Winning in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship demands a very special skill set. BMW's Andy Priaulx explains how it's done
2 April 2015

The 2015 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship fires back into life at the Brands Hatch circuit in Kent on Sunday, and this year’s competition looks like it is going to be harder to win than ever.

Up to 32 cars will battle it out over 30 bumper-crunching rounds, with five former UK champions going toe to toe and 11 different car models represented in the line-up.

Returning to the domestic grid is three-time world touring car champion Andy Priaulx. He has joined last year’s title-winning team, WSR, at the wheel of a BMW 125i M Sport. Here, he gives us the lowdown on exactly what it takes to conquer Britain’s most prestigious race series.

1 Exploiting free practice

“With such limited testing during the season – and the difficulty of swapping set-ups at the circuit itself – you need to use the two 40-minute practice sessions on Saturday morning to their maximum. I will be relearning the tracks, too. We’ll have an engineering plan before we get to the circuit based on previous knowledge; we’ll work through that and hopefully get the most track time we can.”

2 Nailing qualifying

“It’s so important to know when is your time to go for it. You have to have everything at its peak; you need to be on your A game. You need your tyres to be right up to temperature and you need track space – not easy with 32 cars in the BTCC. It is one of the most crucial moments of the weekend.”

3 Using your tyres wisely

“This is where working hard with the engineers comes in. The BTCC has rules where you have to use softer tyres for one of the three races per weekend. We’ll look at degradation from free practice and the set-up sheets from previous seasons and try to get a general feel for the car. Some tracks have more abrasive surfaces than others, so you have to factor that in, too. It is pointless trying to second-guess what your rivals are up to. We’ll just concentrate on ourselves and maximise what we’ve got.”

4 Making the most of the starts

“This is one of the most difficult parts of the race. You can look at your position after qualifying and try to work out what is likely to happen around you. Who is aggressive? Who has rear-wheel drive? Who has a habit of flying starts? But once you’re on the grid with the engine revving, it goes out of the window. You have to be instinctive and grab the chances that come to you, but not overly aggressive. It’s a great time to make up places, but you could also throw it all away with one rash move. It is a real balancing act.”

5 Planning a reverse-grid strategy

“Although this exists in most forms of touring car racing, it’s a game I have never played. You are much better off banking the points that you have got rather than trying to drop back to give you a more advantageous position for a later race. You can never tell what will happen in the later race, so grab what you’ve got while you’ve got it. Why chuck it away? It’s like football: games in hand don’t mean as much as points on the board.”

6 Dealing with rear-wheel drive against front-drive opposition

“There are different configurations in the BTCC. Everyone thinks rear-wheel-drive cars have an advantage because there is a clear gain away from the start line, but that doesn’t take into account the penalties it can bring. You can’t use the kerbs like the front-wheel-drive cars can and it takes longer to get heat into the tyres, because you are splitting the steering and traction demands across all four tyres rather than just the two with front-wheel drive. There are pros and cons to both.”

7 Using the bumper properly

“Rear-drive cars are susceptible to a tap from behind, because it’s hard to get out of a slide if you can’t just plant the throttle to straighten the car up like a front-wheel-drive machine can. So I’ll have to be wary of that. But there are other little tricks drivers can play. The exhaust outlets are down the side of the cars, but a little nudge in the right place can close the exhaust up and rob a rival of power. There are also the front aerodynamic splitters on the cars; there isn’t huge aero in the BTCC, but any damage to that will have an effect. I never go out there to try to have someone off, but a little ‘love tap’ is all part of the sport.”

8 Playing mind games

“This is an interesting part of the BTCC, because it seems the drivers are often at each other’s throats – sometimes literally! But, throughout my career, I have never given any energy to trying to disparage a rival. I think that’s a sign of weakness. As long as I concentrate on my game and do the best I can, I shouldn’t have to be worrying about anyone else.”

9 Using experience to your advantage

“You just have to look around at some of the guys who have been hugely successful in the BTCC and even on the world stage – people like Gabriele Tarquini, Jason Plato and Matt Neal. They are all seasoned pros, and yet they still come through. Why? It’s because they can spot trouble kicking off before it happens and they know when to attack and when it is wiser not to. That is the key to landing the big points-paying positions.”

10 Enjoying the moment

“It’s hard to win in any sport, and particularly so in motor racing. Things have to be right with the set-up, the mechanicals, with yourself and with everything around you. That means when you win, you must soak up the moment and enjoy it. That’s not to say you get complacent or take your eye off the ball, but remember that when you’ve won you’ve done something special.”

Andy Priaulx was speaking to Matt James, touring car correspondent for Motorsport News.

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