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This has been a long time com­ing for Ant Whorton-eales. He will fi­nally step up to the top ta­ble in terms of Bri­tish mo­tor­sport with a drive in the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship for AMD Tun­ in an Audi S3 sa­loon.

For a 22-year-old, it could seem like rapid progress. Af­ter all, he will be among the youngest in the se­ries, which is gen­er­ally pop­u­lated by driv­ers ap­proach­ing their thir­ties.

But for Whorton-eales, it has not come soon enough.

He has spent five years rac­ing in the Re­nault UK Clio Cup se­ries, grad­u­ally in­creas­ing his pace to the ex­tent that last year he was the man to beat. But he felt even that was a sea­son too far.

“I should have won the Clios in 2015 re­ally,” he ex­plains. “I was in the po­si­tion to win it go­ing into the last rounds at Brands Hatch un­til I was taken out by some­one else. I was to­tally gut­ted, be­cause that meant I re­ally needed to stay in the se­ries for an­other year. I had come close, but didn’t win be­cause of an­other driver’s ac­tions.”

Even in 2016, the path to the ti­tle wasn’t a smooth one. It was a fiercely com­pet­i­tive year in Clios again with re­turn­ing for­mer cham­pion Mike Bushell push­ing Whorton-eales all the way although, ad­mirably, the pair re­mained firm friends through­out the bat­tles.

“I felt like I had to win it to get a chance to step up to the BTCC – it was this year or never re­ally as a true grad­u­ate through the ranks,” says the Lich­field racer. “The BTCC has been my aim since I started rac­ing, and I am over the moon to fi­nally be here.

“I could have gone and raced in other things for a few years and then come back to the BTCC later in my ca­reer, but then I would have had to spend big money to come in and get a drive and just be one of the older gen­er­a­tion of pay driv­ers: there are lots of peo­ple who do that, and there is noth­ing wrong with it, but I don’t want to be re­garded like that,” he says.

Whorton-eales took nine wins on his way to the Clio crown with Jam­sport, and that per­for­mance brought him to the at­ten­tion of the BTCC team man­agers.

Seal­ing a full-time drive was pre­ceded by sev­eral tempt­ing glimpses into the top ta­ble, with a test for Team Hard at Snet­ter­ton in July and a run in a Mo­tor­base Per­for­mance Ford Fo­cus as part of his prize for win­ning the Clio tro­phy.

“That re­ally whet­ted my ap­petite for the BTCC,” he says. “The cars are amaz­ing. They are just bet­ter than a Clio in every as­pect. They are like a Re­nault on steroids.

“The ac­cel­er­a­tion is bet­ter, the brakes are bet­ter, there is more grip – it is just the all-round pack­age.”

He is ready for the step af­ter his ap­pren­tice­ship in Clios, in­clud­ing a year with Danny Bux­ton’s SV team. The team pa­tron and for­mer Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship racer him­self quickly saw some­thing spe­cial in his young charge.

“I think Ant was 16 when I first got in a car with him, which was a Mini Chal­lenge car,” says Bux­ton. “Within two cor­ners, I knew he had it all. I have never felt so com­fort­able get­ting a driver to push straight away. We were flat through the cor­ners al­most im­me­di­ately.

“Work­ing with him was a plea­sure, and he would give ev­ery­thing. I have watched him de­velop, and to be­gin with he was ag­gres­sive. Last year, I would say he was as­sertive rather than ag­gres­sive, and that was what helped him with the cham­pi­onship.

“Now he has been through that devel­op­ment process, I think he has got all the at­tributes he needs to be a huge suc­cess in the BTCC.”

Whorton-eales knows that his on-track at­ti­tude is go­ing to be key to find­ing his feet in the BTCC among the rest of the snarling pack.

“I think that I was per­haps a lit­tle bit ag­gres­sive in Clios – if some­one was around the out­side of me in a cor­ner, I wouldn’t think twice about run­ning them off the road. I think that is all the train­ing that Danny Bux­ton had drilled into me through the years,” he jokes.

“I don’t think that I will be do­ing that in the BTCC. You have to earn your place on the grid – if you start be­ing too bois­ter­ous, it will cer­tainly catch you out quickly. I want to earn the re­spect, so maybe I will have to back things off a bit.

“My goal for this year has to be the [rookie-based] Jack Sears Tro­phy,” says Whorton-eales. “There are a few good guys in there. I want to lift sil­ver­ware in my first sea­son and then build from there. I see my­self in the BTCC for a long time, and I just can’t wait to get started.”

For AMD Tun­ boss Shaun Hol­lamby, sign­ing Whorton-eales is a stag­ing post for the team. AMD is en­ter­ing its sev­enth sea­son, and its first with two cars, and Hol­lamby knows that his new charge could help ce­ment the team’s po­si­tion.

“I watched Ant closely in Clios last year,” says Hol­lamby. “We were watch­ing it be­cause Mike Bushell, our for­mer tour­ing car driver, was in it and Ant and him were slug­ging it out. He im­pressed me straight away.

“It is great for us to get a rookie like Ant. We want to be able to help driv­ers to achieve their BTCC dreams – OK, so we might not be the top team that they are all as­pir­ing to, but we can be a spring­board for them and help them on that jour­ney. That is some­thing we want to do with Ant. Run­ning Ol­lie Jack­son and him will give us the op­por­tu­nity to put our­selves in that place.”

Hol­lamby has a pre-sea­son pro­gramme worked out for both of his driv­ers, and he knows there will be learn­ing to be done. “We need to get out there and make sure that Ant is com­fort­able in the car and we want to work on one-lap qual­i­fy­ing pace,” says the team boss. “That is key in the BTCC and we will work hard on that. Then, when we get to the sea­son, he will have to do it with 31 other nut­ters around him. There is a learn­ing process to go through.”

Whorton-eales won’t have to wait too long for the ed­u­ca­tion to be­gin.

Test­ing will be­gin at the start of March and he will be fully pre­pared for the open­ing rounds of the sea­son at Brands Hatch on April 1/2. ■

Amd’s Ol­lie Jack­son (l) and Whorton-eales

Whorton-eales (r) took nine wins on his way to Clio ti­tle tri­umph

Mo­tor­base test out­ing in 2016

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