The name ‘Andy Priaulx‘ is synonymous with tin-top fans all over the world with three World Touring Car Championship titles to his credit and race wins in British series’ too.
The recently retired 45-year-old explained in an interview with Martin Haven on the WTCR Fast Talk podcast how his performances in touring cars led to him getting offers from FIA Formula One teams.
This wasn’t Priaulx’s first foray into single-seater racing however, the Guernsey native had previously won the 1999 Renault Spider UK Championship and earned himself a test in a British F3 car as a result.
That one F3 test was enough to convince teams he was good enough for the job.
“I probably earned my career based on one-off opportunities,” says Priaulx, 45. “Whenever I was given five laps to show my speed, I was able to turn those laps into full-time drives after that. I always learned how to be comfortable in the uncomfortable.
“I always had a bit of an act of faith going into the first corner in hillclimb, not sure quite what level of grip you’ve got but sorting it out. I was always able to use that to give me a good performance level in everything I did, by being versatile and taking it to the limit immediately.
“You’ve just got such small windows to show yourself in this business, especially if you haven’t got the money to buy yourself in, you need the very best opportunities and you’ve got to make it stick.”
Following further success in tin-top racing, Priaulx was approached by BMW, who he drove for at the time, to test their F1 car.
“I got the invitation to test in Formula One, a really nice situation from Dr Theissen who offered me the test because of the championships I won for him,” Priaulx remembers. “I was 31, 32, I had already written off my Formula One career but to get the test in Valencia was really special.
“Of course, me being me, I didn’t just take it as a prize and went there to do a professional job. I was very fit, I trained really hard for that test. They thought I was going to do 10 laps but I ended up doing 72 laps that day and actually ran with the main Formula 1 drivers of the time and was really competitive. It went from a prize drive to a pretty much serious testing role within Williams for the next two years, it blew me away really.
“Williams were really keen for me to step up as the main test driver and reserve driver. Antonio Pizzonia was occupying that position and I had to make one of the first really tough decisions in my career.
“I knew at that time I would have been the oldest rookie on the grid, if I tried to go down that Formula One route, so I prioritised my touring car commitments over the Formula One stuff and kept it real. It was a difficult choice but the right choice.
“But I still did some years with BMW Sauber after that with Formula One testing and got paid for it as well so that was even better. But ultimately it was just a fantastic opportunity. It sped up my processes and my brain was working so much faster, I was just at the top of my game.“
Priaulx’s incredible ability to adapt to different motorsport disciplines in the blink of an eye was part of the attraction he caused F1 teams.
“One year I raced the Nürburgring 24 Hours and won it, jumped on a plane and was in Vallelunga [in Italy] the next day testing three days in the Williams, then I was back on a plane to Silverstone and on the Friday it was free practice for the World Touring Cars.
“But I was adaptable and that was from my early years when I was hillclimbing and just able to switch between things.”