The harvest of talent from the British Formula 3 Championship was plentiful back in 2001. Champion Takuma Sato and team-mate Anthony Davidson would both make it to Formula 1, Sato also winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2017 and Davidson becoming a World Endurance champion with Toyota. André Lotterer would win Le Mans three times for Audi, James Courtney returned to his native Australia to become a V8 Supercars champion and Gianmaria Bruni became one of the finest GT endurance racers in the world, winning his class at Le Mans three times for Ferrari.
Then there was Guernseyman Andy Priaulx, sixth in the points standings with two wins, behind Courtney and Bruni but ahead of Lotterer. Nearly 20 years later, after a fine career that netted him a European Touring Car title followed by a hat-trick of World Touring Car Championships for BMW, the 45-year-old reflects on a sport that has changed dramatically – and not all for the better.
“When I started, I drove my caravan to Silverstone, pitched up at the F3 teams and they would help you find a bit of money,” says Priaulx, who turned to circuit racing after winning the 1995 British Hillclimb Championship, sharing a Cosworth DFL-powered Pilbeam with his father, Graham. “Now it’s almost unobtainable for anyone with talent but who lacks a lot of money. You could win a British Grand Prix support race or go to the Macau Grand Prix and take a win, then you’d somehow end up in a factory drive. Six of us in my F3 year did so. Now if you win, it’s a case of: ‘Well done. Now it’s about a million euros to do a season of FIA F3.’ Another world.”
Don't mention the R-word
In recent years, Priaulx was a core member of Ford’s successful Le Mans campaign with its GT and last year returned to tin-tops to race for Lynk&Co in the World Touring Car Cup, contributing to the brand becoming the first from China to win an international racing title. Now he has chosen to pull out of a second season in the WTCR, citing a highly compressed Covid-19-influenced calendar as too much of a tax on his other commitments. Just don’t suggest he’s retiring.
“I will still do some racing, but I’m now looking at a test and development role, like a team sporting director,” says Priaulx, who is signed to Anglo-Canadian specialist Multimatic, which ran the Ford GT programme and now controls Mazda’s US IMSA sports car campaign and Ford’s Mustang GT4 in Britain and the US. “I’m at a stage where I can use my experience, similar to Allan McNish [now team principal of Audi’s Formula E team]. I want to stay involved in sports cars, even if it was just to do the long-distance races. And I haven’t closed the door on WTCR. But I also want to build a career out of the car.”