by Russell Atkins

The British Touring Car Championship's youngest-ever race-winner Tom Chilton endured a frustrating season in the series last year, but with a change of car and a year's extra experience under his belt, he is now ready to really make his mark in 2007.

The Surrey ace made history in 2004 when he triumphed at Silverstone aged just 19, beating the previous record set by James Thompson almost ten years earlier. Although he invariably held his own against esteemed multiple European title-winning team-mate Fabrizio Giovanardi in 2006, he failed to add to that victory tally, something he is extremely keen to put to rights during the forthcoming campaign...

Q:
Tom, how is testing with the new Vectra going so far?

Tom Chilton:
It's early days yet. We have had a few teething problems which are to be expected with a brand new chassis. We got back from Valencia last week from a World Touring Car Championship general test. Unfortunately we couldn't compare anything because when we were there the WTCC guys had Yokohama tyres on and we were on Dunlops, which are completely different. We've got a lot more still ahead of us; there's definitely more time in the car. You always have to think positive. No one ever does an interview and says 'no mate, it's going to be a really bad year'. We are always positive, and that's how we have to be.

Q:
How does the new Vectra compare to the Astra you raced in 2006? Was there an impression that was coming towards the end of its life cycle last year?

TC:
I actually thought we were doing quite well at the end of the year. In the last two rounds it stepped up its game and in the very last race I went from 23rd to third, but for sure it's time for a change. We are moving on with the Vectra; on paper it's a much better car. It's wider and longer than the Astra was, and has independent wishbone suspension. The aerodynamics on the car are better too. We just need to turn it from a good road car into a good racing car.

Q:
What are the major differences between the Vectra and Astra from what you have seen so far?

TC:
The driveability; the Vectra is definitely easier to drive than the Astra was. Because the Astra had a solid rear beam it was always picking up an inside rear wheel, and you are putting quite a lot of diagonal pitch across the car. That overheats the front tyres, which is not what you want on a front-wheel-drive car! That's one of the main differences - the driveability is a lot easier because it's more stable. When you have a wider car it's going to be more stable and better on the brakes. Having the independent wishbone suspension means it will be better over kerbs too, and in England we have quite a few kerbs!

Q:
Looking back on last year - your first season with Vauxhall - how do you feel it went overall? You never got the race win you came so close to on a number of occasions, but how pleased were you with the campaign all-told?

TC:
I think I led for something silly like 60 miles! It was quite a long way to lead for and not win, but there was always something that happened. It was a tough year; it was frustrating. It was good that Vauxhall got their 100th win though, and this year I'm hoping will be a lot better. As I said the Vectra is better on paper, and I'm really looking forward to getting a win for Vauxhall.

Q:
Do you feel more established within the team now that you're heading into your second year with them?

TC:
Yeah. Last year was a big learning year. There are 30 people in the team or something like that, and you need to learn what everyone does and how they all think. When you come in and talk to your engineer, saying you've got this problem or that problem, this is good, I've got this feeling here...at first he is writing it all down because he isn't quite sure. It's not that he doesn't believe you; he just isn't sure. By the end of the year, though, you know how everyone ticks and I started going really well with the car. We've now had a good winter and have managed to make a couple of really good changes on the Vectra. They're all good steps in the right direction.

Q:
Your team-mate Fabrizio has been one of the top touring car drivers in the world for several years now. You fared pretty well against him last year didn't you?

TC:
Yeah, he's a good lad. He is a nice guy and he's very quick. He has won a lot of championships. Last year I was slightly quicker, I think six times out of ten in qualifying, but in the races he ended up getting the wins and he beat me in the points, so there's a bit of a feeling of it being the young fast guy and the older more experienced one. I think this year with a bit more experience behind me now it will be better for me in the championship.

Q:
So taking an overall view of the season ahead, what would you say your aims and objectives are?

TC:
To get a win, definitely. I want Vauxhall to win the championship. Last year we had Matt Neal win which was great, but it happened the year before as well so that's now two consecutive years Honda have won the championship and I can imagine Vauxhall don't like that very much. They are a very successful manufacturer, and I believe Fabrizio and I can give everyone out there a real good run for their money this year.

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