As reported by motorsport.com earlier today, European and Triple World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx is expected to be announced as a Ford driver for the 2016 World Endurance Championship, ending the former WSR driver’s 12 year partnership with BMW. Said to be signed on a two year contract alongside Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke, Priaulx’s return to endurance racing for 2016 will be a great loss to West Surrey Racing, British Touring Cars and BMW Motorsport. Although Priaulx will leave a large void at all three stables when he departs at the end of 2015, you could argue that the void left in the BTCC is greatest one of all. ……
Fresh from the end of his comeback season in the BTCC, where he scored two race victories and a very respectable 8th place finish in the Championship, hopes were high that Andy would remain in the series and mount a serious title challenge in a championship where the Guernseyman has yet to taste title success. Whilst no doubt a great career move for Priaulx, and a fantastic opportunity to test himself against some of the best drivers in the world, his departure from the BTCC after just one season will leave a bittersweet taste in the mouth of fans and BTCC bigwigs alike.
There can be no doubting how much extra interest a driver of Priaulx’s stature can bring, and his presence in the series was a great marketing tool for the BTCC. His unrivaled success across a number of Touring Car disciplines ensures his name will enter the history books as one of Touring Car racing’s greats, alongside other legends from our era such as Jamie Whincup, Craig Lowndes and Jason Plato. His likable personality, honesty and humility were a welcome addition to the BTCC paddock throughout 2015 and I’m sure he played a great part in the development of the WSR BMW 1 series, and also that of WSR’s other two drivers Collard and Tordoff. By having a Triple World Touring Car champion on it’s books, the BTCC was able to send a strong message to the rest of the Touring Car world that it could still attract the biggest names in the business. Unlike many overseas Touring Car series (WTCC we’re looking at you in particular), the level of competition on the 2015 BTCC grid was a close as you could get with the top 20 cars often separated by no more than 1.5 seconds. By having star names such as Priaulx’s, and such close, action packed racing the BTCC’s popularity has skyrocketed over the last 12 months, and series boss Alan Gow will no doubt look to continue that upward trend, with or without one of the Championship’s star attractions.
As we alluded to in our top ten drivers of the BTCC season, the emergence of Sam Tordoff as a regular race winner was one of the highlights in WSR’s less than successful season. By being in the same team as the vastly experienced Priaulx, Tordoff has blossomed into a driver capable of leading West Surrey Racing into 2016, and armed with a competitive 1 Series next season, could well have a major part to play in the 2016 title race. Priaulx’s influence and experience, with both BMW and Touring Car racing could only have helped Tordoff, Collard and WSR this season and his presence will surely be missed.
Most of all however, the loss of Priaulx will be felt the hardest by the BTCC’s loyal fans. The mouthwatering dream of Priaulx, Neal, Plato, Shedden and Turkington all embroiled in a season long wrestling match the for BTCC title now remains just that, a dream. As we saw from Croft onward, a fully settled in Priaulx was a force to be reckoned with and he would have been sure to have hit the ground running in 2016, a thought which certainly would have had Honda and Team BMR looking nervously over their shoulders.
It must be said however, that the BTCC’s loss is Ford’s (and the World Endurance Championship’s) gain. By signing on a proven world champion, with podium finishes at LeMans under his belt, Ford have given themselves the best chance of success in their maiden WEC season. And if we can be certain of one thing already in 2016, it’s that we, and I’m sure many Touring Car fans all around the world will be watching Priaulx’s progress very closely and wondering if he will be able to match the same levels of success he achieved in Touring Cars over the last 13 years.
It’s been a pleasure having you back in the BTCC Andy, and best of luck for 2016……….
image thanks to www.autosport.com