Down, but by no means out, the Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell, drivers of the No. 67 Chip Ganassi Team UK Ford GT, are set to go in all guns blazing in the 6 Hours of Shanghai, in an attempt to take their GTE Pro title challenge down to the wire at Bahrain later this month.
Heading into the 6 Hours of Fuji, Priaulx and Tincknell held the lead in the GTE Drivers World Championship standings, the pair taking command at the front from the opening race of the season, taking a stunning victory at Silverstone, then a fourth at Spa, and second at Le Mans.
Since the run at La Sarthe, though, it’s been anything but plain sailing for Tincknell and Priaulx, who have struggled for pace at times and suffered poor luck before having an uncharacteristic struggle at Fuji.
With two races to go, they’re now fifth, in what has turned into the most competitive GTE Pro title race in WEC history. Currently, 102.5 points, 14.5 off the lead, taking the championship is by no means impossible. Priaulx (at right, below, celebrating at Le Mans with Tinknell and Pipo Derani) told RACER that he and Tincknell are as motivated as ever in their quest to score the Ford GT its first championship win.
“I’ve been here before,” Priaulx noted, alluding to the World Touring Car season finale at Macau in 2007, where he took the championship in dramatic circumstances driving for BMW. “We’re going to push hard – we refuse to give up.
“The problem has been pace for us. Since Le Mans, we’ve really struggled, and we’ve been lapped a couple of times in races. At the start of the season, we pushed so hard, and won at Silverstone, then later at Le Mans, fought hard and got second, despite being a second a lap slower than the winning Aston each lap.
“To win this championship, you’ve got to be strong at the end. The Auto BoP has made this so close, which is great.”
The race at Fuji – where the team had to serve a drive-through penalty – was further spoiled when Priaulx, in an attempt to unlap himself, collided with the No. 91 Porsche, leading to a puncture that sent him flying into the barriers and gravel trap at Turn 1 a lap later. It left them 13th in GTE, and therefore, with a very low points score.
Priaulx says he and Tincknell have moved on, are ready to reset and attack the final two races.
“You know, I’ve had a really good 18 months – I would say it’s been an almost perfect run personally. I’ve not made mistakes, been great through traffic, but sooner or later you’re going to make a mistake. Obviously the pit lane penalty put me on the back foot at Fuji,” he explained. “I was pushing really hard, but I had to let (Kevin) Estre (in the No. 91 Porsche) through. ]
“The safety cars sort of kept us in the fight, I didn’t know he was the leader at the time, then in the next half lap, I found pace and I was a lot quicker. So I thought, ‘Let’s push to un-lap myself,’ and unfortunately I tagged him.
“I owed him an apology for that, and I did – I apologized personally after the race. When you look at the footage, it doesn’t look great from me, but in the situation, I was very much on the inside, I was fast, carrying good corner speed, but we touched.
“The real disappointment was getting touched, and that caused the failure down the start/finish straight. It’s racing, I was pushing.
“We just have to get our heads down and do what we can now. To have led the points race all year, and now be fifth in the championship is hard. We’re still in it though, me and Harry. Together we’re such good teammates – the mix of youth and experience has been perfect, we’re competitive.”
Should Shanghai’s result keep the No. 67 in the title fight, the final race of the year at Bahrain will be a challenge. Last year the Ford struggled at the Sakhir circuit, though Priaulx and Tincknell managed to finish fourth. This time around, they’ll need to stand on the podium to take the title.
“With the tire the way it is, the degradation at different tracks, like Austin, means it’s hard at the end of races. I think everyone will struggle in Bahrain if it’s hot, because we only have four sets – one lock-up in qualifying and you have a problem for the whole race.
“If you get it right, don’t abuse the tire, you may well get it. But ultimately, we need to win both races to get this.
“We can both do the business though – we’ll be in there.”