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Priaulx back in BTCC
Triple world champ lands plum West Surrey BMW seat | By Gary Watkins

Tin-top great Andy Priaulx will return to the British Touring Car Championship in 2015, after an absence of 12 seasons.

The winner of three World Touring Car Championship titles with BMW, whose only full season in the BTCC came in 2002, will race a privateer BMW 125i M Sport for reigning champion West Surrey Racing. The deal means that the 40-year-old will undertake 19 weekends of racing in 2015, including his factory assault on the European Le Mans Series with a BMW Z4 GTE run by the Marc/VDS squad and three events in the United SportsCar Championship at the wheel of a Z4 GT3-based GT Daytona class entry run by Turner Motorsports.

“The important thing for me is that I am not winding down my career, I am winding it up!” said Priaulx. “BMW wanted me back in Europe after last year in the USC [with the Rahal GT Le Mans class team]. My programme in the ELMS is important, but it is only five races, which is not enough for me.

“I’m really happy with the schedule that I’ve got for this season. It’s a good mix of sprint and endurance racing; I’m one of those drivers who likes to prove his versatility.”

Priaulx said he was happy to have put himself in a position to be able to fight for overall race victories again.

“It is good to get stuck into a programme where I can take overall race wins,” he said. “I had some really good races last year in North America, and I think I reaffirmed my speed after those two years in the DTM, but it all goes under the radar because you aren’t doing it at the front of the field.

“I see this year as a chance to rebuild some career momentum. I know that the DTM didn’t look that successful from the outside, but I had a decent first year and I qualified third for my final race. A lot of things need to come together for you to be successful in the DTM, and it never happened for me.”

Priaulx stressed that he didn’t regard the BTCC as unfinished business after leaving the series following one season with the Arena Motorsport-run Honda squad in 2002 and one race with Vauxhall the previous year.

“It’s great to go back to the BTCC right now because it is on a real high, but I never felt that way because I was stepping up to a full manufacturer programme with BMW and it ended up being phenomenally successful for me,” he says. “I won races in my first year and the title [the European Touring Car Championship] in my second.”

Priaulx has brought backing from long-term personal sponsor IHG Rewards Club to WSR for 2015. His ELMS programme will take priority, which means he will miss the Rockingham BTCC round in early September.

Reigning BTCC champion Colin Turkington is not certain to remain with WSR after its loss of eBay Motors as title sponsor. The Northern Irishman has admitted that he might have to leave the team, with which he also took his first BTCC title in 2009, in order to maintain his place on the grid this year.

New F1 licence criteria

New Formula 1 superliCences will be awarded on the basis of a points-based system for 2016.

The new qualification rules will demand that any driver granted the right to race in F1 must be at least 18 and have undertaken two seasons of car racing. The system, had it been in place for 2015, would have prevented Toro Rosso from signing 17-year-old Max Verstappen after only one season in Formula 3.

Drivers will have to accrue 40 points over a three-season period to qualify for a superlicence. Winning the title in GP2 comes with 50 points, while the champions in the LMP1 class of the World Endurance Championship, the IndyCar Series and the Formula 3 European Championship gain 40 points.

Formula Renault 3.5, from which Kevin Magnussen graduated to a McLaren F1 seat in 2014, has a lower rating of 30 points for the champion, which puts it on a par with GP3. Winning Super Formula in Japan would gain the driver only 20 points, but a “future FIA F2” will be worth up to 60.

Renault is seeking a dialogue with the FIA about the ranking of FR3.5 and the governing body has revealed that the system could be amended.

WEC and GP2 for Sorensen

Lotus Formula 1 development driver Marco Sorensen will dovetail a first full season in GP2 with an attack on the World Endurance Championship with Aston Martin.

The 24-year-old Dane will share a GTE Pro class Vantage GTE together with countryman Nicki Thiim and Christoffer Nygaard in all eight WEC races, including the Le Mans 24 Hours. The deal has been put together by the Young Driver AMR organisation, which last year funded the car that took the GTE Am title with David Heinemeier Hansson and Kristian Poulsen.

Sorensen has joined Young Driver as a result of his links with backer Saxo Bank, which also sponsors the Aston Martin. He explained that the dual programme would help him develop as a driver and potentially open doors in the LMP1 ranks of the WEC.

“My goal is still to race in F1, but it will not harm my ambitions if I gain experience in other classes,” he said. “Racing single-seaters and GT cars with Aston Martin will only help me to become a complete driver, and it could open doors in the WEC if things don’t work out in GP2.”

Sorensen has yet to reveal the identity of the team with which he will race in GP2, while his role within the Lotus Formula 1 team’s development squad has also to be defined.

* Porsche revealed its 2015-specification 919 Hybrid ahead of the first development test for the new World Endurance Championship contender. The firm issued photos of the unliveried car undergoing its shakedown prior to a five-day test at the Yas Marina circuit, Abu Dhabi, in late January. Revised nose apart, the images reveal a car largely unchanged in concept, although there has been a ground-up chassis redesign. An all-new car based around the existing concept, including its V4 direct-injection petrol engine and twin hybrid systems, was always Porsche’s plan.

Obituary – Robert Manzon

Previously the last surviving driver to have participated in the inaugural F1 world championship in 1950, Frenchman Robert Manzon has died at the age of 97. Marseille-born Manzon started his career in rallying, in 1946, but switched to circuit racing and became a key cog in the Gordini F1 team during the 1950s. He recorded two world championship podium finishes, taking third place at Spa in 1952 (with Gordini) and repeating the feat in a Ferrari 625 at Reims two years later. He drove Gordinis in all but six of his 29 world championship races and also competed with distinction in endurance events and hillclimbs. He retired at the end of 1956 to run a car dealership.