In every race category around the globe, there is always one person, whose smile shines the brightest amongst all. In the World Touring Car Championship, that man is one of Holland's favourite sons, Tom Coronel, who is also famed for the words "EAT MY DUST," when it comes to his race car, helmet and overalls.
This successful businessman and world-class driver has raced across the globe, which even includes the Far East, as he competed in Japan for five years, winning races and titles as a professional driver. He now moves into a new era of the WTCC as he recently took part in testing the other day, before the forthcoming season kicks off in Marrakesh in just over a week's time.
We spoke with him about his time in Japan, his thoughts on the future of WTCC, as well as what appeal Macau provides for the drivers that take on its varying challenges every year.
Nationwide Vehicle Contracts: Tom, first of all, thanks very much for taking time to talk to us here at NVC, as you gear up for another season in the World Touring Car Championship. You’re one of the most likeable drivers in the paddock, the privateer champion in 2009, as well as a three-time winner.
You also became the first non-factory driver to win a race at Okayama back in 2009. Your most emotional victory in the WTCC came at Suzuka last year at the 200th race. It was the race that you said that you “wanted to win,” as Japan has been a very good hunting ground over the years. What was the experience like, when it came to living over there and experiencing the way of life?
Tom Coronel: It is very much a second home for me, having raced professionally over there for five years. At the time, I was living with Darren Manning, Peter Dumbreck, Ralph Firman, Pedro de la Rosa and Michael Krumm, but we were only there for one thing: racing as professionals.
There were no distractions, as you had to stay fit and be ready for the next race. So all of us as friends were together all the time, playing tennis, climbing Mount Fuji and going water skiing together. So it was kind of like a family in a way. You were opponents on the track however, but it was a nice experience.
I liked how we all worked together and supported each other. It was the first time that I was there and was working as a professional. We were asked to come race and be paid for doing what we love. All these factors were a help in keeping us focused to do one thing while we were there: win races.
NVC: You’ve raced for the last 18 years at the legendary Guia circuit in Macau, where you scored a third place finish in the final race of the WTCC, behind Rob Huff and Pepe Oriola. It was also the last time that you would race in the ROAL Motorsport BMW 320TC, and as per your YouTube video that you said that ‘it was in the pocket” for the race win. But after a few crashes during the race and the overtakes by Rob Huff and Pepe Oriola meant that you ended up third in the end.
What is the attraction for you as a driver having raced there for the last eighteen years in Formula Three, ETCC and WTCC? What is the appeal that everyone loves about Macau?
TC: You know, it’s different. In F3, it was my first time there, and learning the circuit in that kind of a car is a bit like being in a kangaroo. Your car needs to behave the right way. In the winter, I’m always playing around with cars, especially as I’m a three-time vice champion in drifting.
I met Huffy about ten years ago when I came over to England to do an Autocar drifting competition. He finished fourth and we started to become good friends. In Holland when it came to drifting, we were playing, dancing and being circuit artists with cars, so that we were strong when it comes to street tracks like Macau. I’ve had my fair share of crashes, like when I was leading once and got hit from behind by Couto, but I have never won a race weekend at Macau. In 1997, I was leading the race by 3.2 seconds and I crashed. In 2001, I had won the first race and was leading the second with just two laps to go, and then I crashed.
Macau is always challenging but there is always something that never gave me luck, but I always feel strong there, as I know the track really well, especially as I know where I can and cannot make mistakes. I like Macau because it is special and unique and it really makes you realize that it is the end of the year, plus there is also the family-style party and the atmosphere along with the racing side of it just makes it what it is.
NVC: Looking back at 2013, you had your wins at both Suzuka and Slovakiaring, but there were a few troubles when it came to qualifying.
TC: Yeah, like at Sonoma, where I could have won, but we made a stupid mistake with not leaving enough time to do the last lap. With the BMW, we were always at the maximum and with all the other cars, they had space to play with the opposition, so they could push hard when they needed to.
So when it came to being told that I was P17 instead of say P7 or P8, it showed. But we were consistently the best BMW when it came to qualifying and the races, and with the way the team is under Roberto Ravaglia, that is why I am staying with ROAL again. I’m very stable in that team with how it all works out.
NVC: We now move into a new era with the WTCC, as you’ll now be driving the new TC1 RML-built Chevrolet Cruze alongside your new teammate, Tom Chilton, who has already tested the new car. You, however, are going to be driving the new car this coming weekend. Yvan Muller, who has now moved to Citroen with Sebastien Loeb, who has shown impressive pace so far in testing at Valencia.
He’s a nine-time World Rally champion, but what are your thoughts on how he has gotten on so far? How do you think he’ll perform when the season starts in Marrakesh in a couple of weeks’ time?
TC: That’s an easy one, as he is well prepared. I don’t know of anyone else on the planet that is as well prepared as he is to race in the WTCC. He’s done so much mileage, investigation and preparation so far, and that also shows in how Citroen have prepared for this. It is so much better than what RML has done in the past.
There is more money and people involved with this team, and it is the best situation for him to be in, as it is a French team with the right people on board. Of course, he will have good results. Before we go to Marrakesh in April, they’ve already used around 800 tyres in testing, whereas Honda have used 250. RML have only ordered 24 tyres for the six cars they have built. That is the first measurement, especially with the budgets that they in comparison to what we have at ROAL, as we are very limited to what we can do.
With having that amount of money, they can test a lot more and do a lot more than we can, but I always try to remain positive.
NVC: What are your hopes on what you think the new category is going to bring to the championship?
TC: It is going to make it more look like a GT race car, as the bumping and pushing that we have gotten used over the past few years is part of touring car racing. Because of the downforce the new cars will have, the cars will be staying behind one another, which will make it like DTM.
The DTM, to be honest, is boring like it is, so I am just afraid that the positive things that we currently have in our series will disappear, but I hope not. I’ll have three hours in the new car before the first round, but what can I say? These are the facts.
NVC: And to finish our interview, Tom, what car do you back home in the Netherlands?
TC: Well, as you really want to know, I drive a BMW 118d. I hate putting fuel in my car, so it makes perfect sense. It is in the classic Estoril Blue with the 18-inch alloys and the M Performance pack.
NVC: Thanks again for your time, Tom, and enjoy testing your new car ahead of the new season.
TC: No problem and thank you.
Tom has finally sampled the new Chevrolet Cruze that he will be driving alongside new team mate Tom Chilton, the countdown to a potential exciting championship continues, as the wait is almost over. When we caught up with him, he said that the car was fast and felt good, so it just is a case of seeing what happens when the lights go out.
We’d like to thank Tom for his time and for talking to us and wish him all the best for the forthcoming season. (For more of our Track Talk series you can read more interviews in the series here)