TOC goes back to his roots for 2012…

Back in 2007, Dick Bennetts gave a young driver his chance to race in the BTCC he dreamed of racing in. Now TOM ONSLOW-COLE and West Surrey Racing are back together with very exciting prospects for 2012.

I talked to both of them about their feelings before the new season…

It’s a story of a reunion. In late 2006, 19-year-old Tom Onslow-Cole was just coming off the back of a breakthrough year by dominating the Renault Clio UK Cup.

With the British Touring Car Championship spotlight focusing on the raft of newcomers, Onslow-Cole joined Dick Bennetts’ WSR operation to drive a BMW 320si alongside Colin Turkington. The pressure was on, particularly as he was switching from front to rear-wheel-drive machinery.

The more experienced Turkington led the team’s attack, but Onslow-Cole became a consistent points scorer. In the reversed-grid race at Snetterton in July he also showed he could handle wheel-to-wheel battles with the likes of Mat Jackson and Jason Plato to take his first BTCC victory.

Now, with the usual game of musical chairs for drives beginning to settle down, the old magic is back in 2012 as team and driver have agreed a deal for Onslow-Cole to return to WSR alongside Rob Collard and Nick Foster. And what’s more, it’s the same car he became familiar with in 2007, albeit with a number of upgrades, including a Neil Brown-prepared turbo engine to replace the normally-aspirated unit that proved uncompetitive last season.

“It feels really good,” says Onslow-Cole. “It’s great to be back with the team again.

“I haven’t driven the car yet but it’s already looking good and I can’t wait to drive it. It should be a pretty solid package so I’m really excited about it.

“The deal is just for one year at the moment. Most of them do tend to just be for one year to start with at least. Who knows what might happen.”

Bennetts is also pleased to expand his team, which hasn’t won a race since Turkington took the BTCC crown in 2009. “We’ve always rated Tom, ever since we brought him on board back in 2007,” he says. “I think it’s clear that we’ve got a very strong driver line-up for the season.”

With Onslow-Cole and Collard pushing each other on and a switch to turbos, Bennetts believes he has what he needs to take on the Next Generation Touring Cars in the series.

“We think we’ve got a very good car for the season,” he says. “The base of the car is very good and obviously with the turbo engine the car is going to be very quick.

“We already tested the new package at Shanghai in the World Touring Car Championship last year [WSR ran Turkington in China in collaboration with Wiechers Sport] and it was very competitive. What people need to realise is that it’s not just the old S2000 BMW chassis with a turbo engine bolted in, it’s a completely new package, and it’s been a lot of hard work.”

There is, of course, also the issue of parity. Last year, the focus was on the balance, or lack thereof, between normally aspirated and turbo engines. This season the debate could be about S2000 chassis and full NGTC cars, such as those the works Honda and MG teams will run.

“Last year the problem we had was trying to find the right parity between specifications, what with the new regulations to be put into place for 2013,” adds Bennetts. “And that’s what will be critical for the series to get right.

“Without a turbo we were very slow on the straights compared with the turbo and NGTC cars. That is something that we’ve had to take action with by developing the car”.

Onslow-Cole’s goals for the season are as clear as ever. “The championship is what we all want to win,” he says. “I think we’ve got a car good enough to be at the front of the grid – the BMW package is already proven to be a strong one and with the new engine in the car it should be quicker. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be fighting for the championship.”

He also shrugged off any doubts about needing time to re-adapt to a rear-drive car again.

“I’ve spent more time driving rear-wheel drive cars than everybody thinks,” he says, “so it’s not really something to worry about. It should just come normally.”

It will need to, as Collard and Foster are not there to roll over for him and have recent experience of the car, with Collard a frontrunner in the German machinery since 2009.

“There’s always going to be a bit of rivalry when you’re with any team,” adds Onslow-Cole, who had Tom Chilton to contend with during his time at Arena Motorsport. “It’s what it’s about.

“We all want to win it, that’s what we’re here for and we’ll all be giving it everything to try to do just that.”

His boss is also aware of just that, and aims to keep it under control.

“Every driver has a rivalry with each other!” says Bennetts. “They all want to win it and we’ll give them equal opportunity to fight each other.”

What is clear is that Onslow-Cole has matured as a driver since a debut season he describes as “scrappy”. The 24-year-old Surrey driver has already proved he has the speed to be a consistent championship frontrunner, after being in the title hunt with the then-developing Arena Ford team in 2010.

He’s now ready for another focused campaign after switching between the AmD Milltek VW Golf and Arena’s Ford Focus during 2011.

“The BTCC is something I always loved and grew up watching so to be a part of it is fantastic,” he says. “To have the chance to win the championship is something I’ve always dreamed of. So, that’s what I want this year and I hope I can achieve it.”

(I wrote this story for AUTOSPORT)



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