British drivers have been rather thin on the ground at BMW since Andy Priaulx departed for Ford. James Newbold explains why that might be about to change.
“When you’re with a manufacturer, if you want to survive at a higher level, you’ve got to be world class. I always say to a lot of guys that I mentor, if you want to become a pro driver, it’s as hard if not harder than F1. If you’ve got a big chunk of money, you can get into F1, but if you’ve got a big lump of money, you can’t buy a manufacturer drive with any major manufacturer in GT, sportscars or DTM, so that’s the level you’ve got to go to. If you’re committed to being world class in everything you do, then you should be okay.”
When somebody of Andy Priaulx’s experience offers their advice, then you would do well to pay close attention, particularly if you’re a young driver aiming to follow in his storied footsteps.
The three-time WTCC champion turned GT gun achieved enormous success at BMW before switching to Ford and now young Ricky Collard has his eye on making his own history with the marque, starting this weekend at the Bathurst 12 Hour in a works-supported Walkenhorst Motorsport M6 GT3.
The 20-year-old was one of three drivers chosen from a “daunting” selection process to become a BMW junior last year and is set to continue in the programme this season, with his first outing in the M6 GT3 – one of four in the 33-strong GT3 pack – alongside Jörg Müller and fellow programme member Nico Menzel a mere taster of what is to come.
— Jorg Müller (@JorgMueller) February 1, 2017
As places to make your first outing in GT3 go, there are plenty easier than Mount Panorama, but Collard wouldn’t have it any other way. He was thrust into the deep end for his first 24 hour race in the all-new BMW M4 GT4 at Dubai and quietly impressed with his application amid the chaos of 92 cars all sharing the track at once, keeping the car in one piece and setting its fastest race lap to boot.
“Dubai was my first ever real GT race and then to be thrown in there for a 24 hour race upped the pressure a little bit,” reflects Collard, a runner-up in the revived BRDC British F3 Championship last year.
“Making sure the car made it to the end of the race was definitely in the back of my mind, because if I was to make a mistake it could be really costly in the development of the car and it would be very costly as well in my career. If you’re sleeping for more than two seconds, somebody slides down your inside and you turn in, it will damage the car.
“I actually had all the night running, so that was a new skill for myself, but I set my fastest lap in the night which was the fastest for the team, so that was quite a good thing to show BMW that they could throw an obstacle at me and I could deal with it quite well.”
As can be expected from a young man with hard-battling British Touring Car Championship veteran Rob Collard for a father, Ricky has a level head on his shoulders and recognises the significance of his opportunity at BMW, which is rapidly expanding its operations to incorporate a new WEC programme next year.
— Rob Collard (@CollardRob) January 13, 2017
“I’ve got a good trainer in my dad, he’s there and he’s always going to give me advice whether I like it or not sometimes!” he laughs. “It’s a new experience, a new path, a new avenue in my career and to be tied in with a manufacturer at such a young age is something that I take a real pride in.
“Andy was a great ambassador for the brand in the UK, he had big shoes so I hope I can fill them and create a relationship that will last a long time.”
DTM remains the long-term goal after a productive test at Estoril last year, but for the time being Collard is more than happy to continue his learning curve under the wing of mentor figure Müller, who has been with BMW since Collard was three years old.
“He’s one person that I really hold in a high regard, he’s taught me so much over this whole process and he’s kind of like the junior drivers’ dad!” continues Collard.
“He’s a senior now, but the stuff he teaches and passing on his experience of BMW is priceless.”
Müller, Collard and Menzel won’t be the only Bathurst rookies in the BMW fold, with two-time DTM champion Marco Wittmann and ex-F1 racer Timo Glock in the Steven Richards Motorsport BMWs also making their first visit to the mountain.
Collard is relishing the opportunity to benchmark himself against and learn from the Germans and in doing so prove that in Priaulx’s words, he too can be “world class.”
— Ricky Collard (@RickyCollard) January 25, 2017
“It’s going to be great to go up against DTM’s double champion and a driver I look up to. I wouldn’t expect to be near his pace, but I have shown some performances that haven’t been expected,” Collard added.
“Being up against some of the best drivers in BMW, I want to learn where my weaknesses are in relation to their strong areas and improve these throughout the weekend. It will be great to learn from these guys and especially the V8 Supercar boys, I’m sure they will be mighty brave down the mountain.
“It’s my first race in the BMW M6 GT3 as well as my first time at Bathurst, so there’s a lot of unknowns about the weekend for myself personally. We don’t know what we will achieve, but I like the fact I have the chance to surprise.”