Four years ago Casio Edifice driver Tom Onslow-Cole was part of a four man group that started the final British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) weekend with a chance of leaving with the title.
Unfortunately it was not to be that weekend at Brands Hatch, Onslow-Cole retired his Team Aon Ford Focus from all three races, losing his grasp on the independents’ title in the process – to then teammate Tom Chilton.
This weekend’s 2013 finale finds Tom Onslow-Cole (not for the first time since his Brands disappointment) back in a Ford Focus, though this time with Airwaves Racing following a pre-Rockingham exit from Team HARD.’s VW Passat earlier this season – the most recent in a number of team changes that have lent his BTCC career an unfairly ‘journeyman’ appearance with five team in three seasons.
“It’s not ideal,” he admits, speaking to www.theCheckeredFlag.co.uk. “In terms of a championship you’d like to have some consistency and have a year learning a team and car and then a year to crack out a championship attempt and the time I did do that I was with Aon. I had some consecutive years there and we did put together a title challenge, but it’s not that easy.” They are the words of a driver frustrated, but accepting of the situation.
He outlines the uncertain existence of the professional driver in the BTCC paddock; “you can’t just pick and choose your team. There’s a lot that goes into doing this. The team work very hard on their sponsors and the personal sponsors, the drivers have to bring budgets too, so you have to find something that is – in a lot of cases – a compromise.”
He continues; “some years I’ve had more sponsorship than others and some years I’ve been offered better deals than others. We’re not trying to short cut it at all. But we’ve got to work in the areas that are realistic for our backers that are my options and those are normally the last ones left because teams like to fill the paying drivers in first to create the budgets and then the last seats will be left at the end. It’s difficult.”
“I think a lot of people think that you just pick and choose where you want to go year-on-year but there’s a lot that goes on in the background to make this happen.”
The move from Tony Gilham’s team was one that surprised many, especially after scoring podiums in the new-for-2013 car. However, when TCF spoke to Onslow-Cole at Silverstone ahead of his second weekend out of the Airwaves garage he shed some light on why he left the Team HARD. set-up
“I was there on a development project,” he explains, “trying to build things up with the Passat and unfortunately at the start of the team were let down some big investors and sponsors and it was struggle to get through from there. Tony did a fantastic job of raising budgets to keep going but the idea was that were trying to develop the car into something that we could win the championship with.”
“A few weeks ago it was decided that it would be better to get someone else in the car who’s paying a big budget and concentrate on next year for the development. I’ve been in Touring Cars for seven years. I don’t need to spend time running around to learn the series and car. I want to get stuck in with a winning car and take on the championship.”
Again, there is a compromise between the racing, the business of it and how it affects the drivers.
Following the news of his leaving Team HARD. a call from Airwaves Racing patriarch David Bartrum bought him to the team alongside Mat Jackson and Aron Smith in a third NGTC Ford Focus and though top results weren’t waiting to greet him at the team – largely down to his involvement in a multi-car crash on the opening lap of the first race at Rockingham – he notes the positive differences in the Motorbase Performance run team.
“It’s a very different atmosphere here,” he says, laughing nervously as if the walls of the truck we’re in have ears. “The team are very well established, they’ve been doing this for quite a while and so it is a different environment to be in, but I’ve driven for a few teams and they all have their own way and own style of doing things but I’m very happy here. The results haven’t quite come yet but I’m trying to run out a little bit of bad luck at the moment.”
The bad luck, it should be added, continued through the Silverstone weekend. Turbo problems in qualifying beginning a torrid weekend in which he was involved in another multi-car crash – though this time in the second of the races.
The mid-season switch has made Onslow-Cole the first member of what – in time – will be a very well subscribed club as he became the first driver to race two different NGTC cars. With more and more drivers likely to switch marques during the NGTC era we ask Tom to draw on his experience of the two cars, as well as his years in the S2000 Vauxhalls, Fords and BMWs. With the number of spec parts in the NGTC regulations – one of the reason they are proving so popular – is it easier for a driver to switch from chassis to chassis. We are surprised by his frank reply.
He expands. “That’s one of the worries I had about NGTC was that everyone would have the same car but having got to know these cars quite in depth now the development is huge. You can really go massively left field or right field.”
“The car, this car [Airwaves’ Focus] feels completely different even though it does carry a lot of stock parts. The performance is very different, it drives differently and I was very surprised at that. Although we do carry stock front and rear geometry and steering and so one there’s so much scope in the set-up that the cars can be wildly different.”
“With S2000 you had the scope within the design of the geometry. You’d have things like a 60mm circumference around a pick-up point for example. With NGTC we still have that manoeuvrability but now it’s done on a set platform with spacers and shims.”
Maybe Onslow-Cole’s position as a trailblazer in this respect will ultimately help return him to a BTCC finale in the title fight alongside the other drivers who have played major parts in developing the NGTC versions of the other cars on the grid.
Despite the difficulties of recent season in the BTCC Onslow-Cole remains focussed on the series, despite interest and isolated drives in GT racing – where a different compromise exists between the paying drivers and their professional counterparts. Having shared an Aston Martin Vantage GT3 with Paul White a John Gaw in a race on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix track in July he remains open to further races in similar machinery, but as he explains that any outings will be limited by clashes with BTCC calendar it’s clear that’s one change he’s not willing to make.
Tom wears a Casio Edifice EFM-100D to ensures he is always on pace and on time, both on and off the track. To see the wider collection of motorsport inspired Edifice watches, head to www.edifice-watches.co.uk