Coronel switches sides
10 January 2011
Tom Coronel will be back in the World Touring Car Championship in 2011 but, instead of the SEAT with which he has become familiar in recent season, the 38-year old will be racing a BMW 320 TC entered by Italian team ROAL Motorsport.
Having achieved success with the SEAT, the move was not one taken lightly by the Dutch veteran, but Coronel admits that he could not pass up the opportunity to work with touring car legend Roberto Ravaglia, who heads up the ROAL operation.
“Every winter, it is thrilling to look for opportunities for the next race season," Coronel commented, "Especially in the World Touring Car Championship, the number of available drives is limited and as a driver, you always hope to be in again. For me, driving a BMW 320 TC with the new 1.6-litre turbo engine for ROAL Motorsport is a new step in my career.
"The brand is not new to me as I already raced a Carly Motors-BMW in the European Touring Car Championship in the past. But, after that, I competed in the WTCC with SEAT for six years with many nice results and two Independents' titles. Now, a new chapter is about to begin.
"It all started with a phone call by Roberto Ravaglia asking me to come to Italy. There, we did a deal pretty soon. The plan for the team is to run one car in the FIA WTCC, where I can work with an entire team with several mechanics and engineers. Of course, our aim is to win races and to compete for the title. That can certainly be achieved. The team is very experienced and determined and has won races in the WTCC with Alex Zanardi and Sergio Hernandez not too long ago. Moreover, there will be plenty of opportunities for testing. All this is making me very confident that we can race for victories this year.
"I have the feeling that I won the Italian lottery and hit the jackpot! This is so great to work with the ROAL team and especially Roberto Ravaglia. I even raced with him in the early nineties. The ROAL team I know for many years, the ETCC and later the WTCC, this is a race winning team! What also helps is that the Roberto raced himself and does have a lot of experience as a racing driver and now as a team owner. This improves the communication, understanding and technical know-how inside the team. The most important thing after that is the Italian racing blood, this is unique and an experience by itself. "
In accordance with the regulations for the upcoming season, the rear-wheel driven McGregor, TW Steel and Stickerfix-backed BMW will be powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, developed by BMW Motorsport, and Ravaglia shares Coronel's enthusiasm.
“The comeback in FIA WTCC, alongside the commitment in the Superstars Series, will constitute a rich sporting programme that makes ROAL Motorsport the only team present in both the two most important touring International championships," he noted, "Lately, we worked hard on the organisation of all human and technical resources within the team to guarantee the maximum autonomy to both activities and the contribution of a fast and well-experienced driver like Tom Coronel will be a further added value for the team. The technical package devised by BMW Motorsport is certainly interesting and I believe it will allow customer teams to aim at high level results".
With Coronel opting for a different route for the upcoming season, SEAT Netherlands took time to reflect on the 130 WTCC races they enjoyed together, and the 2006 and 2009 Independents' Trophy titles they shared.
The pairing started out with a SEAT Toledo Cupra in 2005, entered under the banner of 'SEAT Team Holland' by the GR Asia outfit, led by Briton Paul Ridgway. Third place for Coronel in the second race at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium was the best result of the season, and the Toledo lasted a few rounds into 2006, before being replaced by a SEAT Leon from Brands Hatch. In his maiden race with the new car, running a patriotic black-and-orange livery, Coronel immediately became the best-placed privateer driver and, at the end of that season, sealed the Independents' championship title. The best season result was another third place, in the final round of the season at the Macau street circuit.
In 2007, Coronel again raced the Leon, still run by GR Asia, with fourth places at the Porto street circuit and Anderstorp in Sweden the highlights of the year, before a switch to the Spanish SUNRED team for 2008 produced a strong runners-up finish at Oschersleben and, better still, an historic maiden victory in the race at Okayama.
In 2009, Coronel was allowed to compete in the Independents' Trophy for the first time since his 2006 success - and duly won the title. The best achievement of the season was fourth place in the first race at Oschersleben, before a switch from petrol to diesel power for 2010 produced a pair of podium finishes with second place at Monza and third place in Marrakesh.
“On behalf of SEAT Netherlands, all employees and the SEAT dealer network in our country, I sincerely would like to thank Tom Coronel for the co-operation in the past years,” managing director Bram Leijten said, “With his commitment and his achievements, Tom has significantly contributed to the awareness and the sporting image of our brand in The Netherlands. Moreover, in all these years, he has given us many exciting moments when we followed him during the races, both at the track and in front of the television screens. We wish Tom all the very best for his future career.”
Coronel also looked back on the SEAT era with satisfaction.
“A really special chapter in my career is now coming to an end,” he admitted, “For me, SEAT is the brand with which I have enjoyed the longest relationship. Over the years, we have become something like a family. I really like to thank SEAT Netherlands and the entire SEAT organisation for the support I have received and the special experiences I have made. Of course, my victory in Japan in 2008 and my two Independents' championship titles in 2006 and 2009 are the memories that stand out in particular.”