It was seemingly going to be a two class event at the Norfolk venue with the diesel turbo SEATs benefiting from a huge torque advantage over the majority petrol engined field. From the first free practice session on Saturday morning it was clear that the SEATs had a performance advantage around the fast Snetterton circuit. The battle was on to be the best of the petrol engined cars and Tom along with his Team Halfords team mate Gordon Shedden was at the sharp end with Gordon 3rd and Tom 6th fastest. The places were covered by just tenths of a second and this was the case in the second practice session and also in the afternoon’s qualifying session.
Tom found a little more performance from his Honda Civic in qualifying, moving up to 5th and again just fractions of a second covered the top places, behind the all conquering oil burning diesels. It was going to be a very close fought race, although the SEATs at this stage, as expected, seemed in a class of their own.
From 5th on the grid, Tom made a fantastic start in the first race of the day and going round the outside of his team mate, snatched 3rd place as the field streamed through the first corner. As they completed the first lap the safety car was deployed and everyone had to wait for five laps while debris was cleared. When the race resumed Tom held his place and tried his best to stay with the two leading SEATs. That’s the way it stayed all the way to the chequered flag. By lap 11 the SEATs had opened up a gap of just over a second to Tom in 3rd and he held a similar advantage to his team mate in 4th. Over the closing laps Tom was able to take some encouragement from the fact that the SEATs hadn’t walked away as everyone had expected. Tom had got the gap down to half a second at the end and he had won the ‘petrol’ class !
Another fantastic start in race two and this time Tom managed to split the SEATs, slotting into second place at the first corner. The diesel’s superior torque allowed Turner back past on the long back straight, but Tom didn’t give up, instead he carried awesome speed through the Bombhole and Coram pulling alongside Turner into the braking area for Russell and 2nd place was his again. It was almost inevitable that the SEAT would come back past on the straight again, but this time there was contact and Tom suffered a puncture to his left rear tyre. He had to pit at the end of the lap and rejoined down in 20th place. A safety car period in the second half of the race closed up the field again and allowed Tom to gain some places back before the end. He eventually crossed the line in 15th place.
That would mean an 8th row start on the grid for the final race of the day and Tom didn’t waste any time making up places. By the end of the first lap he was 12th, second lap 11th and by lap 5, benefiting also from problems for the dominant SEATs, he was up to 9th place.
Tom had already made some great overtaking moves, but he was up against quicker competitors now and he had to use all of his pace and experience to progress further. Next up was Stephen Jelly in the Team RAC BMW, Tom diving down the inside at Sear to take 8th place. Another BMW next, that of Rob Collard, and Tom passed him with a fantastic move around the outside at the high speed Esses. Now 7th and with six laps remaining Tom was catching the other Team RAC BMW of Colin Turkington. Tom was half a second a lap quicker than Colin and for the final three laps was all over the Irishman. By now the tyres had gone well past their best and although Tom got close he never had enough grip to pass and had to settle for the 7th place finish, happy to have made up so many places from his 15th place on the grid.
“ It’s been a good weekend even with the puncture, because I know how strong we’ve been”, Tom explained later. “ In terms of competitiveness this has been my best weekend of the season so far. I could have had two podiums not just the one and it shows the progress that’s been made with the car. Everyone has worked really hard over the six week break and it has paid off. Obviously I was disappointed with the second race puncture, but apart from that I’ve really enjoyed it. That final race was a real adrenalin buzz and I can’t wait for Oulton Park. I know that we’ll be very strong there.”
Those next races at Oulton Park in Cheshire take place in two weeks time on Sunday 27th July.Click here for the Tom Chilton web site - designed and built by Racecar