Tom Boardman achieved exactly what he set out to do in Brazil by beginning his challenge for the Independents’ world title with a pair of high points-scoring finishes in the opening rounds of the 2009 FIA World Touring Car Championship. Having successfully completed his first race weekend of the season with a 3rd and a 5th place finish in his previously untested SUNRED Engineering-run SEAT Leon TFSi, Tom left Brazil 4th in the Independents’ Trophy with 10 points, as the series heads to Mexico this weekend for Rounds 3 and 4.
Tom only had a 30 minute shakedown test and two 30 minute practice sessions to learn the car and the fast and bumpy 11-turn / 2.3 mile Curitiba track before the all- important qualifying session. New base weight regulations also meant that Tom’s front-wheel drive Leon was heavier than the rival BMW cars, but the 25-year old racing driver from Forton in Lancashire still qualified an excellent 3rd Independent; out-qualifying his team-mate Tom Coronel, the 2006 Independents’ Champion.
Race day in Brazil was hot, with air and track temperatures hitting 27 and 44ºC respectively and humidity measuring almost 80%. In front of 48,000 spectators, Tom made a good start in Race 1 – but as the cars funnelled through the tight first series of corners his car suffered a knock to the right front wheel, putting the steering out of line. Tom’s skill and fitness enabled him to maintain his lap times, despite the car’s handling problems, as he went on to finish 3rd Independent (11th overall), just 3.5 seconds behind class winner Félix Porteiro (BMW).
The SUNRED engineers knew they had the front wheel alignment and a fuel pressure problem to fix in the 15 minutes service time between races, but their workload increased when a clutch problem developed on the slowing down lap and a torrential downpour of rain then drenched the circuit. The team did a good job, but without enough time to cure all the problems, Tom knew that his chances of another podium result in Race 2 had already been compromised.
The rain had stopped by the time the delayed race began behind the Safety Car, but deep puddles of standing water made conditions very slippery – and whilst this is normally the type of track conditions that Tom excels in, the wrong set-up meant that his car was struggling in the slower corners; an area where the rival BMWs were particularly strong. After running 3rd for much of the race, Tom eventually had to concede position to two BMWs before finishing 5th (19th overall).
Tom Boardman said: “It was an amazing experience to race in the WTCC and it’s a completely different level of racing altogether. It took me a lot longer to learn the Curitiba track than I thought it would, and I think a lot of that was down to me having to also learn to drive a normally-aspirated car again after several years racing a turbo. With so little track time before qualifying, that really put me on the back foot – but that won’t happen again and I don’t foresee a similar problem occurring in Mexico now I’ve got a full race weekend in the new car under my belt.
“I really enjoyed Race 1 and was pleased to finish on the Independents’ podium. We had a bit of work to do on the car and only fifteen minutes work-time between races, and then the heavens opened and the rain came down. If we’d be able to change the set-up of the car we would have done well in Race 2, but there wasn’t enough time to make the essential repairs and change the set-up, so we had to keep our dry setting on. I held on to third place in the early stages of the race, but I couldn’t prevent two BMWs getting passed and we slipped to fifth by the chequered flag.
“It was a good solid start to the season and we achieved our aim of finishing in the points in both races in Brazil. I’m looking forward to racing in Mexico, but Puebla is the only circuit that’s not on the RACE Pro Xbox 360 game, which is what I used to preview the Curitiba track. I hear the track surface in Mexico is very abrasive and it’s very hard on tyres, plus it could be very hot and it’s at high altitude. The aim in Mexico will be to get back at those BMWs and finish ahead of them – and of course everyone else in the Independents’ class! If we can leave Mexico having scored well in both races again, it will have been a very good start to the season.”
Yokohama Independents’ Trophy (after 2 of 24 races)
1. Félix Porteiro (BMW)…31pts
2. Tom Coronel (SEAT)…19pts
3. Franz Engstler (BMW)…11pts
4. Tom Boardman (SEAT)….10pts
5. Kristian Poulsen (BMW)…7pts