by Russell Atkins

TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE

To read the interview in full, click here

Andy Priaulx insists that he is more than satisfied with his personal level of performance over the first four rounds of the 2008 World Touring Car Championship campaign, even if he admits precious little can be done about the SEAT 'steamroller' effect until the regulations are equalised.

The BMW Team UK star is chasing a fourth consecutive WTCC title this year, what would in essence be his fifth straight crown, having triumphed in the WTCC's forerunner - the European Touring Car Championship - back in 2004. A runner-up spot and fourth place finish from the opening meeting at Curitiba in Brazil was a solid start - particularly in the face of the sizeable advantage enjoyed by SEAT's five-strong, turbocharged diesel brigade.

That was followed, though, by a frustrating outing in round two at Puebla, where Priaulx struggled to twelfth on the grid and could salvage just a sole point from the weekend's two races - not that he was downhearted about the outcome, he stressed.

"Mexico wasn't such a disaster for me personally," he told Crash.net Radio, "because I scored BMW's only point. I took a positive from that, because quite clearly the SEAT package is much stronger at the moment than any other car. That meant I went to Valencia just wanting to drive my very, very best, and to qualify P6 there was pretty rewarding really.

"It was an interesting session really, because we had tested in the dry and the car was pretty competitive, and then of course just before qualifying it rained. None of us had really had a lot of experience on the wet tyres; it took a little bit of getting used to, but I've driven many years now in this car, so I knew what to expect from the wet set-up and managed to put a good lap together.

"Obviously changeable track conditions always do throw up a few unexpected things, and I think at that stage BMW knew that it was going to be tough to qualify really high up in the dry; the wet session probably just brought a bit more uncertainty to the situation. We made the best of those changeable conditions, and I was pretty pleased with the performance really."

That was converted into seventh place in the opening encounter around the Spanish circuit, and with the reverse top eight grid system that the WTCC employs, an excellent start saw the 33-year-old vault past pole-sitter Alain Menu into the lead when the lights went out to signal the start of race two. Though he would ultimately slip back behind the Chevrolets of both the Swiss ace and team-mate Rob Huff before the 13 laps were out, his second rostrum finish of the season was still nothing to be sniffed at.

"I felt pretty strong over the first two laps," Priaulx recounted, "and as Menu had dropped away slightly I thought 'this is looking great'. Then as soon as he got clear of the traffic he just reeled me in at about a second a lap, and I knew at that stage that there was absolutely no chance of holding him off and that I was basically going to end up slipping back into the clutches of the midfield.

"I defended, but he got past and just drove away; it was really difficult for me to defend, and for J?rg [M?ller] as well because they [the Chevrolets] were so much faster, but I think if I can have an eight-point weekend on a bad day I will be very happy."

Next on the series' schedule was Pau in south-western France, and with Priaulx being a self-confessed fan of street venues - having clinched all three of his WTCC championship successes in the little Portuguese enclave of Macau - hopes entering the event were high. And then, in free practice, the wall beckoned...

"I love street circuits," he enthused. "They're something I think that every driver really enjoys, because you're running really close to the barriers and it feels so quick. I've always got a really positive feeling about street tracks; they're unique - they've got bumps, they've got character, they've got kerbs. I just find it a really interesting challenge, and Pau is a beautiful place as well.

"Free practice was a shame. I was competitive in the first session, and was going well in the second session too. At the end of the day, though, if you're not touching walls and spinning off occasionally you're not trying hard enough. I had a pretty big hit in free practice two and damaged the car, but luckily there was no chassis damage and overall it wasn't too severe, and my team managed to get it together again in time for qualifying which was good.

"The qualifying session on a short street track is always going to be a challenge for everybody. I was quick in the first sector, then in the second sector came across Augusto [Farfus], who had gone off. That meant I had to back off with the yellow flags, and then had another go and found traffic.

"I was a little bit disappointed after being on my fourth set of new tyres, but still happy to be seventh. We've gone from being twelfth in Mexico to sixth in Valencia in the wet, and seventh in the dry at Pau was pretty pleasing actually. We're going in the right direction."

That at least is positive news for Priaulx, and eighth spot in race one - following a frantic tussle with BMW team-mate M?ller - earned him pole position for race two which, given the distinctly inclement weather, would prove ultimately to be an unassailable advantage as he went on to secure his first victory of the season by mastering the tricky conditions to perfection.

"Ninth is just nobody - it's so annoying to finish ninth," he admitted. "I felt for J?rg - he's a good team-mate and a good driver, but he was carrying the weight over that weekend. He didn't get up there into the top eight and I did, and that made my weekend really.

"Nobody likes to rely on the reverse grid to win races, but at this moment in time an eighth position is like a win for me because we're just not as competitive as SEAT in these conditions. I've got to be very happy with that.

"When I saw the weather [for race two], I thought to myself 'I'm so pleased that I'm not down in the middle of the grid now', because you just couldn't see anything. Especially around a street track, it was absolutely awful; it is actually really dangerous to have conditions like that.

"I was really pleased that I was up there at the front, and at least I could take control a little bit of my race. The worst thing is, though, when you're leading in the wet and don't know the conditions, it's easy to make a mistake because you've got nobody to follow. It's quite tough to lead in those circumstances.

"Nicola [Larini] was quick at the beginning, and so was Rickard [Rydell]. I could see that they were only two to three tenths off me the whole race until the end, so I just drove as fast as I could without making any mistakes.

"I can't say I controlled the race, because I had to drive really hard throughout, but towards the end I think Nicola must have used his tyres and also he had his mirrors full of Rickard. I think that gave me a little bit of a chance to pull away which was, I must say, very, very pleasing. To get eleven points from the weekend was sensational really."

TO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment