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The rekindled BTCC partnership trying to scale new heights

Tom Chilton has seen it all and done it all when it comes to touring cars. The Excelr8 Motorsport driver gives his take on how the discipline has changed over his career, his outlook for the upcoming British Touring Car Championship campaign and on why reuniting with an old race engineer can lead to fresh success

Tom Chilton, Bristol Street Motors with EXCELR8 Hyundai i30 N Fastback

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

I was never a small boy. I was Mr Round. I was huge, so big I couldn’t fit in a kart! Tillett, who made the seats, couldn’t make one big enough for me to fit in. So I started off drifting Ford Escort Mk2s at eight years old, and at that age we went with family friends to Brands Hatch to watch the British Touring Car Championship. I absolutely loved it.

We sat with a picnic blanket to the side of Druids where you can see the cars coming down through Paddock Hill. I remember seeing someone punt someone off into the gravel and thinking, ‘This is brilliant – there’s always crashing, it’s always exciting to watch.’ At that age you get nervous even thinking about driving a car like that – it’s fine going sideways in a field for a bit of a laugh, but I never thought I’d actually be racing in the best motorsport championship in the UK.

And here I am. I’ve been doing it for over two decades, effectively a third of the BTCC’s life. I’m part of the furniture. I’ve driven a lot of the cars, a lot of the different regulations. I love the BTCC. It’s so ridiculously close, and I feel that now, with the regulations, you’ve got to be on your A-game the whole time. You’ve got your youth pushing the old guys like me really hard.

Top 10: Ranking the greatest BTCC champions

This year, my third with Excelr8 Motorsport and their Hyundais, I’ve now got Barry Plowman engineering me, Matt Neal’s old engineer. We’re the oldest, most experienced pairing on the grid, against my team-mate Tom Ingram and his engineer Spencer Aldridge, who are one of the youngest.

I feel that as a team now we’re so strong. It’s not just the cars – the whole package involved with the team, all the people who work on the PR and marketing, just pushing every single avenue as hard as possible. If the sponsors are happy, we can make the cars faster and we’re happy.

Barry ran me at Team Dynamics in 2008, when I was team-mate to Gordon Shedden. I took Matt Neal’s seat and he took mine at Vauxhall. Barry’s really calm. We were testing this year at Anglesey and Tom Ingram’s car had a problem with the power-steering rack – a mechanical issue with a part on the rack, which was new – and Barry was the only one who knew exactly what had gone wrong with it. He’s as old as a dinosaur, so he can almost hear when it goes past, ‘Oh that’s what’s wrong with it’.

Chilton will be reunited with engineer Plowman after a previous stint at Team Dynamics in 2008

Chilton will be reunited with engineer Plowman after a previous stint at Team Dynamics in 2008

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

As much as I worked with Barry many moons ago, he’s changed a bit over the years and I’ve changed a bit, so we’re just marrying up that connection again and learning this car together, because it’s obviously different to the Hondas he ran. Now we’ve changed bits so that it’s what Barry thinks should be on the car, it’s different to the last two years, so we’re trying to shuffle through things to get the best out of the car and myself.

I spent 2012 to 2016 out of the BTCC and in the world championship. I was not sure when they were originally changing the regulations to NGTC. The suspension was very strange – it got softer and softer, and it didn’t look like a racecar to me.

I knew when it started off some cars would be faster and some slower, and then they’ve got to get the balance of performance right, and I didn’t want to get involved in the politics of that, because if you were on the wrong end of the stick you could drive your heart out and be last. So I got the sponsorship together with Aon, at first with the Ford and then with the Chevrolet alongside Yvan Muller, and it was amazing being with Yvan – a superstar, my hero. I learnt so much off that guy, he is incredible.

I do genuinely think that at the moment Tom Ingram and Ash Sutton – and Yann Ehrlacher in the world series, who is a superstar – are the best front-wheel-drive touring car drivers

That was a big step for me, moving forwards into the TC1 regulation, which in my opinion were the greatest front-wheel-drive touring cars ever to have been on this planet. I’ve got two in my garage at home – an old Chevy, and my old Citroen from when I was with Sebastien Loeb Racing in 2016-17.

Sebastien said, ‘Tom, I’m clearing out the garage, would you like a Citroen?’, and when I told him, ‘Yeah, I’d like my one’, he told me that it had been before I raced it. So he said I could have Yvan’s one, and put my pedal box and stickers on it. I did the Nordschleife, Macau, the best circuits in the world. It’s cool, whereas before I could just say I’d won in England and Scotland and that was it!

Coming back to the BTCC in 2017 felt like I was coming home, and I’m a family man with four boys. When you’re doing world championships, motorsport is tough because you’re away a lot, whereas this I can leave on Thursday night or Friday morning and come back Sunday night.

And it says a lot that I’ve stayed with Excelr8 for a third season. Justina and Antony Williams, the owners, are pushing the hardest and in the best way. They’re so proactive, so good at evolving, happy to take advice or criticism in making the team stronger year on year.

Chilton is entering his third season with the Excelr8 Hyundai team

Chilton is entering his third season with the Excelr8 Hyundai team

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

With the move to Dynamics, we now have a bigger factory in the middle of the country, a wealth of knowledge, a bigger pool of being able to get the best engineers and mechanics. We’re now trying to make it like an F1 team in the BTCC, but so are NAPA Racing, and West Surrey Racing are world class as we all know!

PLUS: How Ingram is seeking to reclaim the BTCC crown from Sutton

I’m very fortunate to have been team-mates with many top British and world champions – and even a world rally champion! But I do genuinely think that at the moment Tom Ingram and Ash Sutton – and Yann Ehrlacher in the world series, who is a superstar – are the best front-wheel-drive touring car drivers.

To be team-mates with one of them [Ingram] makes it harder for me. The older I get, the faster I was! But I keep pushing. I never stop, I want to be on their level. We’re friends, we have a laugh, and out of all my team-mates Tom Ingram, and Tom Coronel in the WTCC as well, are probably the most fun I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

Chilton puts Ingram alongside Coronel as his favourite team-mate

Chilton puts Ingram alongside Coronel as his favourite team-mate

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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