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United Kingdom FlagFresh car and new team for Tom Onslow-Cole at Rockingham

Fresh car and new team: click to enlargeWith a fresh car and a whole new team behind him, things were looking pretty chipper for our BTCC wheelman, Tom Onslow-Cole. We caught up with him after his first outing for his new outfit, Airwaves Racing, after a successful meeting at Rockingham.

Tom; Joining a new team is always a tricky move. Like all professional drivers, I’ve done it a few times now, but the move to Airwaves has been made considerably easier thanks to the extremely warm welcome I have had from Dave Bartrum and Oly Collins. There’s a real ‘family’ feel at the Motorbase HQ and they make it very easy to fit in there. I’ve known team-mate Aron Smith for a good while now, thanks to time we’ve spent together in the paddock, but I’m looking forward to spending more time both on and off the track with Mat (Jackson). I think, as a team, we’re really going to push each other. We’re all on an equal footing as drivers, and we all want to be the fastest guy in the team! It can only be good for our collective points tally, I think!

Due to the relatively swift nature of the team change, the first chance I had to sit in the Focus was on the Thursday before the race at Ford’s proving ground. It was a damp and wet day, so I couldn’t really get a full feel of what the car could do, but even in those compromised conditions, I could tell it was a brilliantly prepped machine. It responds so much more predictably than the Passat did, and it just feels much easier to drive. I spent as much of that session as I could getting to know the car and it gave me a lot of confidence for our first race together at Rockingham.

I do love Rockingham as a track… the infield feels like a bit of an afterthought sometimes, but it does offer a great variety of both low and high speed corners, with the chance for the suspension to go through a real work-out! It’s a challenging circuit to set the car up for, with long, loaded corners, quick fire, snap turns on other parts of the track and a healthy selection of kerbs to add a little fun to the mix. Nothing my new techs couldn’t handle though, and it’s great to be working with a team that has such a wealth of data to draw on for the car you’re campaigning.

First Free Practice was pretty wet, with the second session drying up. The car and I were definitely getting to know each other at this point, and we were getting along well! Qually felt positive; I had loads of good individual sectors, but if I’m honest, I couldn’t quite stitch them all together in quite the way I wanted to... which is just down to me still learning the car, really. I tried a few different things on the way round, and managed to sit it on 17th spot in the end.

Race 1 wasn’t quite the glorious start I had hoped for with my new team! I made a cracking start and started to make up a few places, with the car feeling really good beneath me. Unfortunately, half way through the lap, I had to take avoiding action for two cars coming round in front of me, causing me to get collected in the process, into a spin and a stop. Damage to the car was fairly minimal, but sadly, the brake line had been pinched and had burst, meaning that I totally lost my brakes. It was then simply a case of limping back to the pits to repair the damage and get ready for Race 2.

This little drama meant that I had to start Race 2 from 22nd spot… so it was always going to be a difficult task! I decided to get my head down and get on with it, and wait for the car to really come to me. I made a few places near the start, and as the tyres got hotter it really started to feel good. The way we had set it up meant it was very consistent, allowing me to really get on with the business of getting past people. Lap by lap it got quicker and quicker, to the point where our lap times were some of the best in the race, netting a 9th overall. I have to say, that Top 10 finish was what I needed to express my intention to the team, sponsors and the fans. It felt very good and totally made up for Race 1!

Race 3 proved to be another pretty good result. The start was great again, and I was quickly getting used to the changes we had made for the softer tyre. I struggled to get past people in this race, so when I had gaps I really pushed on, which took quite a bit out of the tyres, which then made the latter half of the race much harder. I managed a 12th in the end, but I learned a lot about the car on the way there.

I get a great feeling from this team, as I now have a lot more data available to me than I had before. I wanted to listen and learn on this first outing, so I can understand what’s happening before I start asking for changes. I think I can do that now. A Top Ten was my ultimate aim for this first meeting, so I am delighted I brought that home for everybody’s sake.

For Silverstone however, we’re all aiming a little higher. We think podiums are a serious possibility, so that’s where we’re trying to be. There are several important changes to make to the car before then, which should make it even more competitive.

After a hectic few weeks, I would like to use this opportunity to thank the team at Milltek and all of my personal sponsors for helping me through the transition to the new home, as well as the guys at Airwaves and Motorbase, obviously. I can’t wait to really get stuck in at the next round now!

Catch Tom and the Airwaves team for the next round at Silverstone on the 28th -29th September.