Team Aon confirms WTCC move
The BTCC's loss is WTCC's gain as Team Aon confirms it is taking two Ford Focus entries to the international stage.
Team Aon has confirmed that it will enter the 2012 World Touring Car Championship with two of its new-specification Global Ford Focus cars and a young British driver tandem comprising Tom Chilton and James Nash.
Team and drivers will all step up following successful campaigns in the British Touring Car Championship, as Chilton and Nash - the 2010 and 2011 BTCC Independent Drivers' champions respectively - will drive newly developed versions of Team Aon's race winning Focus, powered by Mountune-built turbocharged 1.6-litre engines, with revised suspension components and bodywork to comply with the WTCC regulations.
Nash joins the team after three seasons in the BTCC. He took an impressive win at Rockingham last season and secured nine podiums on his way to becoming the 2011 Independent Drivers' class champion, while Chilton, the 2010 Independents' champion, secured the first victories for Ford's new Global Race Car despite spending much of the season developing the new-style Focus. He reached the top step of the podium twice with wins at Knockhill and Silverstone, demonstrating the progress that was being made with the car.
After spending most of the winter period developing and building the WTCC version of the Focus, team boss Mike Earle is excited by the new challenge that lies ahead.
"It's great to know that we have the two most recent BTCC Independent champions in our team - to have that kind of experience and ability holds us in good stead for our first season in the World Touring Car Championship," he commented, "We've spent a great deal of time and effort in designing and building this car for the upcoming season and can't wait for it to start."
The team has already completed a shakedown of the new car, with Chilton and Nash driving for two days in Valencia last week, and will now move on to Guadix and Estoril for two further test sessions later this month.
2012 will be Chilton's fourth season with Team Aon and the Ford marque, and having achieved much success in the British series, he hopes to repeat this on the world stage.
"I'm incredibly excited about the WTCC," he admitted, "It's a new challenge for me and the team, but I know we've got the experience and the tools to do a good job at that level.
"It's going to be a different season, not knowing the tracks or the competition like we did in the BTCC, but that's part of the appeal - new challenges and new targets. The initial time I've had with the new WTCC version of the car has given me a lot of optimism. The team has a tremendous amount of experience with the older versions of the car and it has just been a logical development with a lot of the new parts. I'm confident we can take the fight to the established teams even in our first year."
Nash, meanwhile, links up with Aon and Ford for the first time, but is already looking forward to the next step in his ascent to the top step of touring car racing.
"I'm really excited and pleased to be moving on to the next step of touring cars," he acknowledged, "I've had a great time in the BTCC, however everyone has aspirations and this was ultimately the next step in my career. I believe that I'm in the best position to have a successful 2012 season with Team Aon and I'm looking forward to my first season in the WTCC.
"Helping the team to develop the Focus is something I'm really looking forward to. Last year, with the Triple Eight team, budget was tight and the Vauxhall cars we used were pretty much fully developed. The Focus though is new and, already, in pre-season testing I've found a few things that enabled me and my new team-mate lap to close to qualifying record speed.
"Of course, as a reigning British champion, it has been a difficult decision to move away from the national series. I had offers to stay but, quite honestly, the lure of
world competition was too strong to resist. I can't wait to go wheel-to-wheel with people like three-time world champion Yvan Muller, Rob Huff, Alain Menu and Gabriele Tarquinii. I've grown up watching them race and I'm itching to get behind the wheel and make my own mark too."
The first race weekend of the World Touring Car Championship gets underway at Monza on the 9-11 March.