Bruno Spengler may not be thinking about a second consecutive Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) title yet, but it's a good bet his rivals took a good look at the calling card he left in Austria.
The defending champion scored a dominant win on Sunday in the season's third race at the Red Bull Ring, leading BMW to podium sweep that also put him on top of the championship lead.
"A one-two-three is simply sensational – that does not happen very often in motor racing," said the 29-year-old from St-Hippolyte, Que.
"My pace was very good throughout the entire race, but I had to push in the middle of my first stint in order to stay in front. This victory belongs to BMW Team Schnitzer. The strategy, with the late second stop, was the key to the success."
In short, Spengler drove magnificently, his team hit all the right marks, and his BMW appears fast and bulletproof.
That combination saw Spengler cross the finish line 1.550 seconds ahead of BMW teammate Marco Werner in the 47-lap race, with former Formula One driver Timo Glock making it a clean sweep of the podium by the Bavarian auto maker with his third place.
The Canadian now leads championship standings with 53 points, 12 better than Audi driver Mike Rockenfeller. Spengler's BMW teammate Augusto Farfus is third with 33. Drivers get 25 points for a win.
Despite what looked like a dominant drive from pole where he only lost the lead during pit stops, Spengler doesn't think he's the title favourite after only one victory and a slim lead in the standings.
"It was not easy," said Spengler who drivers for BMW Team Schnitzer.
"Every race is hard and every season is hard and I will see where I am at the end of the season but I am very motivated and looking forward to the next races."
While he credited a late second pit stop with six laps left for helping to fend off a hard-charging DTM rookie Wittmann, Spengler never looked threatened. He streaked away from pole at the start and built up a cushion that he controlled throughout the race, expertly managing his tires while also matching the lap times of his pursuers when necessary.
His quick getaway helped keep Wittmann from deploying his Drag Reduction System (DRS) as he chased the Canadian and prevented him from mounting a challenge.
"At the beginning of the race I could push really hard and for the first three laps I pushed really hard to get out of the DRS window," Spengler said. "At the end of my stint I could drive again really consistently and fast on the option tire. It was amazing work from the whole team: My engineer was amazing this weekend and so was my crew in the pit stops. It was just a great weekend."
DTM adopted a Formula One-style DRS this year which lets a driver flatten his rear wing and gain added speed once per lap, provided he is within two seconds of the driver ahead at the start-finish line.
With a win under his belt in Austria, Spengler and the DTM circus heads to the EuroSpeedway in Lausitz, Germany, where he scored BMW's first win in the series after an absence of two decades. It was the first of four wins for Spengler on the year.
While Spengler celebrated, the other Canadian in the DTM field experienced a terribly frustrating day. Robert Wickens found himself going backward fast following an early pit stop which put him on his back foot. The TWA team's plan was to get the Guelph, Ont., driver off the softer but faster option tires quickly and then go back to them late in the race. Although a similar strategy worked like a charm in the previous race at Brands Hatch, where he went from 13th on the starting grid to his first career podium finish for a third place, it was a curse in Austria.
DTM uses two compounds in races with a harder standard tire and a soft option that's quicker but wears faster. The big issue with the option tire is that drivers only get one set for the race and they do not have the opportunity to try them out in practice or qualifying. It's difficult to know how long they will last and changing them is somewhere between a gamble and an educated guess.
Wickens ran as high as sixth before he pitted on Lap 15 and emerged to find his closest rivals staying out on the faster tire for another 10-15 laps and putting up times that were between 0.5 and one second quicker than his on the harder standard rubber. He dropped as far down as 16th before rallying to take 12th at the chequered flag.
"Unfortunately, my race did not go according to plan," said Wickens. "I didn't get stuck in traffic at all, nor did I make any mistakes. The car didn't feel in any way different to yesterday either. We need to analyze exactly what happened before the next race."
Double trouble in Detroit
Speaking of analyzing what happened, IndyCar might want to re-evaluate the doubleheader format after a crash fest in Detroit claimed one-third of the field, including several championship contenders.
The race was the second in the first two-in-one road course weekend and it looked like drivers were having trouble staying focused.
For example, defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, of Andretti Autosport, hit the wall entering a corner in a mistake that even a rookie shouldn't make. A few laps earlier, KV Racing's Simona di Silvestro put her car into the wall at the same spot. Then there was a huge pile-up started when veteran Sébastien Bourdais got into the back of another car on a restart. That incident involved 10 cars, including both Canadians in the field, Andretti's James Hinchcliffe and Barracuda Racing's Alex Tagliani.
In the end, only 12 drivers crossed the line on the lead lap.
Unfortunately, the accidents overshadowed a tremendous performance by Schmidt Hamilton Motorsport driver Simon Pagenaud, who took his maiden IndyCar win. He crossed the line 5.6274 seconds ahead of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's James Jakes. Mike Conway was third for Dale Coyne.
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