This weekend BMW touring car ace Andy Priaulx returns to the British Touring Car championship, the series that launched his career, in a West Surrey Racing 1-series at Brands Hatch.
Priaulx made his BTCC debut back in 2001, when he put a Vauxhall on pole in his first race weekend. Similar flashes of brilliance in a Honda the following season brought him to BMW’s attention, and their relationship has since yielded three world touring titles, a European touring car title and a diverse career that’s seen Priaulx race everything from E46 3-series on the streets of Macau to M3s at Le Mans.
Here’s his take on the Munich machines he’s raced.
E46 320i: Priaulx’s first car as a works BMW driver
‘I was third in European Touring Cars in 2003 and took the title in 2004 and 2005 [by then the World Touring Car championship]. A special car to me. Beautifully balanced, it suited my driving style perfectly.’
E46 M3 GTR: Debut win in the 2005 Nürburgring 24 hour in BMW’s 490bhp V8 race E46
‘A phenomenal car. It did everything right. It turned-in beautifully, it was balanced and, with that big V8, it was fast. Hans-Joachim Stuck helped me learn the Nordschliefe and I won the 24 hour at my first attempt.’
E90 320SI: WTCC champion again in 2006 and 2007. Raced the series through until BMW’s withdrawal at the end of 2010
‘We took that car from scratch, through development to winning in its very first race – I’m very proud of that. The E46 had been developed when I signed for BMW, but to make the E90 into a winner was a nice feeling. It was a different car, and on different tyres – we moved from Michelins to Yokohama. I had to work a little bit harder to get the lap times out of it. The E46 was nicely balanced. The E90 was livelier but ultimately faster.’
E92 M3 GT2: GT race version of the V8 E92
‘I raced the GT2 E92 M3 at Le Mans in 2010 – the Koons Art Car – and 2011. We had an issue in 2010 but we came back in 2011 and scored a class podium, which was good. We also won our class at the Sebring 12 Hour that year too, also in the GT2. A really successful car, the GT2 E92 went on to win the ALMS championship in 2011.’
M3 DTM: BMW’s entry in the fast, common-platform DTM series
‘Essentially a Formula single-seater wearing M3 bodywork. High downforce, lots of power, lots of grunt – really good fun. The first season was good – in my first race weekend I became the first BMW to score to points – but my second season was challenging.’
Z4 GTE & GTD: 2015’s chalk-and-cheese Z4s
‘The GTD car, which I race in the US, has less downforce, less grip – we run on a control Continental – and no traction control, where as the European Le Mans Series GTE Z4 has good downforce, traction control and stickier rubber. The GTD car is about tyre management and controlling the oversteer. The GTE car is about downforce, aggression and really going for it.’
West Surrey Racing 125i: More than a 118d on fancy wheels
‘The car’s good but these BTCC racers move around a lot, they’re under-tyred, they’re underpowered – the car’s heavy for the amount of horsepower – and they’re about mechanical rather than aerodynamic grip. They’re quite old school too, with no traction control, a sequential gearbox and shift lever rather than a paddleshift and no auto-blipping, so you’ve got to heel and toe. I’m having to adapt, but that’s good – it keeps you sharp. And really the BTCC is all about the racing; plenty of contact and lots of overtaking.’
For a full story on Priaulx’s BTCC comeback, and his verdict on the BMW M3, check out the May issue of CAR, on sale April 22