Andy Priaulx starts WTCR Race of Macau from 14-17 November hoping that former glories can provide the impetus he needs to kick-start his, at times, “really frustrating” first season in the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO.
Back in 2005, Priaulx arrived in Macau on the cusp of winning the FIA World Touring Car Championship. He duly delivered, going on to make it a hat-trick of WTCC titles with BMW, including an against-the-odds triumph in 2007, as he recalls later.
“I’m really looking forward to go back,” says Priaulx, who took a seventh-place finish on his last Macau appearance in 2010. “Winning my first world title there was very special because that was a big moment for me in my career and one that I will probably say was absolutely fundamental to where I am today. But it’s a tough track and it’s been 10 years since I visited so I’ve still got to get my eye back in, let’s say, because Macau requires a lot of engagement.”
Priaulx returns to Macau in need of a result. His FIA World Touring Car racing comeback with the Cyan Performance Lynk & Co team has yet to deliver a podium although he’s getting close. He led in China and was fastest in the first two phases of Second Qualifying in Japan only to run wide through the final corner on his DHL shootout lap and end up fifth. However, the 45-year-old yearns for something more solid.
“There have been some low moments, some high moments, there has been a lot of potential but nothing has happened and that’s annoying,” he says. “It’s still not a done deal but the performances have started to come with some good qualifying and strong races. I hope that momentum continues and I have a strong end to the season, that’s my goal.
“However, it’s been a very difficult return for me, learning front-wheel drive after 20 years, all the new tracks, a very close formula, developing a new car. But I’ve been winning in WEC [FIA World Endurance Championship] this year so it’s not like I’ve lost my touch.”
Asked if he regrets returning to the discipline that made him a triple world champion and earned him recognition by Her Majesty the Queen, Priaulx’s response is clear. “A lot of drivers would probably say ‘no’, I’ve won this title three times and I’ve won a lot of races. But to come back and drive in this new series as competitive as it is, learning front-wheel drive, I am quite proud I have attempted that. Racing is tough, even when you are winning it doesn’t feel easy. You just have to do your job professionally and work well within the team. In motor racing, if you have an ego it soon gets knocked out of you. I don’t have an ego, I’ve just had to work hard and I feel proud of myself, having had the career I’ve had, to come back and have a go.”
Priaulx would also like to “have a go” in 2020 when he believes he’ll have much more to offer. “The way the season works the cars are travelling so much, you don’t have a chance to really test a lot and find your own way, your own set-up. Next year will be a lot stronger for me, going to tracks I know, a bit more time over the winter to work on the issues I have had. It’s very, very challenging to learn front-wheel drive. It’s like putting your feet on back to front, everything I have done in the last 20 years I have to forget and start again, but I’ve enjoyed that learning process.
“I have done a lot of winning in my career but I’ve also learned how to lose. Even my first year in European Touring Cars I didn’t win a race until Brno, which was nearly halfway through the season, and then I won one and never looked back after that. WTCR is tough and you’ve got to bring the team in and everybody around you. Cyan have been very good to give me a chance. They took a risk with me because I’ve been out of [World Touring Car racing] for a long time and I’m very grateful to them, but very hopeful we can continue this great relationship into the future.
“Can I be back to where I was? Yes, look at Yvan [Muller]. He’s fighting for the title but he’s older than me and still proving he can perform at such a high level. It’s also possible for me so I’m going to keep working, keep believing, that’s the key.”
Two moments that made Macau magic for Priaulx
“Winning the first world title [in 2005] was very special because that was a big moment for me, fundamental to where I am today. I was very proud winning the third one there [in 2007] because we didn’t have the fastest car that year and we were racing [against] the SEAT diesel which was dominant. Yvan had some bad luck at the end but I kept us in the championship all year in a car that wasn’t really the car to be in. I was proud of that and proud that nobody could say it was luck because I won four in a row [when you consider the ETCC title in 2004]. There were all sorts of things about ‘you use the reverse grid to help you’ but I won just as many race ones as I did race twos, so I kind of took all the criticism and sealed it off. Four in a row is not luck, I made it happen, and Macau was very special for me.”