What is the greatest challenge in the face of a racing driver competing in two major championships? Stay focused on each? The balancing of the pressure? Or may-be to familiarize themselves with different cars? Nope. The answer is much more simple.
“Jet lag,” says Tom Chilton, the world touring car driver Sébastien Loeb Racing and has recently confirmed British Touring car Championship returnee with a Maximum Power of Races. Chilton, who is back in the BTCC after an absence of five years, it is going to accumulate air miles this season. He will contest a total of 50 races: 30 in the BTCC spread over 10 weekends, and 20 in the fia WTCC in more than 10 events.
“This is the first time that this has been done already, in these two series, so I’m a bit of a guinea pig,” says the 31-year-old from Reigate in Surrey.
Chilton, who is the brother of former F1 driver, Max, broke into the BTCC in 2002, at the age of 17 years and finished third in his first race. Over the next decade, he has raced in the BTCC for Honda, Opel, Team Dynamics and Team Aon/Ford, amassing 12 wins and a best finish of fifth place in the championship.
In 2012, he won the WTCC with Team Aon and the series overall has been his home since, but he says he has unfinished business in the championship home. “My last BTCC race at Silverstone in 2011 and I have won by keeping Jason Plato behind me,” he said. “I want to come back as I finished it: the victory.”
He acknowledges that could be a challenge. Chilton will be driving a brand new Vauxhall Astra – “We only had two days of testing, so we’ll be on the back foot” – for a team who embarks on the most ambitious of the BTCC campaign to date.
Nevertheless, Chilton, believes that it can capitalize on the series ‘ unpredictable race. “The BTCC regulations have led to more overtaking and closer to the action,” he said. “If a car is carrying 75kg of success ballast during the execution of a hard tyre and another car is on the soft tyre option, without the extra weight, there will be a difference in lap times of about two seconds.”
This, says Chilton, is going to create many opportunities for the slots in the corners, and last minute overtaking moves. The BTCC is renowned for its hard, bumper-banging racing, and Chilton don’t think it will be a long time to remember all of the old stuff.
“After 10 years in the British Touring car Championship, you get to know how to drive. I’m pretty sure I still have bruises from 10 years – from Plato,” he laughed.
Although Chilton will be driving a new and unfamiliar car in the BTCC, he will enjoy greater consistency in the WTCC, where he spent a second term in office, Sébastien Loeb Racing and will pilot a Citroën C-Elysée WTCC, which is based on a sedan model sold in eastern Europe.
“I learned the car now [after the season 2016]. It is so different from any other thing,” he said. “It is five times more difficult to drive than any other race car I’ve driven.”
What this car needs to go fast, says Chilton, is a new technique that consists of taking every corner on the race track as it comes. “Basically, you do the same thing in most passenger cars,” he says, “but in the Citroen you need to get to every corner of the street and say: “What do I do to the steering and brakes for this particular corner?’.”
After a slow start to last season, Chilton has amassed five podiums including a victory in Argentina. That in 2017, may be another building year, it is looking to race in both the WTCC and the BTCC for more than one season.
“I’m fairly confident I can eventually win two championships in the same year, and I’ll be the first driver to do that,” he said. “I’ll let you know just how big the bags under my eyes after this season is over.”
Looking to the longer term, Chilton would like to compete in the category LM GTE in the 24 Hours of le Mans. He says he has been encouraged by the observation that former BTCC rival Andy Priaulx will compete in a Ford GT at the French race in 2016.
“The race in the GT category of The le Mans is on my bucket list,” says Chilton. “I was so happy when I saw Andy Priaulx in race at le Mans; I would very much like to have done.”
A decade ago Chilton attacked several endurance races in a prototype LMP1, but he concedes that his time in high-downforce racing cars is more. Even if it is just in his 30s, he says that he is “too old and not quite as lean as I used to be”.
Currently, he is where he wants to be. He says that his heart is in touring car racing, because of the proximity of the competition suits his style, and he feels proud to be back in a British series of the competition at the front of what he refers to as “the best fans in the world”.
Chilton 50-race schedule begins with the opening BTCC event at Brands Hatch on 1 and 2 April. As soon as the chequered flag falls on the final race at the Kent circuit, it will jump in a plane to Morocco to prepare for the first WTCC round on a semi-permanent street circuit in Marrakech. Seven days after that, it will align on the grid at Donington Park in the BTCC Astra once more. Before the month of April is over, it will turn its attention to the fia WTCC for the second event in Monza.
Chilton laughed out of any suggestion that fatigue could be a problem. “When I’m 60 years old, I can go back and do something more relaxing where I can race with one hand,” he said. “I am very excited about it. As long as I’m in the air or balance on two wheels in a race car, I’m happy.”