Tom Chilton begins a new chapter of his racing career when he makes his World Touring Car Championship debut with Team Aon at the 2012 season opener at Monza this weekend.
Believe it or not it was ten years ago that Chilton made his British Touring Car Championship debut as a fresh-faced teenager. He's now relishing the opportunity for a fresh challenge.
“I'm really looking forward to it,” says the 26-year-old. “After spending ten years racing in the British Touring Car Championship I think I've already raced against a lot of the grid in the WTCC! The main challenge I'm expecting this season is racing on new circuits. I've not raced at about 80% of them so I have no experience. Even though it's going to be a steep learning curve, I can't wait to hit the track.”
Tom explained that its status as a world championship was what lured him to the WTCC.
“The WTCC is the pinnacle of touring cars, it's an FIA supported championship and is watched by so many fans all over the world,” he said. “For me it also presents a new challenge in my racing career which I'm not only looking forward to, but feeling more than ready for.”
The team have been busy testing in Spain and Portugal in recent weeks as they develop the revised Global Ford Focus and its new 1.6 litre turbocharged engine from Mountune. The tests have been very positive, enthuses Tom.
“Testing has gone really well, it's been hugely productive for everyone in the team. Every time we go out on track we make the car faster – even just by making small changes. To be able to see improvements from very small changes to the car is very promising for a driver.”
Tom is confident that the car will be competitive from the off, although he does admit that a lack of track knowledge will hold them back.
“The Ford Focus is one of the newest cars which will be lining up on the grid – we all know it's a proven race winner so there's no reason it won't be competitive on the world stage. We don't have any experience of the tracks so for a lot of the rounds we'll be spending our time learning which the other teams won't have to do. But I'm happy with the car and I enjoy driving it so hopefully we'll have some great battles with the other teams this year.”
Tom will be partnered at Team Aon this year by James Nash, a former BTCC rival and the man who succeeded him as independents' champion last year. Now sharing the same garage, Tom looks forward to working with him during the season.
“We're getting on really well. Having competed against James in the BTCC we already know each other so we have a good base to work from! It's great that Team Aon have the two most recent BTCC Independent Driver Champions in the team – I think James and I will really be able to get the most from the Global Ford Focus.”
The WTCC circus will take Tom to a number of new circuits in 2012, but there are two dates in particular that stand out for him.
“Suzuka and Sonoma. Suzuka because I've never been to Japan before and the track has such a rich history having hosted Formula One. So many legendary drivers have competed there so I can't wait to go and race around the track for myself. And Sonoma because I think there will be a great battle there between us and the Chevys on American soil.”
Moving onto expectations for the season, Tom has his eyes on mixing it with the top six as the campaign goes on.
“Ideally I just want to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can,” he said. “I'd like to be within the top ten for the first round and then in the top six throughout the season. I believe the car is capable of it so it'll just be a case of bringing everything together as quickly as possible.”
Finally, Tom has some words for the BTCC fans who'll miss him this year, particularly with Austria's Salzburgring being the closest round to the UK this season.
“Obviously we'll miss you too! It's been great to see so many dedicated fans in the pit lane over the past ten years, especially recently with Team Aon where the support has been absolutely incredible. I hope you'll follow our progress in the WTCC – obviously without a British round it's a little bit more difficult – but we've loved your support in the past and hope some British fans make it to a WTCC round this season.”