Being given the title 'the Michael Schumacher of touring cars' by many is an indication of how well Andy Priaulx has performed on the World Touring Car stage in recent seasons.

In 2006, he overcame the challenge of a new car and a weight system that punished the successful to claim his third straight championship title - cementing his place as the touring car driver the others strive to beat.

Crash.net caught up with Andy to look back at last season and also to preview the upcoming campaign, when the Guernseyman will look to retain his hold on the WTCC title.

Q:
Andy, three titles in a row for you after the 2006 season and your second straight WTCC crown - is it not getting slightly boring winning all the time?

Andy Priaulx:
[Laughs] No, not for me! It's been really tough because it has always gone down to the last race so you never know you are going to win. With this type of championship, it is such a high level and the drivers racing in it are so good - touring car legends some of them - plus they throw in things like success ballast and reverse grids to make it harder.

The last few years I've been setting the pace which means they lump more lead on you to slow you down and the reverse grid pulls you away from the front as well. It's been three very challenging years but I feel it has taken my driving to a new level and has taken my career to a new level as well. So it's not been boring at all!!

Q:
Looking back at the last two years in particular, in 2005 it was a title season based on consistency with just the one win and then in 2006 there were more wins than anyone and the title still went to the season finale. Two very different title campaigns but two very difficult ones - how do you feel the two compared?

Andy Priaulx:
Well going back to 2004 when I won the European championship, people say I came back from twelve points behind and was lucky to win it, but the fact is I had won the most races and that is why I won the title. In the second year, they said I only won one race and I was champion so I must have been consistent, but the fact is that I was on the podium in nearly every race, lost a win at Silverstone due to a puncture on the last lap so I don't feel I was lucky to win it.

In 2006, I won five races, more than anyone else, was the heaviest car in the field, took more pole positions than anyone so I've been dominant and I won the title. Three in a row, no-one can argue with that really.

Q:
Aside from clinching the title in Macau, what would have been your highlight from 2006?

Andy Priaulx:
I think winning the first race with the new car at Monza. It was a brand new car with good testing mileage but not like SEAT who had been testing the Leon from the middle of the previous season. To come into the first race at Monza as a single car team and win from pole was very special. I have the first win with the E90 and that would be a highlight for me.

Q:
How important was it to hit the ground running with the E90 and have a winning package from the start?

Andy Priaulx:
It was crucial. BMW are so committed to Touring Cars and serious about it and there are so many teams and drivers capable of winning that it was a vintage year in touring cars. You have to hit the ground running because if you stand still in Motorsport, you might as well go backwards. You have to be on the pace and going for the bullseye all the time.

Q:
And I guess the biggest disappointment must have been sliding off in the wet at Brands Hatch while leading your home race...

Andy Priaulx:
That's right, that was disappointing. I feel that that is unfinished business for me know, I've won a European race in the UK at Donington but I always seem to come home with the heaviest car. Back in 2004 when I won at Donington I was the heaviest, in 2005 I was leading at Silverstone and had the puncture on the last lap, I would have had that race in the bag, without a doubt.

Brands was a difficult pill to swallow but it took me to another level in my career because what you have to realise is to be happy within yourself and what you are achieving. I had a great start to the season and had carried a lot of weight, the conditions weren't favourable to us and I aquaplaned straight off at the first corner. In hindsight, it wasn't so much a driver error but a tyre pressure problem so I had to take it on the chin, but these things are character building and make you stronger.

Q:
Something you mentioned a few times is the issue of weight. It was a bone of contention during the season with 80 kilos being the most you could carry. How difficult did it make things?

Andy Priaulx:
For a two litre car with a narrow tyre, it was too much weight and what you had to do was be good on your bad days. There were days when the car was only capable of being tenth or twelfth on the grid and if you qualified in eighth, you had done an ultra qualifying lap. There were times when I needed to be able to understand that the car was only good enough for that and I had to deal with that, as did the other drivers.

What was happening in the end was the big boys fighting for the championship were racing down in 17th or 18th place because they had weight on board and the FIA realised that that isn't how it should be. Hopefully this year, with a little bit less weight onboard and a maximum of 60 kilos, we might see more racing at the front.

Q:
One more thing to wrap up 2006, you do run as a single car team with RBM. Outsiders might look at it as BMW running five cars but those five cars are split between the three teams. As a lone driver in a single car team, how difficult was it going through the season with a new car, given you had to develop it on your own and didn't have a team-mate to bounce ideas off?

Andy Priaulx:
It was very tough and I'm pleased you brought that up because I am a single car team. The way BMW want this championship to run is they want the teams to race against each other to raise the levels of the teams and drivers and it means that everyone is very protective over their data and information so it was very tough. Schnitzer are the factory development team and do the mileage in the car so that is why I believe that what we did in winning the first race was very special and why it meant a lot to me.

Being a single car team has its bonuses with 100 per cent focus being on me as a driver, and I don't have to worry about a team-mate within the team - although I have had several with Magnussen and Huisman over the years. That was why I have had to deal with things in a different way and it has improved my driving and taken my engineering capabilities to a new level as I am very precise with my feedback which is important.

Q:
Looking forward to 2007 we know of a few changes already. BMW has some new faces in Farfus and Porteiro, James Thompson returns to N.technology and we aren't totally sure yet on who SEAT will go with. What are you expecting from the year ahead?

Andy Priaulx:
I know that these guys are coming into BMW and Farfus has been quick for the last few years and will be a fast team-mate. I think the new guys will be very quick but lets wait and see what happens, because it is one thing being quick over one lap and winning one race, but winning championships is what is important and you have to win races and be consistent over the year to do that. I believe that is where the experience comes into play. I'm relatively young at 32 years old and am still at the top of my game.

I have the speed and the experience and I don't worry about one or two drivers - I worry about the 25 others who need to be beaten. I'll do my job in the same way as I have done in the last three or four years and we'll see who is the champion at the end of it.

Q:
We have some changes to the calendar for the new season, like a few more street races. What do you make of the changes made?

Andy Priaulx:
They are absolutely brilliant. Street races are without doubt the best spectacle. They really are great races like Macau and Pau. I haven't been to Pau or Porto yet but I am looking forward to the challenge of competing on a new circuit. Street circuits bring a bit of glamour and a bit of danger and the racing on those circuits has been good for the last few years. I'm really pleased to have three really good street circuits on the calendar and I enjoy driving on them, it is very precise and requires a different driving style that seems to suit me. Hopefully I can use that to my advantage.

Q:
At Macau you always seem to get that BMW as close to the wall as possible without hitting - at Pau in particular that will be key as we've seen how tight and twisty that circuit is.

Andy Priaulx:
I'm really looking forward to it - I'm a hill-climber, I like narrow roads and I'm used to driving in Guernsey on narrow roads! In Macau, I hit the wall five times on my qualifying lap. When I say hit the wall, I mean brushed it, and I enjoy driving in a confined space. Macau is one of the fastest street circuits in the world and you don't make mistakes around there, so I believe anything after that won't be easy but will be a different challenge. Let's wait and see, but the guy who wins races and championships is the one who doesn't make mistakes.

Q:
You briefly mentioned the change in weight regulations. How much will that come into play?

Andy Priaulx:
I think the FIA have got their weight system pretty much sorted for this year and they aren't going to allow a run away winner. I think it will mean that instead of championship leading drivers fighting for P20 because they have 80 kilos of ballast, or sometimes up to a 100 kilo difference because they gave -20 to Alfa Romeo and -20 to Zanardi, they will keep the differences between the drivers under control so you won't see a run away winner.

Q:
Another change is a bigger gap between races. The teams will still only have a limited amount of time to work on the cars but how will that affect you as a driver?

Andy Priaulx:
From a physical point of view I don't believe it will be much different, but its always nice to actually get out of the car, think about the race and think things like 'I could get more out of the set-up here' and also plan the second race in more detail.

The car is only outside Parc Ferme for 15 minutes so the team still has the same time to prepare the car but it allows us all to think about to be more precise and more efficient in that 15 minutes. For example, if we have had an off and damaged the car, we can get all the parts ready and built up and then just bolt it straight onto the car when it comes out of Parc Ferme. I think it will mean there are more cars on the grid for the second race which is important.

Q:
Difficult one to answer in mid-January when the season is still a while away, but how confident are you of making it four titles in a row and a hat-trick of world crowns?

Andy Priaulx:
I respect my competitors too much to forecast that. All I want to do is continue to improve as a driver and improve as an individual. If I do that, then I'm sure I can fight for another title. In the last four years I have set the level, not just in the last three [title winning] years as in the first year I nearly won the championship and started winning races in the second half of that season. It is one thing being chased and another thing being the chasing pack.

I have to set my level as high as possible, because everyone is trying to get to my level and I have to keep moving forward. I talked about how important it is to keep progressing and that is what I have to try and do.

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