Three more driver signings have been announced for this year’s FIA World Touring Car Championship. SUNRED Engineering has confirmed that it will retain the services of teenage driver Pepe Oriola, while new entrants Arena Motorsport announced that British drivers Tom Chilton and James Nash will spearhead Ford’s return to the series.
Spain’s Oriola made history last year, aged just 16 years, 8 months and 11 days, when he became the youngest ever driver to contest a round of the World Touring Car Championship, making his debut with SUNRED at the season-opening round at Curitiba.
The rookie impressed in his maiden season, keeping his nose clean and finishing in the points on five occasions. He failed to see the chequered flag on only one occasion, often bringing his car home just outside the points’ paying positions.
His signing is of no great surprise, considering the interest he will hold in his homeland, particularly taking into consideration that SEAT is making a semi-works return to the championship this year after a two-year lay-off. The carmaker is supplying its own bespoke 1.6-litre turbocharged units and technical support to SUNRED, Lukoil Racing and new entrants, Special Tune Racing.
Oriola will have his first outing in the updated car at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya today, before heading to Valencia’s Ricardo Torno circuit next week for further pre-season tests.
Meanwhile, Ford’s frontline team Arena Motorsport has announced that Tom Chilton and James Nash will race in the outfit’s purpose-built Ford Focus challengers in the team’s debut season. It will mark Ford’s first WTCC outing since the 2005 season.
Chilton and Nash were respective winners of the Independents’ title in the British Touring Car Championship over the past two years.
Last year, Chilton raced for Arena Motorsport, while Nash drive for Triple Eight Engineering in a Vauxhall Astra. The pair finished seventh and fifth in last year’s overall BTCC standings, claiming one victory apiece.
“I’m incredibly excited about the WTCC,” Chilton is quoted as saying in today’s announcement.
“It’s a new challenge for me and the team, but I know we’ve got the experience and the tools to do a good job at that level. It’s going to be a different season, not knowing the tracks or the competition like we did in the BTCC, but that’s part of the appeal – new challenges and new targets.
“The initial time I’ve had with the new WTCC version of the car has given me a lot of optimism. The team has a tremendous amount of experience with the older versions of the car and it has just been a logical development with a lot of the new parts. I’m confident we can take the fight to the established teams even in our first year.”
“I’m really excited and pleased to be moving on to the next step of touring cars,” Nash added.
“I’ve had a great time in the BTCC, however everyone has aspirations and this was ultimately the next step in my career. I believe that I’m in the best position to have a successful 2012 season with Team Aon and I’m looking forward to my first season in the WTCC.”