by Russell Atkins
Tom Chilton is aiming to showcase his versatility in 2007, as the British Touring Car Championship star takes to the wheel of an Arena Motorsport-run LMP1 Zytek in selected rounds of the Le Mans Endurance Series.
The 21-year-old has previous sportscar experience which he will be hoping to put to good use during the forthcoming campaign, as he bids to lay down his marker for a possible future career in the discipline. Here he explains how he sees the year ahead panning out...
Tom, you will be competing in the Le Mans Endurance Series this year. Tell us a bit about that.
Yeah. The project is run by Arena Motorsport who ran me a couple of years ago and who I raced with for three years in the BTCC in a Honda Civic Type-R. I will be in a Zytek LMP1, similar to what I raced a couple of years ago, though I haven't driven the new-spec car yet. It's got different tyres and downforce and a bigger engine - it's gone from I think a four-litre V8 to a 5.7-litre V8 or something like that. It's a quick car, a lot quicker than a BTCC machine.
Two years ago I did five LMES races and won two of them with Hayanari Shimoda as my team-mate. At this stage I can't really talk too much about team-mates, but I think it's a great series and it will be good for me to get some more races under my belt in it. I feel I'm still learning as I've only done five races in the championship, and I feel there's definitely more to come from me as a driver. I can't wait to get out there with those guys, learn a bit more and hopefully get a couple more wins under my belt too.
As you say you know the team from beforehand, and to a certain extent you know the car as well. How much of a benefit will that be?
Huge. Whenever you move to a new team and you don't know a few people there it's always tough to start off with because you have to learn about everyone, but if you can go back to a team you've known for a long time everyone already knows how you tick. You can go out there, do a few laps, come back in and say this, that and that and bang, it's done - you can literally get straight back out onto the track again. It's great. I will be with a team I know and a car I sort of half know. I know roughly what the car does, where it spits you out on corners. I've been there and done that. It should be like riding a bike - I should be able to get back in the car and it will just click.
Does your LMES schedule take in all the races on the calendar, including the Le Mans 24 Hours?
Fingers crossed. At the moment I think it's looking like I'm only going to do a couple of races in the endurance series, because a lot of them clash with BTCC rounds. I would obviously like to do all of them but I don't think that's going to happen. It's early days yet. I can't talk too much about it, but I would love to do the Le Mans 24 Hours. It would be great if I could go there and get it under my belt; it's one of the few things I haven't done and I would really like to do it so I can pull out that card if I ever need to do it again.
So the sportscar route is something you would consider going down full-time once you wind down your career in touring cars?
I would love to, yeah. The BTCC is great fun; I really enjoy it and it's a great career for me at the moment, but sportscars are my ultimate goal, where I would really like to be. That's where I see my future. Whether it's next year or ten years away I don't know, but I would love to be in sportscars. I think they're awesome. My little brother Max is just going into British F3, and I would love in the future for us to do Le Mans together. I think it would be quite cool if we could do that as brothers. It's a very prestigious event; it's not easy even to finish it let alone get on the podium, but that's where I see my future.