, Paul Tracy took the Champ Car title in 2003.
Although Robert Wickens, who now races for Mercedes in DTM, was 2011 World Series by Renault 3.5 title, it is considered a development series designed for amateur racers.
For now, Spengler is just happy to be in a position to chase for the title. While there are many variables going into the weekend, one thing is certain: Spengler isn’t about to make any drastic changes to his approach.
“It is fantastic to be just three points behind Gary Paffett in the drivers’ standings,” he said.
“Our goal is obviously to overturn his lead. We will go about our job in our usual focused manner. I am really looking forward to the grand finale to a great season.”
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