Two 5th place finishes and useful championship points were gained in the latest rounds of the BTCC at Donington. Tom overcame the disappointment of a non-finish in the first of the day’s races to put in a storming drive through the field in the second race and a solid performance in the third…….
The 2008 BTCC is proving to be one of the closest fought championships in years with so many car and driver combinations proving competitive. During the test sessions on Saturday the Team Halfords engineers and Tom worked towards achieving a good set up for the Honda Civic around the fast sweeping curves of the Donington circuit. Tom described the process;
“In the first session I had a little too much oversteer so we made changes which sent the car a bit too far the other way and gave me too much understeer. We’re talking very small, subtle changes which affect the way the car feels, how it’s balanced. In terms of lap time it may make only a few tenths of difference, but things are so competitive out there this year that a few tenths can make the difference between the front row and being tenth!”
For qualifying Tom expected a better balance, but still the car wasn’t handling perfectly. He went quicker than in practice, finding a tenth of a second, but this was only good enough for 7th place on the grid;
“We made some more changes and found time in the first and third sectors, but the car wasn’t good in sector two and that cost us time. 7th isn’t too bad and I think we’ve got a great race set-up so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Sunday’s first race didn’t produce any smiles though after a coming together with Matt Jackson took Tom off and forced his early retirement. After a good getaway and strong first couple of laps Tom was up to 5th place. Following a brief safety car period he was in a five-way battle for 2nd place with his Team Halfords team mate Gordon Shedden, the two SEATs and Matt Neal. Tom got baulked in the close battle allowing Neal through at the start of the 10th lap and now had his mirrors full of Jackson’s BMW. The pair ran side by side on a number of occasions but going down the Craner Curves it all went wrong as Tom explained;
“We had been very close over the whole of the previous lap and I made sure I gave him room, but down through the Craners he was alongside and although I again gave him the space through the left hand part, he just squeezed me going into the right hander at the bottom of the hill. I lifted off but had nowhere to go and we touched. I don’t know why he didn’t give me more room as I had given to him. We’re both racing and both want to beat the other guy but you don’t do that by trying to take someone off. It ruined my race and it ruined his as well.”
Tom’s damaged Honda was stranded in the gravel trap along with Jackson’s car and they were both out of the race. With your finishing position from race 1 determining where you start race 2, Tom would have his work cut out having to start 21st on the grid.
The weather was doing its best to disrupt the start of the second race as it started to rain while the cars were on the grid. The track was very slippery on the opening laps and Tom’s performance was nothing short of amazing. Getting his Honda off the line well was crucial as was avoiding the first corner incidents and by the end of the first lap Tom was already up to 10th place.
The safety car was deployed and with the rain getting harder several cars pitted for wet tyres. This promoted Tom to 8th and a clever move to pass Adam Jones a lap later moved Tom up to 7th. By half distance he had also found a way past Andrew Jordan to gain another place and with the rain continuing to fall he was closing on Matt Neal.
A three way battle ensued with Tom and Neal trying to find a way past Turner’s SEAT. The three were close at the start of the penultimate lap and as they exited the Old Hairpin Tom and Neal moved to the right of Turner and contact was made. Tom survived this time to take his Team Halfords Honda to 5th place at the flag and was extremely happy with his result;
“That was great fun! 21st to 5th. The car was fantastic, the team did an excellent job to fix it and set it up after the first race so I’m really grateful to them. The conditions made it quite tricky, especially in the early laps, but the Honda was predictable and quick enough so I could get past people.”
The draw for the reverse grid saw the top 9 reversed so Tom would start the third and final race of the day from 5th on the grid.
The rain fell again as the cars formed up on the grid making the opening laps treacherous. Tom didn’t get away well this time and dropped to 8th place by the end of the first lap. Next time around a couple of cars slid off promoting Tom to 6th and then 5th place was his following Steven Kane incurring a drive through penalty.
Tom’s slow start meant the leading group of four cars had got away from him, but as the rain eased and the conditions improved he pushed to catch them. By lap 12 Tom had closed the gap down and was fully joined in the battle with the Vauxhalls and SEATs in front. Over the closing six laps Tom tried to find a way past Fabrizio Giovanardi but he couldn’t find enough of an advantage anywhere to get past. So at the flag it was another 5th place finish and some more useful points.
Tom was reasonably happy, despite the non-finish in the first race as he reflected on his weekend;
“Obviously I always start a race meeting hoping for wins, or at least podiums and two 5th places are hardly that. But when you look at our performance over the weekend we have been competitive and it’s so close now in the BTCC. We still need to find a little bit more though to be able to run consistently at the front. In some areas the Team Halfords Honda is very strong already so we know where to focus on and hope we can keep improving. I’m looking forward to the next rounds at Thruxton. I love the place and the Honda usually goes well there so I’m hoping the target of wins and podiums can be achieved.”Click here for the Tom Chilton web site - designed and built by Racecar