Andy Priaulx says it “really hurts” to have lost the points lead in the GT Drivers’ World Championship after an incident-filled Six Hours of Fuji that has put he and Ford Chip Ganassi Racing co-driver Harry Tincknell on the back foot.
Priaulx and Tincknell have plummeted to fifth in the FIA World Endurance Championship title race, following a disastrous race for the pairing that was marred by a pit lane penalty and on-track incidents.
Having led the championship since its class victory in the season-opening Six Hours of Silverstone in April, Priaulx admitted the Fuji result has been a tough pill to swallow with only two rounds remaining.
“We’ve led it all year so it really hurts to lose it at this point in the season,” Priaulx told Sportscar365.”We haven’t had strong pace since Le Mans, really, so it’s been hard.
“Obviously today, we didn’t make it easy for ourselves, that’s for sure.”
The first setback came in the second hour when the No. 67 Ford GT was forced to serve a stop-plus 60-second penalty after Priaulx ran the red light at pit exit following a restart, which was under an initial Slow Zone at the start/finish straight.
“I got in the car, we’re green, and the safety car is in,” he explained. “We did a very quick stop, which is very good, but the last car hadn’t passed the start-finish line on the Slow Zone so I was in full attack mode and I wasn’t concentrating, to be honest, on looking for a light when you think you’re under green.
“If that last car had passed, it would have been fine. When I exited the pits, there were actually no cars there at all.”
The second, and race-changing blow came just past halfway when Priaulx made contact with the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR of Kevin Estre, and suffered a spin, ultimately leading to a puncture the following lap.
It resulted in a trip to the garage for repairs, where they lost more than ten laps.
“For about two or three corners, [Estre] just seemed to really back me up and I was always braking on the inside and he was braking on the outside,” Priaulx said.
“He just came over, and it looked bad from this angle, but if you look at it from another angle, it looks like I’m alongside and he just stopped the car so we touched.
“Fortunately, that didn’t do any damage but what did the damage was when he drove three times into the side of me on the way. He spun the car around and then just accelerated into the side.
“ What happened was he hit me quite hard on the right and when he spun, we were facing each other.
“As I went to go past, it was ‘bump, bump, bump’ down the side of the car and he damaged the right-rear and that exploded on the braking and sent me left into the tire wall.”
Despite finishing 8th in class, Priaulx and Tincknell were classified 13th and last in the overall GTE field, meaning they now trail AF Corse’s James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi by 17.5 points heading into next month’s race at Shanghai.
While having claimed victory in China last year, the ex-WTCC champion knows it will be tough task ahead, especially in any hopes of regaining the championship lead.
“We’ve just got to get our heads down and put this race behind us,” Priaulx said.
“I don’t know how competitive we will be there. The last three races, we haven’t had the speed and we’re heavy with not a lot of power.
“We’re still paying for the pace at the beginning of the year so now we’ve got to try and have a strong couple of races and see where we end up.
“We’ve gone from leading to fifth. It’s never over until it’s over but we’ve got to go out and try and have a strong finish and see where we are.”