The DTM was inundated by experienced drivers that were having their first taste of the series, thanks to the welcome assistance BMW Motorsport provided, when it officially announced its return after a twenty-year absence. Munich made a very wise decision to bring in two veterans in the form of Bruno Spengler and Martin Tomczyk, but also called upon some experienced hands that would be able to assist in the cause.
Guernsey’s very own World Champion driver, Andy Priaulx, took up the challenge, and was one of the first drivers to be announced alongside good friend Augusto Farfus, when the M3 DTM concept was unveiled in Munich during the summer of 2011. Andy’s track record in touring cars speaks for itself, and has been a result of hard work and longevity with BMW, who he has won one ETCC title and three WTCC titles along the way.
In the very first race that BMW returned, they came out fighting, but he was the one to break the ‘duck’, to coin a phrase, and scored the first points by finishing sixth at Hockenheim. His season has had its up and downs, but that comes with the technicality of being considered as a ‘Rookie”, but finished 13th in the standings with 24 points. He was gracious enough to speak to us here at theCheckeredFlag.co.uk about last year at the recent Autosport Show, as well as what’s happening soon, as well as his son racing, closely following in his footsteps.
He explained that was some worry with Dr. Mario Thiessen leaving Munich, saying that is was an “unusual shift,” as all of his achievements until that point were with working with Mario himself, but being a part of the DTM program from the very beginning was very special to the avid cyclist: “However, Jens (Marquardt) has been really fantastic, he’s a lovely guy. He’s a very hard man, as he wants the same things that Mario and BMW did, which is performance. He’s the next generation of managers, having had a sensational year in 2012, which has been great.”
Priaulx has always wanted to compete in the most internationally-recognized touring car series in the world, and from his time racing in Formula 3, he started following the racing, and said that he would, one day, race in the series: “When BMW told me three years ago, then two years ago, that they were coming back into DTM, I was very excited and really pleased to be able to work on the car from the very beginning, and to help develop the car into what they did, which was something I thought was never going to be possible, winning the title in the first year. This was unbelievable, and BMW should be very proud of that.”
One man who stayed off the radar for a lot of the season was Farfus, who showed his skills in the last two rounds at Valencia and Hockenheim, by securing pole position in both races, and winning in Valencia. Through not only his efforts, but several of the other drivers, including Andy, secured finishes in the top ten in the final race to take the manufacturer’s title crown from Audi Sport, who came into the final round with a 40 point advantage. This, along with Team Schnitzer and Bruno picking up the other titles, providing Munich with a clean sweep in its “comeback” year, meaning for rapturous euphoria from all at BMW Motorsport, with Andy describing just what it meant: “It was unbelievable to do the clean sweep, and everyone was just ecstatic, as it just doesn’t get any better than that in motorsport to win at that level, as to do that is so hard, and can almost seem impossible, but was just simply amazing.
“Augusto had a great end to his year, as he just seemed to just hook up with the car, and Valencia being a track he specializes at, as I remember him being incredibly quick there in the WTCC. He then carried the momentum to Hockenheim, which gave him a bit of an uplift. I’ve raced with him for a long time, so I know him really, really well, and genuinely, I’m proud to be a part of that success, but I would have liked it to be me. I had some good results this year, scoring in Hockenheim as well as qualifying P6 in Valencia, with some other top 5/6 finishes this year. It was a good Rookie year for me in DTM, but I’m wanting more in 2013.”
The floodgates have literally opened as a result of BMW’s success, now that former Ferrari F1 strategist, Chris Dyer, joins the squad, Team MTEK further extending the ranks, Marco WIttmann getting a race seat for 2013, as well as Zollner Elektronik AG becoming an official partner for this season. I asked Andy that could more titles be on the cards for Munich this season, and he said that the team will not expecting to immediately be able win titles again from the onset, as it is about putting the right people in the right places behind the team’s efforts: “I see that BMW have done it right, as per last season, and I think that can only give us drivers a platform to try to fight again for another title. Both Bruno and BMW proved last year that it is possible, so that’s what we are all aiming for. Team MTEK coming in will make BMW even more of a bet for the manufacturer’s title again this season, and stronger in a lot of ways.
“This means more of a united front, with more cars on track, and there are a lot of positives, but like everything, we have won in a very tough series, and in no way can you underestimate the other manufacturers. We were ambitious rookies and we ended up winning the titles. Now it becomes a clean sheet of paper for us all again with the writing on the wall, and we have to back it all up with another championship, which is possible, but it’s going to be extremely difficult.”
The changes from a production-based car like the 320i TC that Andy used to the M3 DTM is immense, to say the very least, where different challenges like aero balance and paddle shift gearboxes test new additions to the series. Andy explains the comparisons between the way the DTM and WTCC cars are, especially with his knowledge of developing the M3 DTM from the onset: “The car has very strong engine performance, but with the restrictor, it is all low down. We have so much torque, so driving the car and looking after the rear tyres is a little different from driving a WTCC car, as well as the carbon brakes and the aero. A WTCC car in comparison was under-powered and under-tyred, and the DTM car is over-powered and under-tyred, so it requires a slightly different driving style, being as it is more like a single-seater to be honest.
“It is very aero-dominant, so you have to really change your style, which is something I’ve had to learn, as well as learning the championship and the tracks, and the differences between what is a practice, qualifying and race car. This is as well as knowing when to extract the best out of the car and when the track is at its peak.”
He also goes to say that there are the likes of Tomczyk and Spengler, who have 20 years of DTM experience between them, who know what it takes to be the best, and when is the right time to strike as the session develops. This is what Andy has learnt over his debut DTM season, and his new knowledge and racing experience will see him well in 2013, and is hopeful of a stronger championship result this time around, as he has worked hard over the winter to prepare for the onslaught, but nothing is guaranteed in racing, no matter your experience or past track record.
As we are now seeing young drivers move up the ranks, whose families have been involved in motorsport over the years, Andy’s son Seb, is currently competing in karting, and looks to follow his dad in years to come. I asked how Andy helps his son in the way of giving advice, whether it be as a father, or as a racing driver: “I’m letting him sort of fight his own battles in many ways, because that’s the only way you can bring yourself to the level you need to be at, through your own experience. What I’m making sure of is that he goes with the right team, has the right equipment, and that the approach is correct. Then I take a step back, as the worse thing a father can do, is get involved too much. So I let him develop his own skills, help him when I see that he needs it, being the guiding hand, as well as knowing when to stand back.”
Andy has also been working hand in hand with John Pratt, who has been his driver coach for the last decade or so, and through the iZone facility based at Silverstone itself, they both help young drivers of the future in many ways, including Seb: “We’ve developed a lot of great techniques to help a lot of the youngsters out there, but I let iZone help Seb out, rather than myself. Really great to see it when he’s enjoying himself, and as long as he gets out of the kart with a smile on his face, that’s all I care about, as there is so much pressure on these young drivers nowadays. It’s something all young drivers will have to deal with, but as long as it isn’t too early in their career.”
Andy is someone to look out for this season in the DTM, as I’m sure that alongside Martin this year, having swapped places with Joey Hand, his experience in the DTM will flourish, and hopefully see more consistent results with BMW. His racing knowledge is always expanding, as is the case with all who compete, but should stand him in good stead for 2013, and we here at TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk, look forward to catching up with him this coming May at Brands Hatch for the second round of the 10-race DTM calendar.