Inside Revolution: Motorsport Moment with Andy Priaulx

Thursday 21 December 2023

In this month’s Revolution, four-time FIA Touring Car Championship Andy Priaulx recalls his most memorable motorsport moment on British soil.

Priaulx started out Hill Climbing with his father Graham and won the British title in 1995. He competed in Formula Renault UK and British F3 before making his full season British Touring Car Championship debut with Honda in 2002. He joined BMW in the FIA European Championship in 2003, and won the title in his second year, then followed that up with a hat-trick of World titles. He continued racing with BMW in sportscars and endurance racing, and now supports son Seb in IMSA SportsCars.

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This was my first Touring Car win in my home race at Brands Hatch, in front of a lot of my friends from Guernsey, but it also came very soon after I had lost a good friend, Colin McRae, in a helicopter accident. I had been out with him just a few weeks before and it was hard to come to terms with what had happened. 

We were all in shock, but I was fighting for the World Championship as a factory driver for BMW UK and we just had to get on with it. It is horrible, but it has been like that for my whole career – so you have just got to take the moment and I think that gave me a lot of determination, to get the chance to remember him on the podium. 

At the time, World Touring Cars was a really big thing and it was super competitive. Gabriele Tarquini was one of my biggest rivals – I liked him and respected him a lot, but he would drive over you to win! Rickard Rydell and Alain Menu were also in their prime, and BMW had six world-class factory drivers, including Alex Zanardi, who was a great team-mate. 

The series was run with ballast and reverse grids, so if you were winning and fighting for the title you were always on the back foot. I had been dominant in that period, so it was quite tricky. I would end up down the grid and must get into the top eight in the first race to benefit from the reverse the grid and make the car as wide as possible in the second race! 

Everyone used to say ‘oh, you used the reverse grid, it’s a bit like cheating’ but, hang on, with 70kg, the tyre degradation and everything else, winning was titanic, it was one of the hardest things to do. Our car was almost too old, the technology had moved on, so for me, that season was probably the one against all odds. 

At Brands Hatch the year before, I had been leading in the rain but I locked up after the safety car and went off, so I was super determined to win this time. We prepared well for the track, set-up wise, and I finished seventh in the first race then, with the reverse grid, I managed to win the second. That was a very emotional moment. 

There is a photo of me on the podium with the England flag in one hand, the Guernsey flag in the other, and the black armband for Colin. Seeing the photos still always reminds me of him. I have actually had a really nice leather bag made up with photos of that race weekend sewn inside it, and I use that in Historics now. 

It meant a lot to have recognition from my peers. Michael Schumacher followed my races and Colin respected what I achieved. He was an absolute role model and it meant a lot to me. The sad thing was a few weeks earlier we met up and he suggested going for a night out, but I had to fly home. We planned to do it later that year, but sadly it never happened. 

The win at Brands Hatch moved me to the top of the championship with two rounds of the season left and it ended up going right down to the final race in Macau. There were seven or eight drivers who could still have won and I had kept myself in it all year. I came eighth in the first race then won from pole in the second to take the title. 

When I look back on it, I am quite blown away by how popular WTCC was at that time. I would arrive at the garage and hundreds of people would be waiting for me. It made me feel quite emotional, really, because when you reach the top in professional Touring Cars or Sports Cars, you are world class but you are usually pretty much unrecognized. 

That was probably the peak of my fame. It was the first time that I would jump in a black cab and they would recognise me. Autosport did a front cover that year – I have had four front covers, which was special – and with the recognition I had from the previous titles, it was just a wonderful feeling of pride. 

It was the pinnacle of my career, but I still remember having to fight hard for my contract the year after! That’s racing for you! I was very fortunate the BMW Motorsport carried me on, and I switched to become a factory German driver for the following year, which was another step up in my career. 

I spent 10 years with BMW and was able to maintain a really high level. I ended up being a test driver in Formula One, based on my approach to World Touring Cars, and that win and title was the trigger for it all. In the end, when you are at that level of performance you make it impossible for people not to keep you. 

My son, Seb, is going through that same thing now. He is one of the top sports car racers of his generation and I am always saying ‘you are as good as your next race now, not your last race.’ There is so much choice nowadays, and so many drivers, that you have got to make it impossible for people not to want you in their line-up. 

Continue reading this month’s Revolution