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BTCC Drivers 2015: Return of the Priaulx Powerhouse

The new look WSR BMW 125i M Sport for Andy Priaulx. Image Credit:

The new look WSR BMW 125i M Sport for Andy Priaulx. Image Credit:

The Autosport International Show 2015 is underway and very much in full motorized swing, revealing all the latest developments ahead of the new season. As the years roll by, one of the highlights for me has always been the BTCC announcements, and this year is most definitely no exception. As I tuned myself in on the first day, Dick Bennetts of West Surrey Racing took to the stage to reveal that multiple champion Andy Priaulx MBE would be returning to the championship. Andy Priaulx has not c0mpeted in the British championship since 2002, but he has always been one of my favourite touring car drivers. For a man that has achieved so much, here his driver profile ahead of the 2015 BTCC season.

What many people probably do not know about Priaulx is that his earliest time in the spotlight came as far back as 1995 when he took the British Hillclimb Championship in spectacular form. This young gun definitely had something to prove and the talent to go with it. After a couple of slightly low-key years in the world of single seaters (with a break to completely dominate the Renault Spider Championship in 1999), Andy got a guest drive in the BTCC in 2001 at Oulton Park in the Egg Sport Vauxhall. It was then that the touring car magic truly began.

Andy Priaulx was one of the standout drivers of 2002. Image Credit:

Andy Priaulx was one of the standout drivers of 2002. Image Credit:

In his first touring car drive, he managed to leave the jaws of the championship regulars firmly set on the floor by storming to both pole positions, leaving the weekend with a well deserved 2nd place and one retirement. 2002 saw Andy signed by the returning Honda team in their new Civic Type-R. Recently, I have started a compilation of  BTCC Memorable Drives and there was no way I could start such a list and not include Priaulx and his staggering 2002 drive. As a rookie to the championship, he delivered solidly across the year, achieving a much deserved win at Knockhill (after nearly throwing it all away in the closing laps). He ended the year 5th in the standings; not bad for a new driver. As the car was developed more, he was one of the few drivers who took the fight to the dominant Vauxhall team and pushed that car to its limits. It may have been a small car, but Priaulx made it a massive contender. Following his BTCC successes, it was time for Priaulx to move on up to the European and World rankings. It was time for the British motorsport empire to return to power.

In the BMW UK car, Priaulx stormed to 4 straight championships in a row (ETCC/WTCC). Image Credit: Phil Volkaerts

In the BMW UK car, Priaulx stormed to 4 titles in a row (ETCC/WTCC). Image Credit: Phil Volkaerts

As soon as Priaulx entered what was then the European Touring Car Championship, everything fell into place. In 2004 at the end of the final race, he and Dirk Muller were tied on points, but due to the higher number of wins for Priaulx, the championship was his. For 2005, the championship became known how it is today, as the World Touring Car Championship. And against foes such as Tarquini, Farfus Junior, Giovanardi and Coronel, Andy triumphed his way to 3 further titles. If that is not a sign of true greatness in a driver, then simply none other exists.

The key to success with Priaulx has always been consistency. He may not have the aggressive streak that many other drivers have, but he will consistently score throughout the season (often without actually winning) and find himself in championship contention come the closing rounds of the year. For example, his WTCC crown in 2005 came off the back of one solitary race victory throughout the year. Usually you would expect the overall winner to be a frequent victor. By hanging back and letting those in front fight it out, he could often cruise to high finishes with a lot less risk than those gunning for glory. Aggression is only one part of what contributes to a truly legendary driver. Motorsport requires a great deal of cunning, precision and in many cases, restraint.

Just to complete the touring car set, it only made sense for the Guernsey man to get behind the wheel in both V8 Supercars and DTM. It was only ever guest drives that Priaulx would get in the V8s, but he did record an impressive 2nd place partnering Craig Lowndes at Surfers Paradise in 2010. Rumours began to circulate that he would move to a full time in the Australian championship, alas nothing ever materialised. All that remained for Priaulx in the touring car world was DTM, however his 2012 and 2013 were not filled with much success.

So where do you go when you have made your way through the worlds greatest touring car series? Of course the next step can only be the worlds greatest sports endurance races, obviously.

DTM was not kind to Priaulx, although the car did look pretty good. Image Credit:

DTM was not kind to Priaulx, although the car did look pretty good. Image Credit:

Priaulx has now become no stranger to endurance racing, having taken part in the Le Mans 24 Hour (and finished 2nd on the second occasion) as well as the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup in which he completed the season 2nd overall. He even came away with a win at the 12 Hour Sebring Race. Most recently, Andy has been competing in what was the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) but has now become the United Sports Car Championship (ULSCC) in the GTLM BMW Z4 GTE. He finished 2014 in 8th, achieving a season best of 2nd at Laguna Seca (probably one of the hardest tests of any driver anywhere in the world).

To compete in one championship is hard enough for the best of drivers, but Priaulx will not only be taking part in the BTCC, but also the European Le Mans Series and the USCC for Team Turner. On his BTCC BMW, Priaulx has brought with him long term sponsor IHG. In recent seasons, Andy has been known to be sporting the Crowne Plaza sponsorship, so I was shocked when they were not revealed as the title sponsor for the BTCC car. The result of these multiple commitments is one clash at Rockingham which could prove to be fatal if he is fighting for the championship. Many people have doubted his ability to win races in his championship return, but in 2002 he managed to get a brand new Honda to the top step of the podium. I believe that in the BMW especially which has become the strongest car over the last year, he has a genuine chance at fighting for the championship.

Furthermore, BMW has been the car of choice for Priaulx for the most part of his racing career, so if there was any car that he would feel most comfortable in, it would be the RWD BMW 125i. Interestingly, I enjoyed the comments he made at the Autosport reveal, arguing that apart from the slight start line advantage, the RWD cars do not have that much of an advantage and even have to run on tyres made for FWD. I will be interested to see how a certain Jason Plato reacts to these comments.

In the official announcement at the Autosport Show, Priaulx said that he felt there was so much unfinished business in Europe, especially the BTCC after his 2002 debut season. The BTCC is fast returning to its status as the worlds premier tin top race series, and for a driver such as Priaulx it is an offer almost impossible to resist. With such a big name in Priaulx, I believe it ends any rumours that Plato may also may move to WSR. Plato quite famously likes being the big dog in his team of choice (or this may also be influenced by his sponsors).

Dick Bennetts also said that Priaulx would hold the number ‘111’ to represent his 3 World Touring Car titles. From his Hillclimb beginnings, Andy Priaulx has become one of the greatest living racing drivers. I cannot express just how excited I am to see one of my all time favourite drivers returning to my all time favourite championship.

Let me know your comments on this news on Twitter @lewisglynn69!

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

A true legend of racing. image Credit:

A true legend of racing. image Credit: