After making his mark in touring cars, Andy Priaulx is set to begin a new chapter in GT racing, as the three-time WTCC champion shifts to racing full-time in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship this year.
The 40-year-old BMW factory driver, who is coming off a two-year stint in the German manufacturer’s DTM program, has joined BMW Team RLL, teaming with Bill Auberlen in the No. 55 BMW Z4 GTE for the entire 11-round championship.
It all begins with this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, where the accomplished Brit will be chasing top honors in the GT Le Mans class.
“My focus is here now and hopefully for the foreseeable future,” Priaulx said. “It was a good time for me in my career to make the switch, to add longevity to my career and to be in the right place at the right time.
“I’ve had a really fantastic career in touring car racing. I haven’t turned my back on that. I still had a great race out in Bathurst with the V8s last year and I’m still probably going to do some races out there.
“But in terms of sprint racing, I think that’s behind me and I really want to focus on being one of the best endurance drivers I can be.”
Despite his limited GT experience, Priaulx already has made a name for himself in endurance racing. While in the middle of his WTCC reign, he won the Nurburgring 24 in 2005, at the wheel of a Schnitzer Motorsport BMW M3 GTR.
Four years later, the Guernseyman made his ALMS debut with RLL, before going on to claim GT class victory at the Twelve Hours of Sebring in 2011, which served as part of the seven-round Intercontinental Le Mans Cup he contested that year.
While having a season’s worth of experience with the M3 GT2, Priaulx is looking forward to adapting to BMW’s Z4 GTE, which enters its second season of U.S. competition. He’ll also have to come to grips with the majority of the circuits in North America for the first time.
“I have to see this as a learning year for hopefully more endurance racing in the future,” he said. “This is going to be a great opportunity to benefit from Bill’s experience and to learn all of the race tracks and still be competitive, obviously. That’s going to be my main challenge.”
Despite having only gotten his first laps in the GT3-based contender last month at Sebring, Priaulx is confident about his chances this weekend, although questions still remain over the competitiveness of the Z4 around the high-speed oval/road course.
Despite having faced a top speed deficit in pre-season testing, IMSA elected not to make any Balance of Performance adjustments to the Z4 GTE ahead of the TUDOR Championship season-opener.
“The car handles really nicely and I didn’t find it to hard to make the transition,” Priaulx said. “I’m only concerned about the overall performance of our package. We’re not fast enough and that worries me for the year ahead but we’ll just have to knuckle down and see what we can do.”Rolex 24, Sports Cars