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EXCLUSIVE Tom Chilton - Q&A

18 June 2013

Despite his relative youth, former British and current World Touring Car Championship front runner, Tom Chilton has been racing saloon cars since 1999, at a tender age of 14, and now, at 28, is in his second year in the FIA WTCC driving a Chevrolet Cruze for RML.

Chilton took time out from his busy schedule with his circuit experience company 'Hot Laps' to speak exclusively to Dexter Fielding about his career in motorsport...


Q:
If things hadn't worked out as a racing driver, what career path would you have taken instead?

Tom Chilton:
Now there's the 'million dollar question.' Other things that I was good at include playing the Saxophone or maybe even training to be a carpenter – I was always very good with my hands!

So, probably one of those two things - quite diverse and very different. I might even have become a gardener, I've got it in my blood, but I don't know. I'd rather play the sax or be a carpenter over a gardener.

Q:
How did you become a racing driver? What was your first involvement in motorsport?

Tom Chilton:
My Dad was a massive motorsport nut but, when I was about eight years old he and about three of his mates bought failed Ford Escort Mk2's for £75 each and they would race eachother every weekend.

It got to the point where at eight-and-a-half years old he said 'come on Tom, do you want a go?' So to make it a bit of a competition, I would race their wives and while doing that I was power-sliding and drifting from a young age, that is where it all kicked-off for me really.

Q:
Growing up, who were your racing heroes?

Tom Chilton:
I was at the age when Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell where winning every weekend when I watched on the TV, so probably those guys, but when I started racing professionally, Michael Schumacher was the fastest, so I thought he was the best.

Q:
You have been able to race many different cars over the last 12-13 years. What has been your favourite or most satisfying car to drive?

Tom Chilton:
The Chevrolet Cruze I currently race has to be the best touring car I've ever driven, just in terms of the development that it has had. Over a six year period it has had four very good drivers pass through it in the development stages. It is the most sophisticated car I've ever driven.

There is one car that stands out even more for me and that is my 2005 Honda Civic Type-R. I do honestly feel that I would have won the BTCC at 20 years old had I not missed six races that season; I ended up fifth that year. I feel that I would've had the legs over Matt Neal that year in his Honda Integra, which he ended up winning the championship in.

I remember we had no testing and turned up with the car at the second round of the year at Thruxton with dust on it as it was stuck in a stable barn and even had hay on it, we took it out of the box and stuck it on pole by half-a-second which was very satisfying, that was a great car which was, in a way, ahead of its time too.

Now with my experiences and knowledge of other things, we could've made it even faster, but that was a long time ago, a car that I have fond memories of.

Q:
With your experience racing in different series in the UK and round the world, what is your favourite circuit?

Tom Chilton:
That is a question I get asked a lot. I genuinely like all track's I go to, there isn't any particular circuit that I hate but there is one track where I get out and I am completely shaking, because of the amount of adrenaline flowing through my blood system and that is Macau.

The car is so on the edge, you are knocking off the wing mirrors on either side of the barriers, so you have to be careful. That track gives off such an adrenaline buzz.

Another track that I love and is such fun to drive is Knockhill and also Brands Hatch, because turn one at both tracks is similar. You just turn right and then it's a steep downhill drop, like a rollercoaster.

Q:
In your racing career so far, who has been your fiercest rival?

Tom Chilton:
The best touring car driver that I have worked with is my current team mate, Yvan Muller. I honestly don't think that anyone will beat him in the next twenty years, even though he is now over 40. I think he is the best touring car driver that has ever lived.

I have worked and raced with a lot of top drivers and with Muller, it is not necessarily his flat-out pace even though he is always so quick but the fact he gets every single corner perfect.

At Moscow Raceway in Q1, last weekend, I thought I was on top of my game. I was getting everything right and perfect, I thought that I was three tenths quicker than everyone else. No, I was only three-hundredths quicker than him, which is nothing and in Q2 I backed off at the wrong time and got caught up in a quick rain shower on that lap.

Yvan never makes mistakes. I will try and lap within a tenth of a second of my best time, Yvan will lap within hundredths of his best time, it's just that small bit every time which is better.

Q:
What has been your best race in your career so far?

Tom Chilton:
That is a tough one, as I have had many good races, many that stick out, but I think my first BTCC win at Silverstone in 2004. I was 19 years old and I went from tenth to first, I was helped a bit by Anthony Reid and Matt Neal holding each other up and at times 'Reidy' playing games and backing everyone up.

Very clever driver, but I fired it to the left just before the straight and got both of them. They ended up tangling and both went on the grass on the penultimate lap and I took my first race win.

Q:
Motorsport fans will know you for racing in the British and World Championship series; you have also competed in GT/Sports car racing. What other forms of racing would you like to do eventually in the future?

Tom Chilton:
In January 2006, just after I signed with Triple 888 racing as a works Vauxhall BTCC driver, part of the deal was that I could go to Australia and test a V8 Supercar, as they also ran a team over there. Roland Dane who ran the Aussie V8 team said 'Tom, you are very fast, but something in the back of my head tells me that you are too young to do Bathurst 24 Hours'.

In that year I had won Nurburgring 1000 KM from last in LMP1 class and also won at Laguna Seca, where I had qualified on pole, so, I had the speed, but he was worried that I didn't have the experience at that time, which is fair enough. So Aussie V8 Supercars, is something which I'd like to have a go at.

Q:
How does the World Touring Car Championship compare the British series?

Tom Chilton:
I think the World championship is a step up in terms of professionalism. The way the championship is run is ten times better than the British. The event organisers, Eurosport, do a very good job, it is covered in so many countries and I think there was something around 512 million viewers worldwide last season, which is just mental.

Like WTCC, the BTCC is very similar because they are both the best championships that you can get of their kind have very close racing with top drivers and professional teams.

There is something about the World championship which is just a class above; you have got to get the slipstreaming right as we go to longer circuits and you have to be quite tactical too. The Yokohama tyres are different too and you need to learn them, now I am used to them, I do enjoy racing on them.

I also like the locations where we race. I would never have gone to Moscow, had the Russian round not been on the calendar, so I can now say that I have been there, so it is good from that point of view too.

Q:
What are your thoughts about the next generation of WTCC car specification regulations, which could come into force as early as next year?

Tom Chilton:
It will be great if they do come in, but, obviously, I do not know what will happen to the current chassis' such as the BMW and SEAT cars, they might have to sell them onto somebody else to use them, unless they can divide the series into two championships.

When I first started in BTCC in 2002, there was class B alongside the main class A touring cars, so I think it would be good to incorporate something like that with the new regulation cars.

The new cars will have 60hp more, but still 1.6-litre engines and one inch bigger tyres with more focus on aero packages, a little bit like the British championship cars, but not 2.0-litre. They will have substantially more grip and power.

If they cannot do a class A/B system, they want each manufacturer to build around six cars each I believe? So there might be a 12 car grid for next year with the new specifications, so you don't know what is going to happen until it is all announced.

Q:
What are your goals and aims for the second half of the 2013 season?

Tom Chilton:
I just need a bit more luck. At each round, RML have told me what my goals are for the weekend. The last two rounds I have been first and second in terms of the top laptimes and challenging Yvan Muller and have gotten used to the car.

At Salzburgring I started from 16th, I managed to get up to seventh in eleven laps without making mistakes and at Russia this weekend; I went from twelfth to sixth. I've finally got my starts sorted out too, people don't know the technicalities behind getting the rolling start right, but it's harder than it looks to get it spot on.

So all I have to do is string the whole lot together and I will be up there and just need that bit of luck. I've got everything together and now that I understand the Chevrolet Cruze, I just need to put it all together.

The worst circuit for the Ford last year was Portimao where we qualified five seconds a lap slower than the front row guys. It was highly frustrating for all involved, not just for myself and James Nash. It was like racing in a different championship class. Sadly the class B not A.

This year for both of us revisiting circuits but racing in the Chevrolet, we leave the pit lane on cold tyres for the first lap out driving and will be at least three seconds a lap faster than last year on a low fuel load and new tyres running in qualifying trim. So this means I have to learn almost everything again at a faster pace and use different braking points and racing lines.

I love the challenge and I'm still looking forward to learning the circuits again for the rest of the season in the Cruze.

I'm happy with what I've done so far, just slowly building it up and not making many mistakes. Other than that, I've kept it on the black stuff, I've got the pace. I now just need a bit of luck.

Q:
And finally Tom, what do you think of your brother, Max's progress into motorsport?

Tom Chilton:
Max has done really well. He finished fourth in F3 at a very young age and also finished fourth in GP2, like with all drivers, he did have bad luck and you could also say drivers' excuses. He had two or three clutches break on him, so I think he could've finished as runner-up in that championship, which would've put him higher than Jenson Button before he made his switch to F1 at roughly the same age.

I know that Max has the pace. Last year in GP2, in the second half of the season, when his team, Carlin Motorsport, got to grips with the chassis, he was qualifying on the front row and won two races, so he has done really well.

In a way, he is a bit like me in WTCC; we've got the pace, but had extremely bad luck. I don't think Max's results have really reflected his true pace this season so far, due to a bit of bad luck that he has endured in the first seven races in his Formula One career.



To find out more about 'Tom Chilton's Hot Laps' visit the website - http://www.hot-laps.co.uk/index.html


by Dexter Fielding


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