What it takes to maintain up with a BTCC driver on race weekend

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Chilton was 17 when he made his BTCC debut, then the youngest driver but to race within the collection…
BTCC stalwart Tom Chilton is aware of the job of being a racing driver entails extra than simply doing the enterprise on monitor. We be part of him at Rockingham

British Touring Automotive Championship races are brief, intense affairs, round 30 minutes of bumper bashing and battling.

Nonetheless, even with three of them in a day, such brief races may not appear a lot of an endurance problem for a driver. But the fact is considerably completely different.

These three races are packed into round six hours. Add within the consideration, scrutiny and stress that include being a part of Britain’s largest motorsport championship and race day turns into a continuous, pressure-filled marathon for the drivers, with little time to relaxation.

Tom Chilton is aware of that effectively. The 33-year-old has been racing in top-line touring vehicles since making his BTCC debut again in 2002. Ten years later, in 2012, he switched to the World Touring Automotive Championship.

Final yr, he competed full-time in each collection.

This yr, Chilton’s full-time consideration is on the BTCC, driving a Ford Focus RS for the Motorbase squad – or Staff Shredded Wheat Racing with Gallagher, to make use of its official, sponsor-friendly title. Autocar shadowed Chilton on race day of the BTCC occasion at Rockingham final month to seek out out precisely what a tin-top driver will get as much as.


Chilton arrives at Rockingham practically 4 hours forward of the primary race, with a busy schedule forward of him. First cease is the Motorbase hospitality unit, the place boss David Bartrum leads a workforce assembly. Bartrum’s motivational speeches are, Chilton reckons, a spotlight of the weekend. Immediately’s is delivered within the model of an ebullient American preacher.

“Some groups are fairly strict, however Motorbase make all of it very pleasing,” says Chilton. That household ambiance is evident if you spend any time with the workforce – though issues get determinedly severe as soon as the racing begins. 


It’s off to championship organiser TOCA’s hospitality unit for Chilton’s first official act of the day: a breathalyser take a look at. Each driver should take one on every morning of a race weekend, simply to show they’re completely match to race. Chilton passes – a number of instances, actually, since photographer Olgun makes him redo the take a look at many times to seize the proper picture.

Chilton then heads to a small relaxation space within the Motorbase truck parked behind the pits to get turned into his race overalls.

He shares the area with team-mates James Cole and Sam Tordoff – the latter attempting to compensate for his sleep when Chilton arrives with journalist and snapper on tow.

Whereas some drivers change again into their civvies between races, Chilton prefers to maintain his overalls on all day – though he admits they’ll possible scent “hideous” by the tip of it.

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“Authentic, Honey and Nut, Barley and Spelt? Skimmed or semi-skimmed?”

It’s breakfast time. Not for Chilton, although: as an alternative, he and Cole are providing free sponsor’s cereal to arriving spectators on a Shredded Wheat promo stand within the shadow of Rockingham’s important grandstand, previous which spectators are trickling into the circuit.

The ‘Breakfast Membership’ stand features a small bar, behind which Chilton and Cole stand, shovelling bite-size biscuits of 100% complete grain wheat into bowls, including milk from a bar pump. There’s restricted demand for cereal, partly as a result of there are comparatively few spectators on the Northamptonshire monitor right now – a symptom of the poor climate forecast and the circuit’s unsure future – and partly as a result of the followers appear extra tempted by the burger van subsequent door, which has an enormous queue. On the Manufacturers Hatch season opener, the workforce dished out greater than 1000 bowls of cereal.

When the milk pump briefly jams, Chilton switches to signing autographs, chatting to followers and posing for photographs with a headless cardboard cut-out of himself. “It’s all a part of the sport of being a race driver,” he says. “Sponsors make the world go spherical; you’ve acquired to place the trouble in for them.”

It’s spectacular stuff to observe whereas munching on my cereal (unique, skimmed): I’ve seen many drivers undergo the motions at sponsor occasions, however Chilton is a bundle of power all through.

From there, it’s again to the paddock and at last time to sit down down with automotive chief Nick Silvester to debate set-up and technique for the occasion. Showers are forecast for the day, a lot of the chat might be about what set-ups to undertake in differing circumstances.


Rockingham has an ultra-wide pit lane, and forward of every BTCC race the vehicles are introduced out of the garages and lined up within the outer pits. Whereas his mechanics negotiate his brilliant yellow Focus RS into place, Chilton readies himself, pulling on his helmet and race gloves.

“Simply focusing, mate,” he smiles, nonetheless ultra-friendly however now clearly together with his thoughts targeted on the duty in hand. He has certified a powerful seventh for race one and, as soon as he’s pushed his Focus onto the grid, he stays cocooned in it, understanding his plan for the primary nook and past.


The Rockingham circuit is a recipe for first-lap drama. Vehicles blast across the banked first flip and down a protracted straight earlier than braking closely into a good hairpin.

Certain sufficient, there’s a giant pile-up on the hairpin on lap one, however Chilton deftly dodges the mayhem and emerges second, behind the Mercedes of Adam Morgan. So as to add to the drama, it begins to identify with rain.

After a security automotive interval, Chilton tries to assault Morgan however is quickly targeted on keeping off the Subaru Levorg of reigning champion Ashley Sutton. The 2 make contact at one level, which damages one in all Chilton’s tyres.

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Again within the Motorbase pits, the workforce, together with a number of visitors, watch the motion unfold on tv. Rockingham has one lengthy pit constructing, with skinny inside dividers between particular person garages.

Sutton’s BMR squad is correct subsequent door, so when he lastly fights his well past Chilton, the cheering from the opposite aspect of the divider contrasts sharply with the deflation within the Motorbase camp. Nonetheless, Chilton manages to hold on to 3rd place, a end result greeted with aid as a lot as celebration.


There are round two hours between the tip of the primary race and the beginning of the second, however there’s treasured little time for Chilton to have a calming lunch – particularly since he’s acquired to do a post-race interview and seem on the rostrum. From there, it’s straight to the pit lane for the autograph session. It’s now correctly raining, however Chilton sits and indicators for 30 minutes or so, shielded by umbrellas held up by Motorbase’s promotional ladies.

Simply earlier than 1pm, Chilton heads to the Motorbase unit for a working lunch. Whereas consuming, he chats to his family and friends – his girlfriend is right here, though his two children are nonetheless too younger to attend a race day. Then it’s time for a Q&A session for the workforce’s 80 or so sponsor visitors, together with representatives from Shredded Wheat and GardX. Chilton is once more on nice kind, giving an in depth, participating recap of the primary race.

That sponsor-friendly method has been drummed into Chilton since he began competing within the T-Vehicles junior collection on the age of 14. “I had classes in articulation and media presentation earlier than I ever raced,” he says, though it didn’t all the time go to plan.

“I used to be taken out of my first race and swore in the midst of the TV interview afterwards,” he laughs. “That rapidly taught me the significance of claiming the suitable issues.”

As quickly because the Q&A has completed, it’s time for Chilton and his engineers to give attention to the second race, significantly because the heavy rain bathe, since handed, has left the monitor damp however slowly drying, making set-up one thing of a raffle.


“Ballsy name right here. We’re going for it,” says Chilton, as his automotive is wheeled into the still-damp pit lane on slick tyres forward of race two. Because the vehicles depart the pit, there’s an actual mixture of slick and moist tyres, however on the best way to the grid it’s clear slicks are the best way to go, so most crews change.

As soon as once more, there’s first-turn drama: this time Chilton is delayed by it and falls to seventh. He’s additionally gone the mistaken approach on set-up and, laden by success ballast after race one, slips again to tenth.

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Chilton confesses the unpredictable circumstances at Rockingham are “the worst situation” groups face. “Getting a BTCC automotive arrange is so troublesome,” he provides. “The sphere is so shut that it’s unattainable to all the time have the quickest automotive. I’ve acquired good engineers and I’ve to depend on them and belief what they’re doing.”


The 2 hours between the second and third races are a bit of quieter, giving Chilton time to relaxation a bit and work together with his engineers. That’s significantly essential since Chilton’s had some good luck: he’s drawn on pole for the reverse grid remaining race.


It’s damp however drying once more for race three, however slicks are clearly the best way to go – and for Chilton which means operating the BTCC’s onerous ‘choice’ tyre, which drivers should use in a single race every weekend.

The more durable tyre has much less grip, so Chilton has to evaluate how a lot earlier he must brake into the hairpin. He hits the pedal about 9 metres sooner than beforehand, however not quickly sufficient. “I assumed it was beneath management however the automotive abruptly snapped and ran large,” he says. There’s loads of run-off and Chilton may need acquired away with it had a number of of his rivals not made the identical mistake. Matt Simpson’s Honda Civic slides into the aspect of Chilton, damaging the Focus’s suspension. His race is over. It’s a low finish to a day that began so promisingly.


After a fast debrief together with his workforce, Chilton is keen to flee Rockingham and start the drive again to his Surrey residence. He admits the disappointing finish to race three will play on him for some time. “My girlfriendis all the time telling me to cease interested by racing on the best way residence,” he confesses. “It takes some time, although. For about 48 hours after a nasty race, I’m not the very best human being to be round…”

Again on monitor: 

Two weeks after Rockingham, Tom Chilton was again in BTCC motion at Knockhill in Scotland. After battling by two powerful races, he as soon as once more lucked into pole for race three.

This time issues went so much higher. Chilton judged the moist circumstances completely and secured his first BTCC win because the 2011 season.

“Fortunately, I didn’t make the identical mistake as Rockingham,” says Chilton. “I had the automotive beneath me and the expertise from my years racing right here paid off.”

Chilton heads to this weekend’s finale at Manufacturers Hatch with an out of doors likelihood of claiming the BTCC title.

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