Tom Chilton heads into 2017 as the first driver to be able to compete in both the British and World Touring Car Championships at the same time, thanks to no clashes in either series calendars, but the 32-year-old expects to narrow his focus to just one from next year.
Chilton will drive for both Sébastien Loeb Racing in the WTCC, and for Power Maxed Racing in the BTCC, and will debut the new Vauxhall Astra at Brands Hatch in two weeks’ time.
The last driver to take part in a significant mix of both championships was James Thompson. The fellow Brit competed in four out of ten race weekends for Alfa Romeo in the WTCC’s predecessor, the ETCC, while on his way to the BTCC drivers’ championship with Vauxhall.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Chilton to TouringCarTimes. “We’re on the back foot (with the Vauxhall), as changing the wheelbase massively changes the characteristics of the car. We bolted the Chevrolet bits on the Astra to run a similar set-up to Hunter Abbott and Dave Newsham (last year), and it was not very good to drive because the wheelbase is much shorter. We’re having to do a lot of changes to get the car more driveable.
“We’ve made big improvements in the very little running (we’ve had). I think we should get to the sharp end of the grid which is very exciting.”
Speaking about why he chose to take part in both championships this year, the 2011 BTCC independents’ champion explained:
“Commercially it seemed like the right thing to do. You have to look to the future, not just this year. This year it’s good for me to do it, and I have more free time now I’ve separated from my wife, so I can do it. I think next year, I don’t know if the World Touring Cars or the British Touring Cars is going to be the better championship. I love both of them, my heart’s in both of them. I can’t separate either of them, but I’m sure by the end of this year there will be one that’s better for me in the future.”
The Briton last raced in the BTCC in 2011, driving Arena Motorsport’s Super 2000 specification Ford Focus and has never driven a current specification British Touring Car, previously known as NGTC.
“The cars have changed a lot,” said Chilton. “I was quite shocked how much slower they are than a World Touring Car; genuinely shocked. As it’s been five years since I’ve driven a British Touring Car, I can’t compare in my mind the old S2000 cars to an NGTC car. In my mind, the S2000 car was so much faster, but my body has acclimatised to something which is basically a GT car on drugs.”
Chilton set the fourth fastest time in his Citroën C-Elysée over the two-day test for the WTCC at Monza last week, although the Volvos opted to only run transponders on selected laps on Wednesday, hiding their true pace. While in the Vauxhall on Thursday at Donington Park, he finished eighth quickest.