Bruno Spengler is back with Auto123.com for some more exclusive columns this year. The BMW factory drive had lots to say since, two weeks ago at the Lausitzring, he handed his team its first DTM win in 20 years.
I'm happy to be back as a columnist for more this year. The first two rounds of the DTM season have been something, both for me and my new team, BMW.
After a winter of thorough testing, we were ready to debut or brand new M3 DTM in competition, and see for ourselves where we stood compared to Audi and Mercedes.
In terms of raw speed, Hockenheim – the season-opener – was great for us. But in terms of luck, we came short. In qualifying, I was slowed down by a small mechanical issue, which meant I could not give it my all. Ultimately, I missed out on Q4 and had to settle for ninth on the grid.
Then in the race, Ralf Schumacher and I got together on lap 2. I know he didn't mean to hit me, but in the end, it greatly reduced my chances to fight for a good result. I could have scored some points, may be even a top five.
Ralf and I talked about the incident afterwards. He apologized, we shook hands and went our separate ways. Those things happen in racing and, even though I was pretty upset when it happened, Ralf and I have raced long enough to know bad blood is not good to anyone.
Barely a week later, I had to chance to redeem myself at the Lausitzring – where we faced yet another challenge –. At Hockenheim, we had all the data from four days of preseason tests a few weeks before the race. At the Lausitzring, we arrived clueless, setup-wise.
To be fair, we did test there a year ago. But the car has come a long way since, so we had to start over from scratch.
Yet, everything went like clock-work. The team did a mega job preparing the car and, right out of the gate, we were fast. So fast actually, we locked up the front row, Augusto Farfus and myself. I was very proud to get the first BMW pole in 20 years.
But we knew it wasn't time just yet to celebrate, because the race was still to come – and the Mercedes cars would be fast, just like they showed a week earlier at Hockenheim –. They would be tough to beat.
Indeed they were, especially Gary Paffett. He was faster than us in the race. But my BMW M3 wasn't exactly slow either. Plus my crew lined me up with a terrific strategy, executing pit stops to perfection. It's exactly the way we had to react if we were to cope with the pressure from Mercedes – which pitted before us twice.
We could not afford a single mistake.
After each pit stop, the team got me back in front of Gary. So once the pit round as over, I knew it was up to me to get the victory. I had to do my job now. I didn't make any mistake and was rewarded with the checkered flag! In its second race since coming back after 20 years of absence, BMW won.
Furthermore, it brought our win tally in the series to 50. What a weekend…
I never doubted my team. I knew one day or another we would win a race, but I had no idea when. Everybody worked super hard this winter – every single aspect of the car was optimized. A win was the best way to highlight everyone's effort.
Reflecting on the new cars, and the new set of rules, it's all changed the racing since last year. Of course, not having in-race refuelling anymore means we have to start with much heavier cars. It also means that, with every lap, as the fuel burns, we improve our lap times.
Therefore setup is key to be good in the race. You want to be fast when the green flag drops – when your fuel tank is filled to the brim, but you want to be fast at the end as well, when the tank it almost empty. Finding the balance is not easy. The way we drive also has a big impact.
Drive too harsh at the start of the race, and the tires will be shot. That suits me, because I have a smooth driving style.
Now, with our first victory in the bag, we have to watch ourselves. Gathering data will be crucial from now on, since, just like at the Lausitzring, we'll arrive at the tracks with zero running. Friday free practices will be vital. In that respect, for sure, Mercedes and Audi have an edge over us.
Thanks for reading and see you soon I hope!