Born in France, raised in Canada, and now residing in Switzerland (where he daily drives a BMW M5), 32-year-old Spengler is in Melbourne to race the MARC GT BMW M6 GT3 racecar – the second one of its kind to land in Australia – at this weekend’s Australian GT Championship round at Phillip Island.
Before even seeing the world famous 4.4-kilometre Victorian coast-side circuit with his own eyes, Spengler – the winner of the 2012 DTM Championship – sat down for a chat with CarAdvice to talk cars, jet lag, and the ever-growing sport of GT racing.
CA: So you landed in Melbourne at 0530 and we’re greeted by weather like this. Not quite what you were expecting for Australia?
BS: No. I was with a T-shirt, just a sweater and I got out of the airport and was like, ‘Woah, it’s chilly here’.
CA: With the amount of flying and travel that you normally do, do you normally experience jet lag or do you have ways to avoid feeling like that? Or does it not matter once you’re in the car racing?
BS: When you’re in the car, you don’t feel the jet lag as bad because you’re so concentrated and you’ve got that adrenalin which takes you away a little bit from the jet lag feeling but whether you want it or not, I’m going to be driving at times when it’s the middle of the night for me.
So, for sure, you’re not at your best, I would say, because you’re at a moment when normally your body is used to rest and you just have to deliver the best you can. So for sure, it’s not the best, but on the other hand, I think I’ll be ok, you know. I really like driving and I’m excited to be in a new country and to see a new track, so I think that’s going to help a lot to make me forget the jet lag.
CA: Between the jet lag and the weather and the racetrack you haven’t even seen for yourself before, how are you feeling going into this Saturday’s two sprint races and Sunday’s 101-lap endurance race?
BS: Very excited. I would’ve wished for a bit more free practice on Friday to get used to the track but I’ll just give my best and try to be on track as much as I can on Friday, but I’m really excited.
I’m really excited to discover the track, which I’ve heard a lot about, and meet new people and see a new country. Excited but also a little nervous I have to say, because it’s something totally new for me. I’m a rookie here, I’m like a newcomer, so there’s a lot of experienced good guys out there so it won’t me easy for me but I’ll give my best.
CA: What do you think or know of the track so far?
BS: It’s a new track for me – I’ve never been to Phillip Island. I’ve looked at a lot of YouTube videos about it, I also looked at a MotoGP race, so, it looks like an exciting track.
I think it’s still going to be a surprise. I know where it goes, I know what gear I need for each corner, but when it’s the real thing and you’re actually sitting in the car – I think this track has a bit of elevation too – so you’ve got to find your visual points where to break, where to turn in and everything. These things take some laps, takes 10 laps or something, to really get that under control. And to look at the videos is good but in the end you have to drive. It’s a challenging thing for me this weekend.
BS: Oh, there is a lot of difference. The DTM car is about 200kg less, it has a lot of downforce, it has carbon brakes, there’s a lot of ground effect, it is a completely different car.
Every time I jump in the GT car I have to stop myself and calm down on the braking points and entry speeds because it’s just a different car. The DTM car is about six seconds a lap quicker. No ABS, no traction control. It’s a completely different car to drive. It’s a sharper car. It’s basically the Formula One of Touring Car but I like to go around in the GT car also.
It’s just different. It’s a heavier car, it’s a fast car straight, it has a lot of horsepower, so there is pros and cons in both. They're just two different categories.
I think GT now develops a lot around the world, there’s a lot of different brands getting involved and different manufacturers and it’s a very interesting series. I like GT racing.
CA: Why do you think the GT3 category has become so popular with privateers in recent times? And how much has to do with how relatively ‘easy’ these cars are to drive?
BS: It’s very true. I’ve been always driving cars without traction control and without ABS and when you jump in a GT car with the ABS and the traction control, the first thing that jumps in your mind is that, yeah, the car is quite easy to drive compared to what you’re used to.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to do a fast lap with it, it’s still a challenge, but on the basic, a lot easier to drive than a DTM car for example. And I think that’s the good compromise of the GT3 class because it means a lot of private, non-professional drivers, can drive it, and also can drive it pretty fast. So that makes the fun of GT3 and that’s also the interesting part of GT3.
CA: How easy or difficult is it to set up a GT3 car versus a DTM car?
There is for sure in DTM, aerodynamic wise, a lot of things comes into play, so the DTM car is more difficult to set up because you have to find the right mechanical setup to the amount of downforce you have, because you have a lot of downforce.
On a GT car you have a lot less downforce, so it’s a lot more up to the mechanical setup, so you can concentrate actually more on one thing, whereas in DTM you have to match both where it’s difficult.
CA: Is there any advice or assistance you can give the MARC GT team or your race-weekend teammate, 22-year-old Morgan Haber? Or, given the situation, are you more likely to ask Morgan for advice?
BS: (Laughs) I think before giving advice, I have to get advice. And then when the weekend goes through, if there is anything I can do to help, then I will for sure. That’s also part of the reason I’m here.
But before doing that, I’m going to have to learn a lot. So I’m going to start learning and then later on during the weekend if there is anything I can help with I will, but like I said, I’m going to have to first set my base here and then just learn and learn the track.
CA: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, and all the best for the weekend.
Spengler will partner with Queensland young-gun Morgan Haber for two one-hour sprint races on Saturday, ahead of Sunday’s 101-lap endurance race.
Sharing wheel time in the #90 MARC GT BMW M6 GT3, the Spengler/Haber pair will be joined in the BMW Motorsport camp by BMW Australia’s first M6 GT3, the #100 BMW Team SRM M6 GT3 of Steven Richards and Max Twigg, as well as the #92 BMW Z4 GT3 of Ricky Capo.
As for the rest of his time in Australia? There isn’t any. Spengler is on a plane Sunday evening, before getting back into his BMW Team MTEK BMW M4 DTM car to compete in Round Three of the 2016 DTM Championship at the Lausitzring in Germany.
What car would you love to drive a GT3 version of? And around which track?