Photo: WTCC Media

Arena International Motorsport closes its doors

WTCC team Arena International Motorsport, known on the grid as Team Aon, is closing down and will not be present on the grid in the 2013 season, potentially removing the Ford brand’s cars from the grid.

Littlehampton-based Arena International Motorsport were written to last week by Companies House with a proposal for them to be stricken off their books as a company that’s no longer deemed to be in operation.

TouringCarTimes understands that the team is formally being wound down, as the Capsicum Motorsport Group, which fully owns the team as well as top single-seater outfit Carlin Motorsport, focuses on its single-seater programmes and Max Chilton’s Formula One drive with Marussia in 2013.

The Capsicum Motorsport Group is owned by Grahame Chilton, the father of touring car driver Tom Chilton and his racing brother Max.

Tom Chilton, who recently announced he will become a father later this year, is effectively left without a drive at present, whilst a large sponsorship package from Aon will put his younger brother Max behind the wheel of one the Marussia team’s cars in this year’s Formula One season.

Arena’s other driver in 2012, James Nash, has already signed with leading independent outfit bamboo-engineering for the 2013 WTCC season.

Arena was formed by Mike Earle in late 1997 and competed in the 1999 British Touring Car Championship season, running an ex-works Renault Laguna for Russell Spence and later Will Hoy. Despite only competing in six rounds of the season, Hoy was able to hoist himself into third place in the privateers’ standings behind Matt Neal and Mark Blair, with two wins in the privateers’ category.

In 2002, Arena returned to the BTCC in the post-Super Touring era, representing Honda as a manufacturer team with a pair of seventh-generation Honda Civics for Alan Morrison and future World Champion Andy Priaulx. With Priaulx leaving for the ETCC in 2003, the team expanded to three cars, adding Matt Neal to the team and beginning their long association with the Chilton family, with then 18-year-old Tom Chilton joining the team from Barwell Motorsport.

The team was stripped down to a one car effort in 2004 with just Tom Chilton driving, and then continued as an independent with the now ageing Civic in 2005, again with just one car for Chilton. The team also worked on a sports car programme with Zytek in this period, before returning to the BTCC in 2009 with the Mk.II Ford Focus. Results weren’t forthcoming early in the season, though a link-up with Mountune engines half-way through the year saw the results begin to improve, with Chilton taking a shock pole position at the season finale at Brands Hatch, and lost the race by just 0.015 seconds to Jason Plato at the line.

A controversial switch to LPG power, coupled with a S2000-spec turbocharged engine saw the team right at the forefront of the Championship battle in 2010, with Tom Chilton lifting the independent drivers’ title, whilst team-mate Tom Onslow-Cole was also in contention for the overall drivers’ title up until the final round.

In 2011 the team chose to develop the new Ford Focus Mk.III for the BTCC, with Andy Neate joining Tom Chilton at the team, with Tom Onslow-Cole rejoining the squad half-way through the year.

The team were known to be looking at making the jump to the WTCC throughout the season though, and during the winter break the team confirmed their intentional to run two Ford Focuses, with some support from the US manufacturer in the season, with Tom Chilton and 2011 BTCC independents’ champion James Nash driving for the team, though former ETCC & BTCC champion Fabrizio Giovanardi had also been attached to the project.

The team had a tough start to the season, after finding their new suspension didn’t meet the FIA’s standards and were forced to carry a weight penalty until they installed a new one. Qualifying in the top ten at Marrakech put James Nash at the front for the reversed grid race two, giving the car some exposure, but he ultimately dropped to sixth place with the superior Chevrolets able to force their way through. A strong fourth place on the grid at the Slovakiaring was the qualifying highlight of the year for the team, but with Nash caught in an accident on the first lap, which also ruled him out of the second race, the race day itself was one to forget for the team.

The team’s approach was always that this was year one of a three-year programme, and that their season goal was to be finishing in the top ten, which they effectively achieved just three rounds in with Tom Chilton and James Nash scoring in Morocco. Ruled out of the independents’ championship due to the nature of their relationship with Ford, the team’s drivers could only score in the overall category, which saw James Nash finish in 20th place with 12 points and Tom Chilton in 22nd on seven, also scored in the first half of the season.

A number of top names had been linked with the team for the 2013 season, including Fabrizio Giovanardi and Alain Menu, as the team planned to expand to three cars.