Tom Boardman finally makes his return to the World Touring Car Championship at the Race of Spain in Valencia this weekend, having been forced to sit on the sidelines during the season opener at Monza earlier this month.
The Checkered Flag caught up with him to ask him about his delayed start to the season, the sudden exodus of drivers moving from the BTCC to the WTCC and his hopes for the remainder of the year.
Ask almost every driver about the off-season, and however long it was for them personally, they'll say it was too long. Every driver longs to get going again after the winter. So it must have been extremely difficult for Tom to miss the season opener at the legendary Monza circuit due to a lack of parts from SEAT Sport.
“Really tough!” he said. “I’m not one for watching anything when I’m not racing myself so it was very disappointing not being out there, but knowing I wasn’t taking part I just wanted Darryl [O'Young, teammate] to do well as I knew I’d be in that car eventually, but no I’m not good at watching from the sidelines!”
The family Special Tuning Racing team were able to enter one Leon car with SEAT's new factory-developed turbocharged engine for O'Young, but the weekend would turn into a bit of a disaster for them. O'Young first suffered an engine failure at the beginning of qualifying, but after fitting a new unit overnight they hoped to be able to salvage something from Sunday.
Those hopes would unfortunately go up in flames quite literally, when the car set on fire during the morning warm-up session.
“Definitely not what we wanted,” said Tom. “I had to accept that I wouldn’t be involved due to the delays in parts for my car, but the engine failure and then the fire in qualifying were something else!
“Things break mechanically, it’s one of those things in racing, but we never expected a fire! We’ve never had one before so it was a new experience for the team. The workload we’ve had to put in to turn it round for Valencia has been something chronic!”
That hard work will see both Boardman and O'Young competing in Spain this weekend, although Tom's wait for the new turbocharged engine continues.
“We’ll both be racing, but I’m still waiting on the 1600 engine so I’ll be in a SEAT 2-litre TDI,” he explained. “It’s not what I was expecting, but I should be getting the new engine after Valencia. I’m looking forward to driving the TDI though as I’ve never driven one.”
The TDI may have been an engine that began racing back in 2007, but Tom hopes that SEAT's experience with it will allow him to have a solid and competitive weekend.
“It’s very new to us, but I’m going to try my hardest and I’ve got SEAT Sport helping me and they’ve got a lot of experience with that installation, so hopefully we can be competitive and bag some points. Everyone knows I can race well, so you never know, something good might come out of it.
“Obviously I want Darryl to do the best he can with the other engine too. It’s definitely showed its potential with Tarquini’s outing, so hopefully there’ll be no new issues and Darryl can get out there and hopefully I can be competitive in the TDI engine.”
Tom is one of four drivers to have made the switch to the world championship from the BTCC over the winter. He explained what attracted him to return to a series he previously raced in in 2009.
“It’s the competition; it’s that more manufacturers are involved in it and for me it’s that I’ve been sat in a SEAT for so long now and they’re hoping to come back as a full manufacturing team next year, we’ve got a good opportunity to show them what we can do.”
Unfortunately for the fans in the UK, this new wave of interest has unfortunately coincided with the first season that won't see the WTCC visit British soil, something that Tom is naturally saddened by for a number of reasons.
“I’m disappointed, especially as I know the British tracks like the back of my hand,” he said. “Not having the opportunity to race in the UK this year is also disappointing for the sponsors and for the British fans as well. But that’s what they’ve decided on and there’s not a lot we can do.”
Despite this, there's still the chance that we could see Tom and the team racing in the BTCC this year.
“I’d love to if I got time to have a race,” he said. “We’ve not shut the door on the BTCC, drives are still available. We’re growing as a team, not just me as a driver and I think going into the future hopefully we’ll be doing both World and British championships.”
Tom and the Special Tuning crew were still fairly new to touring cars when they took part in 2009 under the SUNRED banner having graduated from the SEAT Leon Eurocup support series. Two years since in the BTCC which included a race win at Knockhill mean they're in a better position this time around.
“We’re definitely better prepared than in ’09 and more experienced,” said Tom. “Having the two years in the BTCC, we’ve built up a great team and gained even more experience with SEAT touring cars and we’re in a strong position to do well this year.”
Finally we asked Tom about his targets for this year, which have been made a little tricky by missing the Monza races.
“It was to win the Independents’,” he said. “Things haven’t started the way we wanted them to though! No engine in the first round and I’m running a TDI for the second, it’s not the ideal start, but you never know it’s a long championship. There’s still time, anything can happen, so yeah the target has to the Independents’.”
With thanks to Tom Boardman and Andy Champness for making this interview possible.