Interview: World Touring Car driver Tom Chilton

Sports Mole catches up with British driver Tom Chilton following his first ever win in the FIA World Touring Car Championship.

At the 21st time of asking, Britain's Tom Chilton recorded his first victory as a World Touring Car driver at the Sonoma Raceway in California last weekend.

It capped an impressive event for the 28-year-old, who successfully converted his maiden pole to lift him up to joint fourth in the standings with three meetings left to contest.

Sports Mole caught up with the Surrey-born racer to find out how he felt after his success, as well as his hopes for the future and the potential possessed by his brother and Formula 1 driver Max.

How did it feel when you crossed the line on Sunday, knowing that you'd claimed your maiden victory?
"It's awesome. To get my first win in an FIA World Championship race is more than I could have hoped for. It's just a shame it took me so long, but I've been close all year. What a cool place to get my first win, in California."

What sort of emotions did you experience in the closing stages? Nerves? Pressure?
"It's weird because when I thought about what it would be like, you don't get nerves, but I thought that I might over-drive a little bit. That didn't happen at all, probably because I've been driving for such a long time and my experience kicked in. I managed to perfect what I was doing in the car at the time. I was just focussing so hard and it wasn't until the car went out on the last corner and I short-shifted to third to stop the wheel spin that I thought I was going to win my first race. I got on the radio and was literally screaming my head off. I think everyone had to take out their earpieces because I was shouting so much!"

Do you feel that winning races might come a bit more natural to you after this success?
"Now that I've got the monkey off my back, the rest should come a bit easier. When I was racing in the British Touring Cars and got my first win back in 2004, after that it all became easier. I don't know why, it's probably psychological. I'm now very comfortable with the RML team. It's a fantastic team and they did a great job at the weekend. I'm also now more relaxed in the car and have handle on where I should be in the set-up. I'm really happy with the place that I am in right now."

You're now joint fourth in the standings and within touching distance of second and third. What is the aim for the remainder of the campaign?
"My aim is to finish second in the World Championship still. Gabriele Tarquini is second right now, but he will gain 10kg for Suzuka and that might really hurt him. Having said that, Rob Huff, who won the title last year and is just behind me, he is going to be 60kg lighter in the SEAT at the next round and that might really help him. At the moment, where I'm really strong is qualifying. That's frustrating for me because I'm level on points with James Nash, but he hasn't won a first race yet because he is always around a second off me in qualifying - he qualifies ninth or 10th, then you get the reverse grid for the second race. I've just got to hope that I can keep doing well in the first race and pick up points so it works out in my favour."

Tom Chilton at a BTCC media day in 2011.© Getty Images

So, would you be disappointed with anything less than second place?
"To be honest, I'd probably still be happy if I finished third. I don't want to jump too far ahead of myself. Third would be fantastic, but my goal will remain second by the end of Macau. It will suit me there because it is a technical circuit and it's bit like Portugal. It is a street circuit in Porto and I'd never been there before, but I qualified second and finished second behind my teammate who has been there four or five times before. He's the world's best driver, so I was very happy to be that close."

You mention your teammate, Yvan Muller, there - what he is like to work alongside? Does he pass on advice to you?
"It's great to work alongside a bloke that is a four-time world champion, he's been British champion before and he is a 10-time ice racing champion. He's pretty special. You could say that I've got to the stage where I can win races because I've been learning from him, he's almost been like my teacher in a way. I've learnt from him and I hope I can keep beating my teacher for the rest of the year! It's not going to be easy, though."

How does the team dynamic work? After all, it's not like football or cricket where you are trying to win for each other. Does it cause any animosity between the two of you?
"Me and Yvan get on very, very well. Obviously it is competitive because we both want to win. We had to have a big chat before the first race at the weekend because pole position is on the wrong side of the grid. The first is an easy flat out left-hand corner and I was on the left side and the next corner, which is the important one, is on the right and I was going to be on the outside for it. I was at a point where I really wanted to get my first win, but obviously I didn't want to run him into the wall because we are on the same team. I literally had to get a better rolling start than him, which is what I managed to do and I got a slight run going into the first corner. But yes, we always want to beat each other, but we are teammates."

With just three more events to go, what are your plans for next season? There are conflicting reports about RML's intentions, but do you hope to stay with them?
"The goal for me is to stay in the World Touring Car Championship and stay at RML, which I think is the most professional team on the grid. If we can get a little bit of help from manufacturers, sponsors and RML can build cars, I believe they are going to have the best chance of challenging Citroen, who are going to have Sebastien Loeb and Muller. If I've got any chance of beating them, it's going to be with RML. It would be perfect to stay because I've got to grips with everything and I'd like to think that I'd be one of their number one drivers."

Tom Chilton poses in his RML overalls ahead of the new World Touring Car season.© Kevin McDaid

You say that you now feel at home with RML - how long did it take for you to feel so comfortable?
"People always ask me what my relationship is like with my engineer because it's very, very important. Just like when you've got to get used to a new car, a new tyre and a new competition. As much as you want to say after the first race that we have the best relationship in the world, it never happens straight away. You want it to and so does the engineer, but it takes a few rounds.

"[My engineer] worked with Huff last year and they ended up being world champions together. After this weekend I feel that me and my engineer are working together well and are on the same page. If I'm thinking something, he's starting to think the same thing at the same time. At the beginning of the year it might have been slightly different because he knew the car much better and I was the new boy coming in. I'm hoping we will be very strong for the rest of the year."

Are there any plans in the future for you to follow your brother Max into Formula 1?
"I'm the wrong build for F1, sadly. My brother, Max, weighs about 63kg at the moment, whereas I weigh 84kg. That is just too big of a difference. I've done a bit of Sports Car racing before and the Le Mans car has a lot of down-force and is very quick, which is a bit like an F1 car, but heavier. I knew that it was the fastest car that I could drive because my weight didn't matter quite as much. In F1, my body would mean that I was around a second a lap slower in the same car. Max is very good at what he does, just like I'm good at what I do. He's admitted he wouldn't beat me in a touring car and firmly off the record I've said I wouldn't beat him in an F1 car! We are so competitive, when we play the PlayStation we try to knock the control out of each other's hand to try to win!"

Have you spoken to him since your win in California?
"He congratulated me almost straight away, even though he had been asleep because of the time difference. That was really nice. We follow what the other does really closely. I was at Spa a couple of weeks ago with him and it was great to be able to support him."

How do you rate your brother as an F1 driver? He seems to be highly regarded for someone so young.
"Max is extremely fast, but he hates making mistakes. He wants to be a perfectionist. I know that he would rather be a little bit slower then come off, that's what he is like. At the moment, he is really starting to come out of his shell and he is beginning to be quicker than his teammate Jules Bianchi, which is fantastic. Jules is rated to be a very good driver and it is good for Max to have him as a teammate, just like it is good for me to have Muller as a teammate. The trick is to be like a sponge and absorb things up as quickly as possible. If Max can stay in F1 for another year or so, he will really start to shine."

Force India's test driver Jules Bianchi on February 3, 2012
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