We’ll be hearing more about Andy Priaulx’s 2016 plans in a week or so but for now there’s a third consecutive appearance in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona to look forward to as part of a truly all-star Chip Ganassi Racing effort with a pair of Ford Ecoboost powered Riley DPs once looking to retain the overall race win as the team debuts their first pair of GTLM class Ford GTs.
With the 2015 race winning quartet returning in the #02 Riley Ford there were open questions over the names that were in the frame for the sister #01 car with Alex Wurz, Brendon Hartley and young Lance Stroll announced yesterday as joining Priaulx in the car for the big race.
For the ex 13 season, 51 race win BMW factory driver Priaulx though there’s a unique Rolex 24 streak to be maintained and extended.
2016 will mark the third consecutive race appearance at the Rolex 24 Hours for the Guernseyman, always in a different class of car, but that streak should have been four by now:
“Yes it should, I accepted an invitation to drive a Turner Motorsport BMW M3 in 2013, really to learn the circuit and to show my commitment to the US, by now I knew what was likely to come for the following year, The Daytona race, and racing in America had been on my radar for a while and with BMW’s heavy involvement in racing in the States.
“Unfortunately it all ended with a brake failure and a massive accident in the Warm-Up that wrote off the car and put an end to the whole weekend.” (here’s the car in an earlier session)
“It still wasn’t time entirely wasted though, I watched the race closely, met quite a few people and got some laps of the track so it was all good preparation. But it was a disappointment not to race.
“By then I had done a few races with the Rahal guys, including the win at Sebring in 2011 (Below) but I wanted to show that despite my then current DTM commitments that I was prepared to do the leg work to learn and prepare.”
Many of the European drivers who race in the States have thoroughly enjoyed the experience, how did you find it?
“Obviously I went on in 2014 to have a full season in the USA with BMW Team RLL and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable seasons of my career.
“The atmosphere in the paddock, the fact we all got together to eat in hospitality and it was a nice place to be – At the same time though, on track, the racing was fierce.
“it’s a very different on-track experience, with the Full Course Yellows neutralising the race you effectively end up with a 24 hour sprint, or a 2 Hour Sprint, or a 12 Hour Sprint! I actually quite like that, lots of restarts, it’s pretty edgy stuff, very intense, no sense of settling into a rhythm or defending a lap lead. At Sebring myself Joey (Hand) and Dirk (Muller) were less than a second ahead of the Ferrari for most of the race. You really feel like you’ve learnt it when you win races like that.
“As for Daytona I was here and raced with the GTLM car in 2014 and we nearly won it, and then last year through IHG I was here with the Turner Z4 in GTD.
“To come back now and fight at the front of the field is something that is really motivating me. The experience will be very different, but my experience as a GT driver will help I’m sure. I know what it’s like from their perspective in traffic, and it often isn’t easy. In the Prototype though it will be more about overtaking in traffic rather than defending and being overtaken, at least I hope so!
“I hope,and expect, the race to be just a little less ‘busy’ without mirrors full of GT cars and prototypes. I’m expecting it to be a pleasurable experience.”
At what point were you aware of just what an extraordinary crew the team had put together?
“Across the two cars it is amazing. And from right across the sport. From our car I know Alex (Wurz) reasonably well and from the #02 I know Scott Dixon pretty well too but the rest of them are going to be fairly new to me. But in the wider team (Ganassi of course also running the debuting Ford GT effort) I know Joey Hand and Dirk Muller very well so my guess is that things will gel very quickly.”
And you get the chance to go for an overall win?
“Absolutely. It’s something I have always wanted to do. One of my biggest regrets was not signing for Peugeot in 2007 after some very serious talks with Serge Saulnier. It is definitely one of those regrets, not pushing the LMP1 button at the time. I guess this gives me an opportunity to go back to the front when I’m still fresh and show what I can do.
And now was the time to say goodbye to BMW?
“I had a fantastic long spell with BMW, drove everything from Touring Cars, DTM, GT3 and GTLM and even the F1 car but from a sporting perspective I was at a point where it was better to look for something new.
“I finished with BMW on a high with the last race of the ELMS bringing a win for the Z4 GTE and several BTCC race wins in the 1 Series. The year before I’m told by Bill Auberlen and others that I was the best Rookie they’d ever had!” But it was time to move along and find a new challenge and I’m very happy with where my 2016 season will take me.”