Team Aons high hopes for the first ever US round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship were dashed after a red flag in qualifying, first lap crashes and blocked filters during the racing action in Sonoma. Several incidents hampered what progress the team had made in testing, despite both cars running in the top seven in both of Saturdays practice sessions. Tom Chilton finished 12th in race one and crossed the line in 15th for race two. Blocked filters caused Nash to retire from race one, and hampered his performance in race two when the British racer crossed the line in 17th place.
Following 39 individual updates to the Global Ford Focus ahead of the Sonoma race weekend, it had been a busy few weeks of testing, development and building of new parts for Team Aon. The teams improvements seemed to have delivered a significant step forward in pace after Chilton went second quickest in first free practice, while Nash was seventh quickest. Again in second free practice both Team Aon cars were in the top ten with Nash ninth and Chilton tenth.
As qualifying got underway, the track temperatures continued to climb and debris and dust from the dry Californian landscape continued to be an issue on track. In the first half of the session both Team Aon men were on the pace and were amongst the front runners with Nash P5 and Chilton P7. Just a few minutes later Chilton was in the pits for change to new tyres. As Chilton returned to the track, Nash pitted, as Chilton set out to better his current 11th place on the timing screens. Nash meanwhile followed him out soon after, and was still 8th quickest with only a few minutes remaining.
As the times tumbled in the final stages of qualifying, both Team Aon drivers picked up the pace, but a red flag brought the session to an early conclusion just as Chilton was on a quick lap that would easily have seen him through to Q2. With no further chance to improve, Nash and Chilton had to be content with 13th and 17th respectively.
As race one got underway on Saturday, Chilton saw his hopes of a strong finish seriously dashed when he was involved in an accident to avoid the spinning Stefan DAste on the opening lap spin. Nash meanwhile was making strong progress and was well in the points in eighth place. Nash soon began to lose positions however, as a sudden lack of power pushed him down the order.
As Nashs problems continued, Chilton was able to pass his team mate and went on to finish 12th, shortly before Nash pitted; unable to finish the final four laps of the race. In order to stand any chance of returning his car onto track in time for race two, the Team Aon mechanics had no choice but to break Park Ferme conditions as they investigated Nashs sudden lack of power.
Blocked filters were soon identified for Nashs woes, another consequence of the debris on track. With his car now running again, Nash was able to join the grid for race two just 20 minutes later, albeit in 20th place after breaking Park Ferme restrictions.
Both Team Aon men made a good start to race two and at the end of lap one Nash had made up three places while Chilton had moved up one place to 15th. Some close racing between Chilton, Nash, Alexei Dudukalo, Darryl OYoung resulted in several changes for position, but at the chequered flag Chilton was 15th, Nash was 17th.
Reflecting on the teams weekend, Team Aon Racing Director Mike Earle said, Based on the amount of work the team have put in since the last round in Brazil, theres no doubt that this weekends results were very disappointing. However, no matter what pace you have, there is always a certain amount of luck involved in motorsport, and we certainly didnt have any in Sonoma this weekend. If Tom had been able to complete his best lap in qualifying, and James had been able to continue in the points in race one, we could have been looking at a very different weekend. We will take the positives away with us from Sonoma and focus on building on those and improving further for the next round in Suzuka.