Priaulx joins Ford GT attack – Brit accepts new challenge after more than a decade with BMW | By Gary Watkins
The chance to race in the Le Mans 24 Hours and the World Endurance Championship convinced Andy Priaulx to leave BMW for Ford after a 13-season stint with the German manufacturer that yielded three World Touring Car Championship crowns.
The 41-year-old, who was announced in January as one of the regular drivers for Ford’s assault on the WEC GTE Pro class under the Chip Ganassi Racing banner, revealed that he had been motivated to make the switch by a desire “to race at the highest level possible”. He said that his reasons for leaving an employer with which he had competed in Super 2000 touring cars, the DTM and in endurance racing were “entirely sporting”.
“It would have been more comfortable remaining with BMW, but the decision was all about the racing,” said Priaulx, who has signed a two-year deal to drive the new carbon-chassis Ford GT. “It would have been easier to stay put, but I made a sporting decision.
“It’s about going to Le Mans and winning big races: having the opportunity to win the important stuff meant a lot more to me than anything else. I’ve been on the podium at Le Mans with BMW [in GTE in 2011] and competing in the 24 Hours again was something that I really wanted to do.”
Priaulx said the opportunity offered by Ford trumped the programme he had on the table from BMW, which would have also allowed him to continue in the British Touring Car Championship in a deal he put together with West Surrey Racing and a personal sponsor.
“I would have raced a BMW in the GT Daytona class of the IMSA SportsCar Championship [for the Turner Motorsports team with which he contested three races last year] and gone on in the BTCC, but that doesn’t even come close to what I now have with Ford,” he said. “To be honest, I don’t think BMW knew what to do with me; it always seemed a bit last-minute.”
The North American programme with Turner would have meant racing in a pro-am category. The same was true of his European Le Mans Series campaign with a Marc VDS BMW Z4 GTE in 2015 – and Priaulx hinted at his dissatisfaction with that situation.
“A fan came up to me at an ELMS race at the beginning of last year and said, ‘Andy, what are you doing here? This is not you’,” said Priaulx, who stresses that he has left BMW on friendly terms. “I thought, ‘You’re right. It’s not me.’ Racing for Ford in a world championship most definitely is me.”
Priaulx revealed that rumours of a return by Ford, which has also named Marino Franchitti, Olivier Pla and Stefan Mücke for the WEC, piqued his interest early last year and explained that he would have been open to joining its attack on the GT Le Mans class of the IMSA series with Ganassi.
“I would have been happy being part of either programme,” said Priaulx, who has yet to be allocated a driving partner for 2016. “I have experience in the US with BMW [racing full-time with the Rahal BMW team in the United SportsCar Championship in 2014],
and I knew that the American team was also planning to do Le Mans.”
Priaulx also revealed that an offer he declined to join Peugeot at the start of its LMP1 programme, with the 908 HDi turbodiesel in 2007, helped make up his mind about the Ford deal. Peugeot team manager Serge Saulnier wanted the Brit for the full season and said that a driver who’d raced for his Renault-backed Promatecme team in the 2000 British Formula 3 Championship “had the perfect profile as an endurance driver”.
“I look back and think I got that one wrong,” said Priaulx. “It’s the only regret I have in my career. I was world champion and had a great offer on the table from BMW, but I often wonder what might have been. That probably helped me with this decision.”
Marino Franchitti in the Spotlight, p96