Tom Onslow-Cole has scored more than any other driver in the past three rounds, and finds himself the leading independent at the midway stage. TouringCarTimes spoke to Tom about his strongest start to a BTCC season to date.
TcT: You’re fourth in the championship at the half way mark – how does that compare with your pre-season expectations?
“I can’t even remember what I said at the start of the season now, it seems so long ago. I think that you always go out their aiming to win, for sure when you look at the start of any season realistically and have got the right equipment, you should be in with a shout, and if you don’t believe that at the start then you’ll never achieve that.”
“To be where we are at the moment having overcoming quite a few problems that we had is pretty good. I’m happy, I think we’ve built a solid foundation to launch a really good attack.”
“It hasn’t all gone our way this year. We had a few problems to start with, the car wasn’t as quick as we thought it would be…and credit to the team they’ve worked flat out on getting that pace back for us.”
TcT: If it hadn’t been for the poor start of the season, you’d probably find yourself leading the championship now. You’re only 22 points behind the lead, do you think you can maintain that charge to challenge for the title?
“It’s so early to start talking about the championship, as you only need one bad round, but we’re up there at the moment, in the hunt I guess. Though 22 points isn’t massive, it’s been so tight over the last few rounds it’s been very hard to close that gap.”
“I think we’re not going to look at the championship too hard, the team’s championship is very important to us – so it’s important over the next few races we try and get both drivers at the top and then we’ll see where we’re at with the drivers championship.”
TcT: Obviously it was a bit of a disruptive test last week, have their been many improvements to the car made during the break?
“To be honest, we haven’t had many developments on the car, just tweaks in set-up. We’ve been looking quite hard at the set-up of the car and trying to maximise it’s strong points and try and improve it’s weak areas – and for Tom Chilton at least that kind of worked at Snetterton, we had a bit of a bad day but that happens.”
“We were quick out of the box in the morning, then I made an unforced error, I made a mistake coming through Coram, and I went off. Nothing big, I just lost the back end, then I held it, but went wide onto the grass. It’s so bumpy there and you’re doing 120-125mph, it did quite a lot of damage to the front splitter and the intercooler and that put me out for the rest of the morning…when I got back on the track in the afternoon it was wet.”
TcT: One of the main concerns for you must be the possibility that TOCA may place further restrictions on your car, they’ve already made one adjustment this year, does the threat of that affect the way you’re approaching the races?
“Not really. We have got a small straight line speed advantage but over a lap it’s lost, if you look at the qualifying times this year they’ve all been so so close – so I don’t think we have an advantage a moment over a lap, but TOCA are obviously closely monitoring us. Hopefully they won’t put any more restrictions on us, but if that does happen than that happens and we’ll have to deal with that when and if.”
“As for approaching the weekends, no – it’s always the same way I always have done, obviously going there to win is the first thing, but now the championships coming into play you drop the idea of winning and you’re just looking to come out of each weekend the highest points scorer, that means more to your championship than just taking the silverware from winning.”
TcT: It’s safe to say the Team Aon LPG Focus isn’t the most popular car on the grid with some drivers, that’s particularly down to the speed advantage with the turbo, which has got several people crying foul, but you seem to be handling the criticism better than many other drivers that have been in a similar position. Why is that?
“I don’t know, I’m just the driver” responded Tom jokingly.
“There has been a lot of people moaning about it, but at the end of the day the car was built to the regulations and we’re not running away with it, we’re fourth and ninth in the championship – we’re not leading the team’s. We are leading the independents’ championship which is fantastic – but it’s not like we’re blitzing everything out there. We’ve won three races out of fifteen so far, so realistically they haven’t got a lot to complain about, but as it is with this sort of competition, if there’s any reason to complain teams and drivers will, to build their case early on.”
“At the moment, we seem to be dealing with it okay, all the drivers get on quite well, and like I said before, I didn’t build the car, I just drive it, so that can deflect some of it from me.”
TcT: What is your expectation now for the last part of the year?
“I’ve mentioned the teams championship is very important to us, to be leading the independents’ is something obviously I do not want to lose, I’d like to carry that all the way through, and I guess quietly in the back of my mind you’ve got the main drivers championship as well, so we’re trying to look on all fronts but concentrating on the teams for now.”
TcT: So in a race, if you’re in third, and you’ve got Matt Neal & Gordon Shedden in front of you, you’re the leading independent, are you going to try and pass them?
“It’s really hard to say, depends on the situation, I’ve had a few opportunities this year where I’ve chosen not to do certain moves for risking the championship. I think while you’re leading the independents’ championship you don’t want to lose sight of that.”
“You have got to bear in mind if you do risk something then you could potentially damage that win – but I think you race like that all the time anyway, whether you try to go for a move and lose out and damage your car you’re going to be losing points in both championships, so I think you just keep the same head the whole way through and just assess each move before it happens, plan it and execute it thoroughly.”