Updated: Sep 5, 2020
The third instalment of my new feature.
For my next feature I am going to look at every driver who started my first ever British Touring Car Championship race and what they have achieved in their careers, both before and after.
As some of you may know, my first BTCC race was on the 30th March 2002 when my Dad and I went to the “Super Sunday” event at Brands Hatch, in which the touring cars were joined by the British GT championship as well as Formula 3.
I was only seven when I attended and immediately fell in love with touring cars, a passion which has failed to die down yet nearly eighteen years later!
The order I will be looking at the drivers will be the finishing positions of that race.
Tom Chilton was 17 when he made his BTCC debut for Barwell Motorsport in a Vauxhall Astra Coupe, claiming a podium finish in his first ever race. Amazingly Tom’s debut in the BTCC came before he had even passed his driving test. Since then Tom has spent the majority of his career in the BTCC however he also spent six seasons in the World Touring Car Championship.
Following Tom’s third place in the opening race of the day he was interviewed on the podium truck which used to go around the circuit at the end of each race. From then my dad and I have always looked out for Tom and how he fairs. While I was growing up, I was lucky enough to have some great conversations with Tom during race meetings I attended, resulting in memories I will never forget.
I was always, and still am, a very shy person, however I have always been able to talk to racing drivers, whoever they may be with ease, probably because it is the only thing I know anything about! I can only thank Tom for these memories as he, and many other drivers, helped develop my confidence as I grew up.
He was not only superb with me but also with the hundreds of other fans who ask him for autographs and pictures at each round the BTCC goes to, which ensures he has strong support at each event he attends. Another reason he has so many fans is his driving on track, which can be best described as utterly bonkers! It is highly unusual to see Tom in a straight line or indeed on all four wheels, something I, and many others, absolutely love.
My best memory of Tom’s driving is from 2004 when he found himself on two wheels all the way down Paddock Hill Bend at Brands Hatch, leaving the entire banking gasping as we all expected to see a rolling Honda Civic Type-R coming towards us! Amazingly he held it beautifully and even kept his position. What was even funnier was watching it back at home that evening and hearing commentators Ben Edwards and Tim Harvey screaming at the monitor at what was occuring in front of them.
Prior to his time in the BTCC first participated in the 1999 T Cars in the 1999 championship, aimed at drivers between the ages of 14 and 17. He continued in the class in 2000 before winning the BRSCC Saloon Car winter series in 2001 prior to moving up into touring cars.
Throughout the season Tom scored consistently, finishing with 24 points however 10 of those were lost due to an engine change ensuring he finished 17th in the standings. For 2003, Tom moved to Honda as a factory driver, in a Honda Civic Type-R run by Arena Motorsport, partnering the experienced duo of Matt Neal and Alan Morrison.
It was Tom’s first real test in the BTCC in a factory backed outfit, however Tom held his own finishing the season ninth with a best result of third at the opening weekend at Mondello Park.
Tom remained with Honda as they downsized to a one car entry for 2004, which proved to be a milestone year as he claimed his first win at Silverstone. Annoyingly, it was one of only three meetings I failed to attend as a fan, that year my dad and I managed to attend seven of the ten rounds, something I am very grateful to my Dad for.
I remember my dad and I talking to Tom at the following round at Oulton Park and joked about how we were gutted he won as we weren’t there! He won again at the final round of the season at Donington Park on his way to ninth in the championship.
Although Chilton continued with Arena Motorsport for 2005, they were now an independent entry as Honda withdrew from the Championship to focus on the WTCC. Tom finished a championship high of fifth with four wins despite competing in only eight rounds that season.
After three years in a Honda, Tom returned to Vauxhall for 2006, in a works Astra Sporthatch alongside Gavin Smith and the legendary Fabrizio Giovanardi, who made his series debut having raced in the WTCC for Alfa Romeo in 2005. After years of dominance 2005 was the first championship since 2001 that Vauxhall did not win and although 2006 showed signs of promise for all three drivers, the trio could not get the car in the sweet spot consistently. Tom finished the season seventh.
Tom remained with Vauxhall for 2007 as the team introduced the new Vauxhall Vectra for himself and Giovanardi, with the team scaling back to a two car entry. The new car suited Giovanardi much more than Tom, as the team built the car around the Italian’s style, and although once again Tom scored consistently, he finished the championship ninth with a best result of third as his teammate went onto win his first championship in Britain.
This would prove to be the end of Tom’s time with Vauxhall as he effectively swapped seats with Matt Neal, as the double champion left his family team to join Vauxhall, allowing Tom to fill the void at Team Dynamics. Tom partnered Scotsman Gordon Shedden and between them, they achieved three wins, with Tom winning the final race of the season at Brands Hatch in dominant fashion, ensuring he finished 10th in the 2008 standings.
2009 saw Tom return to Arena Motorsport heading an exciting new project involving Ford, as the “Blue Oval” returned to the BTCC for the first time since 2000. He was joined once again by Alan Morrison who last raced in the series in 2003.
It was an ambitious project which involved building and developing the cars from scratch, although they immediately gained attention for their stunning look. With testing limited Tom struggled at the start of the season as they effectively raced and tested all at once, however as the year went on Tom started to get to grips with the car as it evolved.
The final round of the season at Brands Hatch was a real breakthrough for Tom and the team, leading until the last corner, when the power steering sadly failed on the Ford, meaning he finished second by only a few hundredths of a second. I remember Tom coming into the pits after the race and jokingly clutching his shoulders in pain, describing the difficulty of driving a car with no power steering.
Although this was not Tom’s first podium of the season, it felt like a breakthrough moment heading into the 2010 season, as Tom was joined by Tom Onslow-Cole on a full time basis, following Onslow-Cole’s move to the team halfway through 2009.
The team moved away from conventional fuel for 2010 and became the first LGP powered team in BTCC history. With the Ford Focus now up to speed from the start, Tom was a consistent point’s finisher, the LPG fuel ensured they were fast in a straight line. This was proven at Silverstone, where Tom won twice ending 2010 fifth on 191 points.
2011 would prove to be Tom’s final season of his first stint in the BTCC, as Arena Motorsport switched to the global Focus. Tom was joined by Andy Neate, while Onslow-Cole rejoined the team halfway through the season. For me, the Global Ford Focus was one of the best looking BTCC cars of the modern era however with development still in the early stages Tom finished the season seventh with two wins, the second being the final round of the season.
2012 was the start of a new era for Tom has he moved away from what he knew and to the World Touring Car Championship, partnered by James Nash, who had won the 2011 Independents Championship on his way to fifth in the standings.
The duo were classed as a manufacture backed entry in the two Ford Focus cars used in the BTCC and although they are both very quick drivers they struggled against much more experienced competition. It would prove to be Arena Motorsport’s last ever campaign as the team closed down at the end of the 2012 season.
After a single season in a Ford, Tom moved to RML in 2013, the team which previously ran Chevrolet’s manufacture program. It was a much-improved showing for Tom who finished fifth as teammate, and 2003 BTCC Champion, Yvan Muller, claimed the title.
2013 was the last season where S2000 machinery was the dominant force as for 2014 the TC1 regulations were introduced. Tom moved to ROAL motorsport in an independent TC1 Chevrolet Cruze partnering Dutchman Tom Coronel. Up against new manufactures with huge budgets in the fast and expensive new category, the duo performed well as the fastest independents on the grid, with Coronel and Tom finishing seventh and eighth respectively in the standings.
More and more manufacture backed drivers started appearing by 2015, with dominant team Citroen entering five full time drivers. This meant independents struggled against the established names and despite the best efforts of Tom and Coronel they could not get their Chevrolet’s into the top 10 by the end of the season.
It was all change for Tom in 2016 as he left ROAL motorsport to join Sebastian Loeb Racing in a Citroen C-Elysee alongside Mehdi Bennani and Gregoire Demoustier. Despite being the early pacesetters in the TC1 era, by the time Tom had moved into the benchmark car, others were starting to catch up however despite Honda and Lada’s development Tom still finished the season a very respectable eighth claiming victory in Argentina.
Tom remained with Sebastian Loeb Racing for 2017 once again alongside Bennani and new recruit John Filippi. Sebastian Loeb Racing became Citroen’s sole team in the WTCC as the French outfit decided to withdraw at the conclusion of the 2016 season. This left Honda and Volvo as the only manufactures on the grid as Lada joined Citroen in leaving the series.
Tom pounced at the opportunity, winning three times on his way to third in the standings, his best season in the WTCC. It would also prove to be his last before the championship folded being replaced by the World Touring Car Cup.
As well as his WTCC commitments, Tom also returned to the BTCC in 2017, once again starting a BTCC era in a Vauxhall as he joined Power Maxed Racing, partnering rookie Senna Proctor in a pair of Vauxhall Astra’s. A lot had changed in the time Tom was away with NGTC regulations now dictating the series, it took Tom some time to get used to the lively new machinery and finished the season fifteenth with 100 points.
It would be his only season with Vauxhall as he moved to Motorbase for 2018 in a newly built Ford Focus RS. Motorbase and Tom worked superbly together last as he had his strongest season to date in the BTCC, finishing the season third and being involved in the title fight until the penultimate race of the season.
2019 saw Tom remain with Motorbase and although he did not hit the same heights he had done the season before, Tom still won once, finishing the season tenth in the standings with 200 points.
2020 sees Tom return to a Honda Civic Type-R once more as he has switched Motorbase for BTC Racing, joining Josh Cook and Michael Cress in a trio of FK8 machines. It is going to be fascinating to see how the team fairs with three cars and two very experienced drivers at the helm of the squad.
As I mentioned early on in this piece, I have been lucky enough to have some great conversations with Tom over the years, and like other drivers on the grid, he really helped me build my confidence when I was younger, something I must thank him for.
Additional image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/marco_ravaldi