James Nash is currently in the middle of a second long break from action in the 2012 World Touring Car Championship, having joined the field at the start of the season.
Nash signed with Team Aon for their attack on the WTCC with the brand new Ford Focus having secured the British Touring Car Championship Independent Drivers’ crown in 2011.
“I loved my time in the BTCC and being honest I have missed not being a part of it this season, especially the interaction with the fans which is a big part of the series,” explains Nash. “While I keep in touch with of many of them as I can through twitter I just wish that there was a British round of the WTCC so we could all have a proper catch up!”
He didn’t see a realistic option to remain with the team which brought him his Independents’ Drivers’ title but while he could have stayed in the series with another team, he felt that the switch to the WTCC was one he couldn’t turn down.
“Unfortunately, after the success we enjoyed together last season, staying with Triple Eight this season wasn’t a realistic option,” continued Nash. “I did have an offer to go with another good team but the option of going to the WTCC and helping to develop an all-new car and working with Ford was just too good an opportunity to decline.”
He hasn’t ruled out a return to the BTCC in the future but he also has other aims which he would like to accomplish in his career.
“I am following the series but would I go back to the BTCC? Yes, why not? It is a great Championship, though I don’t see that happening for a little while yet,” added Nash.
“The Ford Focus is an on-going project very early into its development and I’m enjoying having engineering input. I’d also like to try sportscars. One of my ambitions for instance is to race a prototype at Le Mans. Nevertheless, the people around me are always on the look-out for new opportunities so you never know…”
Looking back over the opening 16 races of the 2012 campaign, Nash explains one race in particular which was a personal highlight for him, as it brought him his first points in the WTCC.
“Definitely Marrakech race two back in April where I scored my first points, led the race and enjoyed the first pole position of my WTCC career. It was Ford’s first pole and best result in the modern era of the WTCC too which made it even better,” Nash explains.
Looking back at the Marrakech weekend as a whole, Nash and the team went through a mixture of emotions as he was forced into retirement early in the opening race and then had a race against the clock to be out for the second race.
“The meeting had started well,” the 26 Year Old said. “We qualified both of the new Ford Focuses in the top ten for the first time including pole for race two and everything was looking good. I then got punted off in race one which was a disaster. The team though only had the 15 minute window we get between races to repair the car. Thankfully, they finished it just before the pits closed for race two so I was able to take up the pole.”
Having made it out of the pits just in time to start round six from Pole Position, Nash went on to finish sixth after leading for the first four laps, the first time a Ford had led a World Touring Car Championship race.
“While the handling wasn’t quite right I led for a few laps until the all conquering Chevrolet’s came through and it was huge fun,” concluded Nash about the Marrakech weekend.
“So from despair at our opening race misfortune and the very tense battle against the clock to get the car repaired, I then had the elation at starting from the pole, leading the race and scoring points. It was a feeling of immense relief and excitement both at the same time!”
From the elation of Marrakech came the downer in Slovakia, the venue for rounds 7 and 8 of the season. The Slovakiaring was making its WTCC debut and thus, it was a new circuit for almost every driver in the WTCC field.
Nash admits that he and the team had high hopes for the weekend but his weekend was compromised after qualifying, where a component broke which meant that he failed the ride height and was demoted 10 places on the grid.
“Slovakia. A new track for most and given that this season is both mine and Team Aon’s first in the WTCC we had high hopes of doing well. I managed to qualify fourth just 0.3s off pole but was then penalised ten places after the car on one corner failed a ride height check. The failure was due to a component breaking and it hadn’t offered any kind of performance advantage at all,” explains Nash.
The issue went that instead of starting on row two, he lined up back on row seven and this meant that he was in the danger zone for incidents and contact.
“Then to cap it all on the opening lap of race one I got side-swiped into the gravel by another car which cut a brake line,” reflects Nash on his Slovakiaring ending incident.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t know of the loss of brakes until I got to the next corner. The trip over the kitty litter was exciting but the impact with the barrier wasn’t quite as much fun. Game over though for the weekend.”
Looking back over the opening 16 races, Nash feels that his performances at the wheel of the #14 Team Aon Ford Focus has been fair but that his achievements and performances haven’t been noticed due to being in the midfield.
“Fair I think. I’ve driven very well this season though unfortunately when you’re racing in midfield a lot of what you’re doing goes unnoticed,” explains the Milton Keynes based racer.
“We’ve got the data though and when you look at my lap times both in qualifying and the race my performance compared to that of my teammate is and has been very favourable.”
His team-mate at Team Aon for 2012 is the 2010 British Touring Car Championship Independent Drivers’ Champion, Tom Chilton and Nash feels that to be favourably compared to him is satisfying.
“The best comparison a driver has is his teammate and Tom Chilton my teammate is an extremely quick driver,” added Nash. “He’s won in touring cars and in prototype sportscars too. To favourably compare to him in the same car has been professionally very satisfying.”
Overall, Nash is pleased with his first half season in the WTCC, as he explains: “However, notwithstanding the fact that the ‘Global’ Focus, the team and me are all new to the WTCC I have scored the most points ever by a Ford driver in the modern era of the WTCC in my first half season so, that is good too I think.”
Nash is enjoying being a part of the World Touring Car Championship and by the time the season finishes in Macau in November, he will have raced in Europe, Africa, Asia, South and North America.
“I’ve really enjoyed being part of the World Championship,” added Nash. “I’ve raced on three different continents already this season and I’ll have raced on two more by the time we get to Macau for the final round in November.”
The WTCC field sees a mixture of national Champions, World Champions and drivers’ who have raced in Formula 1 and Nash admits that it is an achievement to break into the top ten.
“The quality of the competition is fierce in any top line Championship but the depth of quality in the WTCC is something else. I’m racing against drivers who’ve won World and National titles before and in the mix we’ve got a couple of former F1 Grand Prix drivers too. Just to get into the top ten in the WTCC is a big achievement.”
Looking ahead to the final eight races of the campaign, Nash is keeping his expectations in check as he acknowledges that it will take time to develop the Focus to its full potential.
“Hopefully, we can make the top ten a few more times,” Nash said. “While all of us at Team Aon will be trying to develop and push forward the Ford Focus as fast as we can achieving more, a podium say, I think we’ll have to wait for that until next season.”
Away from the Circuits, Nash is kept busy with the testing and development of the Ford Focus as well as simulator work and personal training, while also fitting in his job and his sponsor duties.
“Working hard! Between races there is testing and development work to do as well as the simulator stuff and physical training, which I love anyway,” Nash commented.
“I also work at vGroup International, I’m their Purchasing Director, and so it really has been busy. I’ve also got some great sponsors, people like Laser who’ve come on board this season and between races I’ve enjoyed visiting them and finding out more about them.”
Being part of the World Touring Car Championship has meant that Nash has had a chance to experience some different experiences as well as helping to promote the series ahead of its maiden visit to the USA in September, at the Sonoma Raceway in California.
“I did a fans forum evening a few weeks ago and I’ve also recently been over to the US as part of an FIA promotion for the WTCC round there next month,” explained Nash about his WTCC duties away from racing the Team Aon car.
“Myself, Gabriele Tarqiuni and Tiago Montiero went over and we attended a NASCAR race meeting and we were even guests of honour at the Grand Marshall’s Banquet. The American people were great hosts and very welcoming. I’ve even swum with dolphins on a pre-race thing, an awesome experience.”
He also does his bit for Charity and has a Charity Skydive coming up in September, which he feels will be an “awesome experience.”
“Talking of awesome experiences, I’m very much looking forward to making my first skydive next month,” concludes Nash.
“It’s on September 16th and I’ll be jumping out of an aircraft over Peterborough. I got talked into it I guess in a moment of weakness but it is for a good cause namely the East Anglia Air Ambulance. If anyone would like to sponsor me they can by visiting www.justgiving.com/teams/eaaa or by mobile by texting NASH85 with the amount you want to donate to 70070.”
After 16 of the 24 races in the 2012 World Touring Car Championship, Nash is currently 18th overall with 12 Championship Points, heading to Sonoma Raceway in California over the 22/23 September.