Sebastian Priaulx felt that “everything clicked” for him in the second half of the inaugural Porsche Carrera Cup North America presented by The Cayman Islands season as he went on to win the title ahead of his year-long rival and teammate Kay van Berlo.
Priaulx became the first champion of the Carrera Cup North America series by 84 points from van Berlo, despite the Dutch driver taking one more race victory.
The 20-year-old from Guernsey started the year with a double pole, a win and a second-place at the Sebring opener but dropped behind van Berlo at the third round.
The mid-season consisted of playing catch up to his Kelly-Moss Road & Race counterpart until he returned to the lead with two wins at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway triple-header, while van Berlo encountered car trouble throughout the weekend.
A 20-point swing at VIR courtesy of a retirement for van Berlo gave Priaulx the edge heading into the Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta finale, where he secured the title by winning Race 1.
Reflecting on his championship triumph, Priaulx said that it took some time for him to reach his best form in his first season driving the Type 992 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.
“Winning the first race at Sebring was in itself a great achievement,” he told Sportscar365.
“I think during the season I was initially a little bit on the back foot to Kay who has more experience in Cup racing.
“I didn’t quite maximize my race pace, really. I was up and down and a bit inconsistent, but I found some stuff with my driving and worked on that.
“The second half of the season was just dominant: not to sound arrogant, but everything clicked.
“Kay was a great teammate all year. You make your own luck in racing and unfortunately he had a couple of things happen to him, and I just maximized everything when that happened.
“Also, having 12 out of 16 poles [worth five points each] really helped me. I think the season went as best as it could, and there was nothing else I could maximize.”
Priaulx, whose Carrera Cup entry was funded by Multimatic after two years with the team driving Ford Mustang GT4s, felt that his understanding of how to tackle the 45-minute Carrera Cup North America races progressively got better as time went on.
“I improved my driving gradually over the season,” he reflected.
“I was quick on one-lap pace, but it was more about learning how to drive the Porsche in the races. When the fuel light comes up it starts to get a little bit loose, and it takes time to learn that.
“I think Kay did have more experience than me in race conditions, like learning to look after the tires a bit better.
“Personally I bonded with the driving: I clicked in a way that I could use the tire to my advantage, rather than using all the tire in the first couple of laps. I learned that a lot.
“It was just one of those things that I gradually got more experienced with through the season.
“At the start of the year it was about learning how the team works. They gave me a great car throughout the year; it was always reliable. It’s a really good team, with all the cars they run, so I couldn’t ask for anything better.
“Also being with Multimatic, they have really helped me with this. It’s a team job and I couldn’t have done this without them.”
The duel between Priaulx and van Berlo was the main feature of the 2021 season, as the pair battled for race wins and the championship upper hand.
Priaulx felt that the teammate rivalry helped to add further weight to the final award.
“We get on out of the car, but in the car it’s a different story,” he said.
“We’re both fighting for first place: you’re not going to be friends. But we’ve got a good friendship now I think, and I respect him in competition.
“It was good to have that competition in the end, because it made the title more deserving afterwards.
“If it was easy, which it wasn’t, it would have felt a bit less. So I really worked hard this year to do it. To be around 80 points ahead of him, a good driver, was really good for me.
He continued: “I didn’t like the fact that I lost the championship lead early in the season, but he deserved it because he did a better job in the first half.
“I think it’s better to chase than to be leading, sometimes. You want to be leading in the last couple of races. I think it was perfect timing when I chased him for the championship: it couldn’t have been any earlier or later.
“Once I got that, I overtook and just kept going. It was just really special.”
North America Stars Tackle Junior Shootout
Porsche held a shootout at Motorland Aragon last week to evaluate young talents for an available official Junior driver position with the manufacturer for next year.
Each Carrera Cup series nominated a driver to take part in the assessment, with Priaulx getting the nod from North America. Van Berlo also took part as a wildcard.
The shootout lasted three days and opened with a day of media activities, followed by track sessions and other physical and engineering-based evaluations.
“I think it went as well as it could do,” said Priaulx when asked about his time at the shootout.
“I haven’t had much experience in a non-ABS car, so it was a tough ask to go out and win it against guys who are seasoned warriors and have done some Supercup.
“It was tough, but I did the best I could. If I had more time in the car, I could be definitely at that sort of pace without ABS. I think it went well.”
Porsche has yet to announce who will be selected from the group of 12 Junior hopefuls who were also vying for a fully-funded 2022 Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup entry.
Mixed weather conditions made it difficult for the drivers to judge their relative pace to each other, but Priaulx described the experience as a “good few days” and a “privilege” to represent Carrera Cup North America as its nominee.
“It was an amazing experience and for them to give that to me was awesome,” he said.
“I’m really happy that they gave that to me. Winning the last race of the year and the championship, it was great to do that as well to finish the season off with Porsche.”