THE BTCC’S NEWEST STAR P25
ANT WHORTON-EALES PROFILED
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 Tuning.com 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 Tuning.com 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