Tom Oliphant Interview: The Champion’s Trail


Tom Oliphant has been a man flying under the radar in the 2016 Porsche Carrera Cup GB. As the champion of the Ginetta GT4 Supercup in 2015, in rather dominant fashion claiming eight victories and twenty-one podiums across the season, expectations were high on his Porsche debut.

The success has yet to come in Carrera Cup GB, but across the final four races at Silverstone and Brands Hatch, this Ginetta star’s evident increasing pace should start to reap rewards for the stalwart Redline Racing team.

In terms of his year to date, Oliphant is pragmatic. “In all honesty I found it harder than I thought I would. I always knew it would be a challenge and I went into it giving myself a good length of time to be on the pace.”

I kind of thought over Christmas it should be rounds three and four and it kind of ended up being round five and into Knockhill where I’ve been able to challenge the likes of Dan and Dino through the sectors. I think it has taken all the first year drivers time to find their feet and we are all finding our feet now.”

That last statement is backed up by the results sheets that emerged from the Snetterton and Knockhill meetings. Scholar Charlie Eastwood has been on a run of four podiums, Alessandro Latif achieved two third position qualifying slots at Knockhill although the races were more of a struggle. Oliphant could have, should have and would have scored a first podium in the final race in Scotland, after a terrific dice with another former-Ginetta man, Tom Sharp. Sharp ultimately pipped him in the dying laps but the pace is definitely there.

 

Podium pace is there, the result has been tantalisingly close. (Credit: James Lipman)
Podium pace is there, the result has been tantalisingly close. (Credit: James Lipman)

How much of that Ginetta experience has come to the fore though? “I always knew it would be a challenge and it is a massive difference going from front engined, quite high aero and lot of front downforce. To go quick you had to carry pace into the corner with the Ginetta.”

In the Porsche though… “you have to stop the car and use the engine power to gain you momentum, you’ve got no aero or weight over the front. It is quite a different mind-set and it takes time to get used to it. It is tough, I am not used to being slow or being off the pace but it has taken a lot of hard work. I think we are finally getting there now.”

He may not have scored a podium to date, but his race-craft, notably during the World Endurance Championship support round and the Porsche Mobil1 Supercup guest event, has caught the eye. Too often Carrera Cup GB is dismissed as a category where the cars impede the driver’s ability to race. Not for this new Porsche star.

I think I have always been a driver who enjoys racing and everybody said to me coming in that qualifying is key. I haven’t found my true qualifying pace yet but I have always gone forward in the race and I have always overtaken to finish fourth or fifth or sixth. They lend themselves to being slightly easier than the Ginetta to race because there is slightly less front downforce.”

Yet Oliphant has another theory as to why there is a difference in out-and-out racing across the two championships. “We run our tyres for a lot less laps whereas in the Ginetta you had one set of tyres for qualifying and the three races, in Carrera Cup you have two sets of tyres. You don’t get the same drop off.

Wheel-to-wheel combat has been a standout of Oliphant's season. (Credit: James Lipman)
Wheel-to-wheel combat has been a standout of Oliphant’s season. (Credit: James Lipman)

Naturally there is the question of Oliphant’s decision to remain on the TOCA package, as opposed to moving to one of the various GT series from where offers were forth-coming. “There were decent offers but all with teams that had a weak link in an Am or required a large amount of budget.”

My aim is to pick up a factory drive at some stage. There is quite a clear route you can take with Porsche and you can race around the world in the same car. Obviously you’ve got Supercup. The aim is to spend two or three years to win the Supercup, and from there hopefully a manufacturer drive.”

It is a plan with great founding, Earl Bamber was Supercup champion in 2014 and Le Mans winner in 2015 in the 919 LMP1. Philipp Eng claimed the 2015 title and now races for BMW in the Blancpain GT Championship.

I’ve been doing this for six months and I am a tenth or two off [Dan] Cammish who is in turn a tenth or two off of the Supercup front-runners,” Oliphant continues with an air of quiet optimism. “That sort of proves in a year’s time, I don’t see any reason why the new drivers in Carrera Cup won’t be front running Porsche drivers. I think you’ve got a very interesting grid this year. I think the amount of Pros is growing and the show we’ve put on this year, you’ll have even more Pros in 2017.”

It seems unbelievable but with only two rounds remaining of the 2016 season, eyes are already turning to the new year. For Tom, that potentially should mean another Carrera Cup GB campaign at the front of the field.

I probably will be in GB and my sponsors are mainly British and they want the British exposure. The TOCA package is the best to be part of in terms of marketing.

He also heaps praise on the organisers of Carrera Cup GB. “It is a fantastically well run championship. The VIP hospitality is second to none. Everyone is very helpful, it is very much geared around the drivers and value for money. The racing is actually quite good, I own my car so it makes sense to keep it and come back.”

“It is a fantastically well run championship." (Credit: James Lipman)
“It is a fantastically well run championship.” (Credit: James Lipman)

Longer term and beyond one-make Porsches, the GTE and GT3 divisions are destined to be Oliphant’s targets. “I want to do well in Supercup and then move over to GTs and continue driving a Porsche in GT3/GTE, that sort of spec.”

He also believes that a greater Porsche GT3 presence could benefit his current rivals. “I think with the current drivers who are coming through there are some ‘older’ drivers  who are very good. I know Dan Cammish for one, would look to go down the endurance route because that is where you stand good chance of being paid.”

The LMP1 has been a massive push for Porsche and now they have had the success they should start pushing the GTs as well. It would be great to see more Porsches because I think they would be competitive.

Still four races remain and the competitive hunger that has already taken him to a Ginetta title is firing Oliphant up for silverware in 2016. “I want to be fighting up the front in qualifying. I need a podium, it has been so elusively close.”

Even more than that? “I would like a win I think. The tracks that are coming up are easier to have a race win at because they are shorter and so the time difference will be smaller, especially when Dan starts thinking about championship more than winning, like last year. So that would be an aim and then an ultimate aim is trying to get third in the championship. At the moment it is between me and Charlie, he’s been very, very quick. That is the ultimate aim.”

Whether those targets are ticked off or not, Tom Oliphant has made a strong debut in Porsche racing. Success shouldn’t just be measured in terms of silverware, and the consistency he has demonstrated is a mere tenth or two from being accompanied by race winning pace. He is a driver who seems to thrive off of doing well, beyond the normal racing driver standard of competitiveness. The success seems to represent a bit more to him, validating the effort he puts into his driving. A name to watch at the end of 2016, and one set to fight it out at the front of Carrera Cup GB in 2017.

Podiums or not, Oliphant has starred in 2016. In 2017... (Credit: James Lipman)
Podiums or not, Oliphant has starred in 2016. In 2017… (Credit: James Lipman)