By John Munro and Justin Melillo
One of the twelve teams competing in the very first races of the inaugural ESL R1 season over at the IEM Expo Katowice in Poland this weekend is the BMW M Team BS+COMPETITION squad.
Their four drivers this season will be Nils Naujoks, Phillippe Denes, Rainer Talvar and Ryan Barneveld with Ibraheem Khan listed as their support driver.
Leading BS+COMPETITION as Team Captain for their first go is the 2012 DTM Driver’s Champion, Bruno Spengler, who also drives for BMW’s factory team, BMW M Motorsport, in real-world racing competition.
Spengler, the French-born, Canadian-raised racing champion was born in 1983, racing not only more than 15 years in DTM competition but also recently as a member of Turner Motorsport’s BMW GTD Pro in IMSA competition, that team having competed in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona already.
Spengler sat down with Traxion.GG on Friday to talk about a number of topics surrounding the upcoming event this weekend, including his and BMW’s involvement with the Zebras, his role as the team’s captain, and what to watch out for with BS+COMPETITION this weekend on the Rennsport simulation.
WHY BE INVOLVED IN SIM RACING AS A REAL-WORLD DRIVER?
With a pedigree such as his, just how did Bruno Spengler and BMW get involved in everything that’s happening this weekend at IEM Expo Katowice?
“Well, a couple of reasons actually,” Spengler said. “[I’ve been] involved in sim racing since 2020 when we had the long pandemic break, so I participated in the IMSA Pro Championship, which I won together with BS+COMPETITION and BMW.”
“I got involved in sim racing with BMW because BMW is involved there since the very beginning, and they are in it very professionally. It’s just a great package, a great addition to the real life racing for me as a driver and also for BMW as a brand because there is so much you can do on sim racing.
“There’s so many things you can achieve and show your cars and even help with developing cars by doing sim racing with great drivers and great teams, like this competition for example. The sim racing platform is huge, and I think there is no limit for this platform to evolve.”
Spengler won’t be in the virtual seat this weekend, but that doesn’t mean he can’t wheel it with the best of them on any given day. We’ve seen him as a member of BS+COMPETITION for the last couple of seasons competing as a pro-level driver in the Le Mans Virtual Series. He also does a ton in the iRacing sphere for the team, competing recently in the IMSA Esports Michelin Global Championship.
“I’m also a brand ambassador for sim racing for BMW M, which is a great challenge for me as well. Together with this competition and doing a lot of iRacing stuff, especially events and we won the 24 Hour Nurburgring last year. There’s a lot of things that have been going on. [It has been] very busy.”
BMW is one of four manufacturers involved in this launch of the ESL R1 competition on the Rennsport platform. With BS+COMPETITION competing as an official BMW-branded team in the series, Spengler is one of the best that BMW has to offer up to take on the challenges ahead.
“Now, a new challenge right here in front of us is Rennsport,” Spengler said. “Being here at ESL, for me it’s just incredible. It’s a new adventure. It’s a new platform. Everybody has to learn. There’s a lot of things to take from, a lot of things to learn.”
“Seeing all these rigs there being exposed on this arena, I think is awesome, with the best drivers, the best teams competing against each other, the best manufacturers, it’s a very interesting challenge and a very exciting one, so I’m very happy to be part of this adventure and I look forward to the weekend.”
SIM VERSUS REALITY
Competing on a simulation-style racing title like iRacing, or more appropriately Rennsport this weekend comes with added benefits if you’re like Bruno and you know what the real-world product is supposed to do. For real-world drivers, it can be both something fun and something productive.
“I think in sim racing, you have to be able to do a lot of different things because there are so many tasks that you can do,” Spengler said. “There is strategy, there is setup, there is managing, there is driving and what got me really strong into sim racing is that in our days, in real life racing, you don’t get that much testing because it’s very limited, because of budget reasons and stuff.”
“In sim racing, you can just drive as much as you want. You go to bed at night, you’re not happy with something and the next morning you wake up, you go in the sim again and you can improve your driving.”
“I can learn so much from my teammates at this competition, because these guys are so quick and incredible sim racers, some even real life drivers as well. It’s just an incredible challenge everyday, and that’s why I like it so much.”
“I really think there’s a lot I can take from sim racing, for my concentration to bring it on the real life racing. I think that makes me a better driver, you know?”
So does that add a benefit for BMW to have Bruno this closely involved in terms of real-world and simulated development? “I contribute when there’s new tyre models and stuff and if it’s related to BMW, I can contribute,” Spengler said.
“I’ve already done it a little bit in the past, for example with iRacing.
That could be possibly as recent as with iRacing’s new BMW M Hybrid V8 LMDh / GTP.
“When there’s something new, I’m definitely very open and very happy to participate in trying to optimise the details, because these simulations are already very good, so it’s just little details here and there to make it closer to reality. That’s where I can step in and bring some of my experience from GT3 and try to try to optimise together with the simulations.”
For Talvar, Naujoks, Denes and Barneveld, the four drivers behind the wheel for the BMW M Team BS+COMPETITION organisation, Spengler will be taking on the role as their Team Captain for this inaugural season. What exactly does that entail for the seasoned driver?
“I think being a Team Captain, for me, clearly represents a lot because I’m also a big competitor, Spengler said.” I love winning, I love competing and being together with the guys, and I know these guys know what they have to do out there. No question. I don’t need to tell them where to brake, or where to go on throttle. They definitely know that.”
“I have a lot of experience from real life racing and also from approaching a competition, and I think if I would be in their position, I think it would be nice to have someone who has the experience from high pressure moments because you never know.”
“Sometimes you are under really very heavy pressure and to deal with it, sometimes it’s good to have a person that just can give you advice or can guide you a little bit or has a look into everything, because I like to look into details.”
For Spengler, it’s not about being a coach, It’s about being an experienced body to lean on. “I can look at a lot of details, what the other drivers do… It has nothing to do with driver coaching or anything. Definitely not,” Spengler said.
“It’s more like a mentality approach. If there’s anything, I’m here to guide or I can there’s details I can see, maybe that they don’t have time to see because they are so focused and so busy, so this is more like an overall picture.”
“That’s why I’m here. I’m taking this very seriously and I really want us to succeed and to have some good results because BMW is very strongly involved in this, which I find amazing because BMW already has a great program in real life.”
“When BMW gets involved in sim racing like that, I think it’s great, and that’s why we are all ready to give the best we can to be the best team possible.”
As one of the 12 teams competing in this inaugural season, it really is a who’s who of competitors among many different sim racing circles. Most, if not all of the field is made up of champions from different disciplines and platforms. So how does Bruno feel the Zebras will fare this weekend?
“Honestly, it’s very hard to say,” Spengler said. “We kind of go in a little bit blind. There was not a lot of training sessions altogether, so you don’t know really where the cars are, it’s very difficult to know.”
“We will know a bit more tonight. We will kind of have an idea tonight where we stand, so tomorrow morning or tonight, maybe I can tell you a little bit more.”
“One thing is clear. I know that the drivers we have, they are clearly within the best ones, so that’s no doubt. Now we have to see where we stand. It’s difficult to really say because there are so many different cars. Sometimes performance can be different. It’s a new platform, so we just need to see how everything evolves during free practice.”
On the outside looking in, we can see that with some of the announcements that these drivers made, some of the choices that some had to choose during the offseason, and the effort that has been put into bringing ESL R1 together this weekend, that this is shaping up to be a big deal. Bruno says that the team has done everything they can to possibly prepare for it.
“We are ready and the guys have been training well, as much as they could,” Spengler said. “Some also have to work, you know they cannot just do the whole day practice, they also have to work next to this, so and they did as much as they could and they are ready and we will see now how free practices play out.”
“I like the format, with the quarterfinal. I think to bring a standing start in sim racing is great. We see a lot of races that have rolling starts and I’m very happy to see standing starts. There are all these details that are fine, cool, very challenging and I think it’s going to be also high commitment and high stress.
“To be all together like this, next to each other, a lot of people watching… It’s going to be very cool.”
Of course, this whole competition wouldn’t be what it is without the work on this brand new simulation called Rennsport. It is quite early in development as compared to many other well known sims out there, but does Rennsport share anything with other popular racing titles?
“It’s hard to say,” Spengler said when asked. “Obviously, in Rennsport, I haven’t done that many laps yet, but you cannot really compare to other simulations. I think it’s a new simulation on its own. The only sim I have a lot of a lot of experience – three years of experience in, which is for me a lot, is iRacing.”
“It’s quite different to iRacing. The driving style required is also a little bit different, but I think from what I heard and what I experienced, for such a young simulation, I would say, there’s always stuff you can optimise, but the base is already very high.”
“The job that has been done in such a little time, to get everything ready here, to get everything prepared has been very good, and I see a massive potential in Rennsport. It’s already such at a high level right from the beginning.”
“There’s always things you can optimise and they will optimise through the years and through the months, but the base is already very strong, which is very very positive.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Nürburgring, Germany – SEPTEMBER 12 2019: Bruno Spengler, BMW Team RMG during the Nurburgring at Nürburgring on September 12, 2019 in Nürburgring, Germany. (Photo by Alexander Trienitz / LAT Images via Motorsport Images)