Tom Onslow-Cole prepares for final International GT Open season amid coronavirus uncertainty

By Dan Brookes
March 12 2020, 12:00

Pre-season preparations have hit a bump in the road as racing driver Tom Onslow-Cole gears up for his final season in the International GT Open.

Alongside amateur partner Valentin Pierburg, the Kingston-born 32-year-old has won back-to-back titles in the championship’s Pro-Am category in 2018 and 2019.

But ahead of the new season’s April 25 start date, at the Circuit Paul Ricard in France, organiser GT Sport opted to postpone last weekend’s first Winter Test at Barcelona, citing concerns regarding the spread of the coronavirus as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on sport across the continent.

“For sure it’s going to cause us some issues,” said Onslow-Cole.

“So far I’ve only had one test cancelled but as soon as two or three more go then we might be starting the season on the underside of prepared.

“The scope for impact really is huge though, we could easily be in a place where certain rounds and races are cancelled.”

In-car preparations may have stalled but in the event of further disruption, part of Onslow-Cole’s role as the professional half of his partnership with German Pierburg is to coach his teammate away from the track as well – comparing data, analysing video and using a £15,000 driving simulator to train for each laser-scanned circuit.

He said: “The sim has become a real key part.

DISRUPTION: Coronavirus concerns have postponed Tom Onslow-Cole’s first test date of the new season Photo credit: James Gasperotti

“I’m sometimes still going to a circuit that I might not have driven before and the simulator is an amazing platform to learn that circuit.

“You can watch a simulated race and it takes you a few minutes to figure out whether it is esports or real life, the tracks are that accurate.

“It’s become a big part of the racing scene, using it to prepare but also to stay sharp over the winter when you haven’t necessarily got as much racing going on.

“Normally when we test on the sim and then go to the circuit we are within a very small margin lap time-wise.

“More narrow than what you would find just from weather changes – less than half a second.”

Reflecting fondly on his partnership with Pierburg at SPS Automotive Performance, Onslow-Cole explains how an intoxicated awards evening encounter with team manager Stephen Sohn led to their 2017 team-up.

He said: “We swapped details and I thought it was just one of those conversations fuelled with a few too many drinks at the bar.

“Later that year I joined the team for a 24-hour race, met Valentin and we’ve been racing together since then.

THREE IN A ROW: Onslow-Cole is bidding to win a third successive International GT Open Photo credit: Gary Parravani

“Season one was a big learning year about the championship but the last two years have been fantastic.

“It’s been very close, it has always come down to the last race of the year but we have been fortunate and hopefully good enough to clinch it, so it’s been really cool.

“And we’re going back for one last year to hopefully make it a treble.”

But that doesn’t mean Onslow-Cole will be hanging up the helmet any time soon.

“There’s lots on my bucket list,” he added.

“The World Endurance Championship, Daytona 24 Hours, the Bathurst 12 Hour event, Le Mans would be amazing.

“And not just to do them, you want to go to try and win – that’s always the racer in you.”

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