The value of experience
Norisring race winner, and 2012 champion, Bruno Spengler (BMW) and Audi drivers Mike Rockenfeller and Jamie Green are the three most experienced drivers in this year’s DTM field.
With an incredible 531 races between them, three series’ stalwarts stood atop on the DTM podium after the concluding race of the Norisring weekend. A mere coincidence, or was their vast experience instrumental in helping them to be successful around the high-speed street track in downtown Nuremberg?
Motor racing (understandably) hails the arrival of new talent: Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc are lauded as Formula 1’s ‘bright young things’, and the media collectively savours the prospect of fresh-faced youngsters arriving on the scene. After all, the sport is predicated upon the idea of new blood rising through the ranks to match, and then surpass, the established masters.
In DTM, the likes of Jake Dennis and Sheldon van der Linde have equally impressed in their rookie seasons, and look set to be stars of the future.
But that doesn’t mean we should overlook the ‘old guys’: Wimbledon runner-up Roger Federer, a still relatively sprightly 37, demonstrated that guile and experience are just as valuable as youthful exuberance. And he played to a supreme level – for well over four hours – in order to prove that point.
But what about motor racing?
Spengler and Green both joined the DTM field in 2005, with Green having won the Formula 3 Euro Series’ title the year before. Prior to the current season, they had each contested 177 DTM races, but Green was absent from the Misano weekend following appendicitis surgery. That explains why Spengler’s total is now two races higher than his British rival; 185 for the Canadian compared to Green’s 183.
Rockenfeller, meanwhile, came into the DTM in 2007 following success in Porsche’s one-make series and GT racing with the brand from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen. For him, the Sunday race at the Norisring was his 163rd start in the DTM.
Spengler’s victory in Nuremberg ended a winless streak of two years – the BMW driver last having won in 2017, also at the Norisring. Some brave driving on the opening lap saw him moving up from fifth on the grid into the lead and from then on, the Canadian never looked back, securing his 16th DTM race win.
Bruno Spengler ended a two-year winless streak with victory at Norisring
“Experience is always important,” he says. “Not only in the DTM, but also in a lot of other sports. In the DTM, there are so many good drivers who have a lot of experience, not only from the DTM, but also from various other series.
“Even the young guys coming in today, they immediately get a new car and they have a lot of experience from other high-level series. That means that to be successful in DTM, you have to bring everything together. That’s what makes it so difficult.”
Seeking inspiration from the masters
When Spengler came into DTM, was he looking up to the regulars in the series at the time? “Definitely,” he admits. “You had drivers like Bernd Schneider, Manuel Reuter, but also Mika Häkkinen, Jean Alesi. I wasn’t only racing against them; I also had some of them as my team-mates. I was really proud of that. I was the young guy coming in and I could learn so much from them. That was very special, a time I really enjoyed.”
With his Norisring podium finish, Jamie Green made it clear that he may have recently lost his appendix, but nothing of his skills as a DTM driver during his brief absence.
Briton Jamie Green reckons experience counts for little in the new-look DTM
There’s no lack of experience for the Brit, either, who is another veteran of the series. But Green looks at the role of experience in a novel way: “A lot of things have changed in the DTM in recent years, so some of your experience may be slightly out of date,” he reckons. “The engine is so different this year, and the downforce has been reduced considerably in the last two years. And, with the regulations we have regarding tyre pressure, it’s a completely different challenge, especially in the race. It’s kind of a new thing, the driving style, the things you need to do are different, so I think experience is not that important anymore.”
The value of learning – and predicting the future
Even with all the races under his belt, Green is still learning: “With the Safety Car having played such a major role in the outcome of the races recently, sometimes it can be hard to understand even for me, with all the experience I have.
“Then again, having been around for longer also means that you have more mistakes under your belt than other people, so sometimes you can see a problem coming up a bit earlier than others and then you are able to react. That’s probably the benefit of experience, being able to read or even predict the future a little bit, because you’ve been there before.”
Rockenfeller: “As long as you deliver, you are there…”
Mike Rockenfeller, meanwhile, was happy to be back on the podium, a place he hadn’t visited since the season opener at Hockenheim. “Yes, it was pretty cool to be there with the three most experienced drivers,” he said. “We were on the pace all weekend, but we also needed a little bit of luck. For me, it worked out, starting from eleventh and working my way up through the ranks.”
“We’re not 45 years old or something,” Rockenfeller added, “but it’s fair to say that the three of us perhaps are in the final third of our careers whereas others are still very much at the beginning. But it is not something I am thinking about a lot, really.
“It is simply about performance: as long as you deliver, you are there, and if you don’t, you’re out. It’s as easy as that. And it’s a combination of things as well: if the car handles well, if you get the balance right, you are quick. That probably gives you some more confidence that helps you to go even quicker, and that’s how it all works together. But then again, this is DTM. Next time round, you can have some of the young guns right up there!”
The numbers game
Five-time DTM champion Bernd Schneider has the most DTM events under his belt: he participated in a total of 236 DTM races – some with Ford but the majority with Mercedes-Benz.
Behind him sits another legendary German driver, Klaus Ludwig, with 219 races for Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Opel to his name.
Next up is Jörg van Ommen with 214 caps. The most seasoned non-German driver is the 1986 DTM champion, Dane Kurt Thiim, with 211 participations.
Manuel Reuter is the fifth driver in the exclusive ‘200 club’ with exactly 200 races to his name. Bruno Spengler is the most experienced of the current DTM drivers with 185 race starts (counted after the Norisring weekend), a figure that sees him tied with double-champ Gary Paffett.
With 236 starts under his belt, Bernd Schneider is DTM’s most capped driver