Bruno Spengler is the first champion of the IMSA iRacing Pro Series despite an early, not-at-fault incident, saw the BMW driver record a zero-point result at the season finale at Watkins Glen.
Nevertheless, he was able to stay ahead of fellow BMW driver Nick Catsburg. Catsburg finished fourth to end the season second in the overall standings. John Edwards claimed third place in the BMW M8 GTE to reach the podium at Watkins Glen.
The virtual BMW M4 GT4 celebrated a successful debut in an official sim racing event at the IMSA iRacing Challenge Series race in the same location.
Spengler endured a tumultuous start to the season finale in the IMSA iRacing Pro Series. Starting from eighth place, he was hit by another car at the start of lap one. This serious accident caused severe damage to his virtual BMW M8 GTE and he was forced to make an extended repair stop.
It was then clear that he had no chance of making his way back to the front and would post his non-scoring result for the season in Watkins Glen. After a strong chasing performance, he crossed the line in 14th position.
Catsburg would have had to win the race to come out on top in the battle for the title within BMW. He displayed plenty of fighting spirit but could not improve on fourth place. This result confirmed his second place in the overall standings.
Victory went to Rodrigo Pflucker, while John Edwards finished third to reach the podium for BMW. A total of five BMW M8 GTEs made it into in the top 10. Turner Motorsport driver Robby Foley and the two BMW Team RLL drivers Connor De Phillippi and Jesse Krohn claimed fifth, sixth and eighth positions.
This is the Q&A with Bruno after he claimed the title.
How are the emotions right now?
Bruno: “I am delighted to have won this title. The unbelievably hard work involved in preparing for the races over the past months really paid off. Many thanks to everyone who supported me, and thanks to IMSA management for organising this virtual race series for us, the drivers, and the fans in these testing times. It was fantastic and so much fun. Today’s race was full of emotion. After the accident on the first lap, I was unbelievably disappointed and could only think ‘That’s blown my title chances.’ But slowly, it became clear that I would still do it, as Nicky was unable to win the race. I was able to relax a bit and enjoy the final laps.”
Could you have imagined six months ago that you might be celebrating your first title win in a virtual race series on Thursday?
Bruno: “Of course not. Nothing that has happened in recent months could have been predicted in any way, but what I have experienced in sim racing during this time is cool. If someone had said to me at the beginning of the year that I would contest a virtual IMSA series against many of my real-life driver colleagues and would be leading the championship going into the season finale, or that I would compete in races at the Nürburgring-Nordschleife alongside professional sim racers and would even win, I would have said ‘Yeah, right!”
How important is a virtual title win to you?
Bruno: “I would be delighted, because success in a series with such a strong field is of great significance to us as racing drivers. I’m very ambitious and want to be really good at everything I do. I’ve spent a corresponding number of hours practicing over the past months. I gave it my all from the very first race to be successful in the IMSA iRacing Pro Series. It has worked really well so far, but just like in real-life racing anything can happen. I might end up standing still in the first turn on the final race and losing everything so I’m keeping both feet on the ground.”
Bruno and sim racing…how did it start?
Bruno: “I first came into contact with professional sim racing at the ADAC SimRacing Expo last September. Before that I had raced now and again for fun, but it wasn’t until the expo that I saw the extremely high level at which it is possible to be involved in sim racing. After my first laps in the simulator it soon became clear that I was way off the pace of the best sim racers. Even though my lap times weren’t all that bad for a beginner, that experience opened my eyes. My ambition was aroused, and I decided to get a new simulator.”
How did things progress after the initial contact?
Bruno: “I didn’t have a lot of time to practice immediately afterwards because it was during racing season, but in winter – just before the current crisis – I got my new simulator and started to concentrate on it and practice seriously. With hindsight it was perfect timing, because when the crisis started I wasn’t allowed outside anymore and was able to spend a lot of time at the wheel. That opportunity to keep racing from home was particularly valuable to me. Every day I appreciated my good fortune of being able to keep pursuing my passion.”
How does sim racing benefit you when it comes to real-life racing?
Bruno: “Sim racing is the perfect practice for me in this special situation, but also at times without racing in general. Primarily it enhances your ability to concentrate. Since my simulator is static, I don’t have the movements and forces that I’m used to in a real racing car. I only have my eyes on the screen, my feet on the pedals and my hands on the steering wheel to feel what the car is doing. Without the accompanying movements it is much more difficult to stay focussed over a long period – particularly in hotly contested races like in the IMSA iRacing Pro Series and the DNLS powered by VCO. In addition to the excellent concentration training, in my opinion sim racing even teaches driving feeling. Because the right racing line in the simulator is also the right racing line on the real racetrack I can take many of my experiences in the simulator with me into the real racing car. An important factor for me is that I am not just practicing alone, but alongside top-class professional sim racers from whom I can learn a great deal. Whether that’s when it comes to set-up work or searching for the perfect driving style.”
The virtual IMSA races in particular are helping you as a newcomer to this series to get to know the tracks, right?
Bruno: “Definitely. I’ve only contested races at Daytona and Sebring so far. I haven’t ever driven on the real versions of any of the other tracks. The fact that my simulator is now enabling me to practice intensively on all the tracks on the race calendar will no doubt help me a great deal when I’m on them in the real BMW M8 GTE for the first time. Obviously, someone who has already raced in real races on the tracks will still have an advantage, but at least I have a feel for what is in store for me when I get there.”
IMSA is planning to restart the season with another race at Daytona at the beginning of July. How eager are you to get back in the real BMW M8 GTE?
Bruno: “Very eager. I’m really looking forward to feeling the adrenaline and forces that you only get in a real race car again. You experience just as much nervousness and tension in the simulator, at the start, for example, but I do miss the other elements. What I am really missing is the crowd. The fans at the track make our events special. They give us the final push. We don’t have that in the simulator, and unfortunately, we will have to hold our opening real-life races without spectators, but I really hope that we will be able to race in front of our fans at the track again as soon as possible. It’s part of it for me.”
How much of a transition will it be going from the simulator to the real racing car?
Bruno: “It will be quick I think. Obviously, we will have to get used to the forces that have an effect in the real racing car again, but no doubt after a few laps we will back in the rhythm and ready to really get going.”
What are your goals for continuing your first IMSA season?
Bruno: “I’ll wait and see to start with. There are just too many tracks that I don’t know well enough yet for me to have specific goals. The BMW M8 GTE performed fantastically at Daytona in January, and our sister car won, but the characteristics of most of the other tracks on the race calendar are very different. So, I will wait and see and try to get to know the tracks in real-life as quickly as possible, and naturally I will be pleased with every good result that I am able to bring home with my team-mate Connor De Phillippi.”
Will you remain loyal to sim racing in the future?
Bruno: “Definitely! Whenever I am at home, I will keep practicing, particularly during the winter break because I really do enjoy sim racing.”
IMSA iRacing Challenge Series.
Ahead of the season finale in the IMSA iRacing Pro Series, the IMSA iRacing Challenge Series hosted its race at the same location. Only recently made available as a car in iRacing, the BMW M4 GT4 celebrated its debut in an official event.
The start grid featured a total of 13 virtual versions of the BMW M customer racing car, six of which recorded top ten results. Nils Koch (GER) from the BS+COMPETITION team and Robby Foley (USA), sporting the colours of Turner Motorsport, finished second and third respectively to reach the podium. Also in the top ten were BMW works driver Beitske Visser (NED) in sixth place, BMW Sports Trophy ‘Rookie of the Year’ Marius Zug (GER) in eighth and YouTube influencer Jimmy Broadbent (GBR) in ninth.
The next major debut awaits for the BMW M4 GT4 on Saturday. That is when it will be competing in the SP10 class at the H&R 3-hour race, in the Digital Nürburgring Endurance Series powered by VCO. Marius Zug will once again be behind the wheel when he will be supported by the familiar face of BMW DTM driver Timo Glock (GER) who will celebrate his race debut on the Nordschleife (GER) in the virtual BMW M4 GT4.
Livestream of the H&R 3-hour race in the DNLS powered by VCO (Sat., 12:30 CET):