“As a racing driver the faster the car goes around the track the happier you are.”
MARC GT’s recently acquired BMW M6 GT3 competed for the first time this weekend at the Australian GT Championship round in Phillip Island. Qualifying second in the 101-lap race a podium finished looked within reach until two tyre punctures snagged the team and resulted in a 13th placed finish. However as the Australian GT Championship steadily builds popularity down under so too does support from manufacturers.
We were invited by BMW to attend a meet and greet with the 2012 DTM championship winner and current BMW MTEK factory racing driver Bruno Spengler, who flew in from his busy racing schedule just two days before the race to compete with the MARC GT team alongside driver Morgan Haber.
Having just landed from a long-haul flight into a miserable and wet Melbourne day, the French-Canadian appeared surprisingly fresh and jet-lag free on his first visit to Australia, albeit a little perturbed that he only has Friday and some previous YouTube binging to understand the track.
“I’m very excited, it’s new track for me and I’ve never been to Phillip Island. I looked at a lot of YouTube videos [and] I looked at a MotoGP race, it looks like a very exciting track. If it’s a new track it helps a lot looking at on-boards and stuff,” Spengler told Trailing Throttle.
“I know where it goes, I know what gear for each corner, but when it’s the real thing in the car and there’s a little elevation and [trying to understand] where it turns in and when to brake and everything – it takes ten laps or something to have that control. To look at the videos is good because you know where it goes but at the end you have to drive it.
“I would have wished a bit more practice on Friday to get used to the track but I just give my best. I’m really excited to discover the track that I’ve learnt all about… I’m a little nervous, like I said before there’s a lot of experienced good guys out there but I’ll give my best.”
The 32 year-old started competing in go-karts when he was 12 years-old before beginning his career as a professional DTM driver with Mercedes-Benz from 2005-2011. Spengler switched to BMW in 2012, where he won his first DTM championship. Asked about his preference between DTM and GT racing cars, he says there’s something enjoyable in both formats of racing.
“For sure the DTM car, it is closer to a single seater – it’s a sharper car. As a racing driver the faster the car goes around the track the happier you are. (A DTM car) is about 6 seconds a lap quicker. No ABS, no traction control, it is a completely different car to drive.
“Every time I jump into the GT car I have to calm down on the brake points and entry speeds. It’s just a different car.
“When you jump in a GT car with ABS and traction control, the first thing that jumps into your mind is the car is quite easy to drive, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do a fast lap.
“I love to go around in GT cars, its different, it’s a heavier car, it’s a fast car on the straight and it has a lot of horsepower. There’s pros and cons of both. There’s a lot of different brands getting involved and manufacturers too. It means a lot of non-pros can drive it and drive it pretty fast. That’s the fun of GT3 and part of the interest. I like GT racing.”
For the future, Spengler plans to continue competing in the DTM Championship and the occasional special event, including 24 hours races of which he has competed in three times – once at Spa and twice at Daytona, where the team finished second and fifth. Although his schedule makes competing in the Nürburgring 24 hours difficult, he is hoping to fit it in at some point.
“It depends on the DTM calendar, on the testing and other things, but, I would be happy to do the Nürburgring for sure.
“We did spa last year with Alex Zanardi and Timo Glock, we retired an hour to the end, we had an engine failure… That was hard. We were going for top five.”
When not driving professionally, Spengler enjoys driving his BMW M5, especially on the autobahn where the top speed can licked, although after driving the new M2 he is already on the waiting list for one.
“The car is very well balanced, it can be also really comfortable if you drive or cruise around, it has a lot of space for a small car… and it’s very sporty on the race track. The balance the car has is amazing. I like the engine because it’s an inline six-cylinder and it really sounds like the older six-cylinder, and that’s something that’s really important for me, I really like that sound. My dad had an older M3 in the 1990s.”
MARC GT’s Ryan McLeod also attended the meet and greet and was thrilled with the support from BMW and what the future for GT racing in Australia might be.
We asked the champ if he’d be willing to race against Trailing Throttle readers on RaceRoom, the online racing simulator he helped develop: “The main game on it is the DTM experience and I helped to develop that game with them. Can you race against me? Sure you can! You just need to be lucky enough to be on when I’m racing because I’m away all the time!”
“It’s happened for a reason and the reason is BMW want to tie their racing results into the mainstream, and the level of support they’re putting behind it is fantastic – the technical support we get and the backup from the local operation. And things like Bruno sitting here today to come and help us get our team running…. That’s all because, like us, BMW want to achieve and want to win, so I’m glad we picked BMW and that we’re here and Bruno is with us”, Ryan said.
BMW Australia Managing Director Marc-Heinrich Werner backed-up the assertion that BMW is serious about its involvement in the GT-class car, “certainly in my nine years here, this is the first time we’ve had a factory driver here, so it’s really exciting”, he said.
“The M6 races all around the world and our goal is the M6 is successful around the world, and that is definitely our goal here and we really want to get that going well here in Australia.”