New DTM champion Bruno Spengler believes that Gary Paffett will be an even stronger rival for next year's title following his dramatic final-race defeat at Hockenheim on Sunday.
BMW driver Spengler began the season finale three points behind Paffett, who had led the standings since the beginning of the year, but won at Hockenheim to take his first touring car title by just four points. The duo were involved in four head-to-head battles for victories during the year, with Paffett emerging triumphant at Brands Hatch and Spengler winning at Lausitz, Oschersleben and Hockenheim.
After helping BMW and Schnitzer to the manufacturers' and teams' titles to add to his drivers' crown, he praised his rival for this year's contest.
"It's really hard to lead the championship for the whole season and then lose," Spengler said. "I know; it's happened to me a couple of times. At one point in the year I almost thought there's no point in thinking about the championship, he was so far ahead. But he had some bad luck in some of the races and we were able to catch him.
"He's a terrific racer, though, and he'll keep fighting. I think he will be even stronger next year so I look forward to more great battles."
Spengler said that his rivalry with Paffett this year, especially coming after three seasons as HWA Mercedes teammates, had been one of the best of his DTM career, and praised the Briton for his driving during 2012.
"He's a really fair racer and an honest guy. If you talk about crossing the line [of what's acceptable driving] he will always tell you exactly what he thinks. Never BS," Spengler continued. "I enjoyed being in a team with him, but I also enjoy it when I beat him. We had some great battles this year."