Spengler takes DTM crown for BMW after Hockenheim thriller
By Berthold Bouman
A sensational race at the German Hockenheimring today, as Bruno Spengler (BMW Team Schnitzer) crossed the finish line first to take the 2012 Deutsche Tourenwagen-Masters (DTM) Championship for BMW, the Bavarian team did the impossible: they won the title in their first year of their return to the DTM series.
“I can hardly believe we have won the title with BMW in our first year back in the DTM. Congratulations to my rival Gary Paffett, who performed brilliantly throughout the entire season and put up a fair fight. He would also have been a worthy champion,” said Spengler.
And he added, “He put me under a lot of pressure in the final race today. I spent a lot of time looking in the rear-view mirror and he just kept getting closer. However, I was able to maintain my pace and close the race out. I have waited for this for so many years. It is simply sensational.”
The race can only be described as one of the most exiting season finales in the DTM history, unfortunately Gary Paffett (Mercedes Team HWA) couldn’t match Spengler’s pace and finished in second place, while third title contender Jamie Green (Mercedes Team HWA) finished the race in fourth place.
Twenty-two cars lined up for the final race of the season on a sunny and dry Hockenheimring, a good start was pivotal for the three championship leaders, but also for pole-sitter Augusto Farfus (BMW Team RBM). Everything that could go wrong went wrong for Paffett as he had a slow start, Joey Hand (BMW Team RMG) and Mattias Ekstrom (Audi Sport team Abt Sportsline) passed him, but luckily for Paffett, the pair collided at the Spitzkehre and Paffett was back in 3rd place again.
Meanwhile Farfus did what was expected of him and let his marque colleague Spengler past, and thus the Canadian was leading after the first lap. Green made good use of the confusion and took sixth place, Paffett was already closing the gap to Farfus who certainly would not let the Briton past without a fight.
Further down the order Ralf Schumacher (Mercedes Team HWA) and Martin Tomczyk (BMW Team RMG) were fighting for tenth place, while at the back of the field Adrien Tambay (Audi Sport Team Abt) and Mike Rockenfeller (Audi Sport Team Phoenix Racing) were seen with damaged cars, and not much later both had to give up their race.
Spengler had built up a 2.7 second gap to Paffett, all the more reason for Paffett to put the pressure on Farfus in second place, but the latter of course had been instructed to make life as difficult as possible for Paffett.
After ten laps the order was: Spengler, Farfus, Paffett, Ekstrom, Green and Hand was in sixth place. Farfus was the first to make a pit stop, Paffett followed him and the pair exited the pit lane side-by-side, but Paffett kept his foot down and wrestled his way past the Brazilian.
Spengler was next, he rejoined the race in fourth place, ahead of Paffett and Farfus. Green also pitted, but his crew made mistakes and he rejoined the race in eighth place, at the same moment Ekstrom had to retire as his right front wheel hadn’t been secured properly during his stop and he had to park his car along the circuit.
Paffett was now on a mission as he had Spengler in sight once more, but the Briton’s move in the pit lane was under investigation for an ‘unsafe release’. Only 3.3 seconds separated the two title candidates, and Paffett was fighting for every tenth of a second. Good news for him as Race Control decided to take no further action regarding his unsafe release in the pit lane.
After 21 of the 42 laps it was time for the second round of pit stops, Edoardo Mortara (Audi Sport Team Rosberg) and Andy Priaulx (BMW Team RBM) were the first to pit. One lap later more drivers came in, which resulted in more pushing and shoving in the pit lane.
The number three, Farfus was next and without problems he rejoined the race, but all eyes were now of course on Spengler and Paffett. Mercedes called in Paffett, there was a problem with the right front wheel which cost Paffett an extra two seconds, but when he rejoined the race he had at least Farfus still behind him.
Spengler came in next, his BMW pit crew made no mistakes and he rejoined the race still in leading position, while Paffett was complaining about the slower drivers ahead of him, especially Dirk Werner (BMW Team Schnitzer) who of course tried to help his team colleague Spengler a bit, and was making life difficult for Paffett.
Miguel Molina (Audi Sport Team Phoenix Racing) caused yellow flags at the entrance of the Motodrome as he had crashed at the Sachs Kurve, and both Spengler and Paffett had to slow down, both unwilling to risk a penalty for ignoring yellow flags.
But when the green flags were waved at the Sachs Kurve again, Paffett was just 2.2 seconds behind Spengler, Green was fourth, 18 seconds behind Spengler, and effectively out of the running for the title. Both Spengler and Paffett were under enormous pressure, and it showed, as Paffett ran wide a the first turn, while Spengler locked up his front tyres at the Spitzkehre.
Paffett didn’t give up and with only ten laps to go was 1.2 seconds behind Spengler, who became more and more nervous. The tension was palpable, both team crews nervously gave their drivers instructions over the radio, and spectators on the main grandstand were cheering on their favourite driver.
Second place was not enough for Paffett to grab the title
Paffett was warned not to run wide again at the first turn like he had done for the past six laps, at that point the difference was still about one second, and there were only three laps to go. Both drivers were on the limit, just one tiny mistake and it could all be over. One lap to go and the 128,000 spectators at the Hockenheimring went crazy, but still one second separated both drivers.
But it was Spengler who crossed the finish line first, Paffett was second and Farfus third. A formidable achievement for BMW to win the title in their first year of their return. Next year BMW will also have eight cars in the championship, which means 24 cars will start the 2013 season at the Hockenheimring.
Paffett was of course disappointed, but nevertheless paid tribute to his team, “My team has done brilliantly well this season in terms of performance and it is very unfortunate that we missed winning the championship title in the last race by four points.
“So in the immediate aftermath of the race, disappointment sits deep, of course, because from my point of view we deserved to win the championship title just as much as Bruno Spengler and BMW. Congratulations to Bruno on his first DTM title! We will go on the attack again next year to take the championship!”
Green finished in third place of the championship and said, “Third place in the Drivers’ Championship, my best result so far, proves that I had a strong season in 2012. I had a chance of winning the title in the finale at Hockenheim this weekend, but nevertheless, I am satisfied with my year. Congratulations to Bruno Spengler and BMW. Bad luck for Gary, he deserved the title win.”