Ashley Sutton is crowned BTCC champion in only his second season
(Photo from: www.btcc.net)
Ashley Sutton claimed maiden first British Touring Car Championship crown at only his second attempt on Sunday after a fascinating three races. Sutton, who won the Jack Sears Trophy last season, becomes the first driver to win the championship in anything other than a BMW or Honda since 2010 as his Subaru Levorg took him to victory.
The 24-year-old was made to work for his title as closest rival Colin Turkington heaped on the pressure throughout the day, although the WSR BMW driver was compromised going into the day having suffered issues in qualifying leaving him languishing down in 17th as Sutton qualified third.
In addition to this Turkington would have to compete for the title without one of his teammates Rob Collard who was forced to withdraw from the three races on medical advice after suffering from the effects of his heavy crash at Silverstone.
A wet session which dried throughout left Jack Goff on pole for the first race of the day, his third of 2017, with Aiden Moffat alongside in his Mercedes A-Class.
Race 1 and as the lights went out on a damp but drying track Jack Goff and Moffat ran side by side heading into and out of Paddock Hill Bend. Pole man Goff however spun out of winning contention as he lost the back end after hitting the inside curb. This promoted Moffat to the lead with Sutton second and Ingram third.
The top three would quickly pull away from the chasing pack and fight for the lead as Moffat drove an excellent defensive race leading every lap on his way to his second win of the season. By lap 5 Ingram was up to second, edging his way past Sutton at Clearways before completing the move at Paddock Hill Bend.
Lower down the order though the conditions were not playing into Turkington’s hands as he struggled with tyre temperatures throughout, which ensured he could do no better than 15th. This left Sutton with one hand on the title as his lead was up to 24 points.
A staggering 13 seconds behind the lead three and the first of the non podium finisher was Mat Jackson with the Power Maxed Racing duo of Tom Chilton and Senna Procter fifth and sixth respectively.
Outgoing double champion Gordon Shedden was seventh as Dave Newsham, Rob Austin and fellow Team Dynamics Honda Matt Neal rounded out the top 10.
Onto Race 2 and the grid was determined by the finishing results of the previous race. Once again Moffat got a great start and was leading into Paddock Hill Bend however Ash Sutton had a terrible start, slipping to sixth from third behind Mat Jackson, and the two Vauxhalls of Chilton and Proctor.
Once again Moffat was defending valiantly from the chasing pack as those behind him bunched up. It was not aided Sutton though who on lap 5 was overtaken by Shedden and then by Neal two laps later. The championship leader was clearly having the same struggles on the hard tyre as Turkington had in race 1.
Turkington was having a fabulous race having made three spots on the opening lap before making his way into the top 10. By half distance Turkington was on Sutton’s heals and took his championship rival into Druids, quickly pulling away having just set the fastest lap of the race. Turkington was not done though and during the same lap he made light work of Chilton’s Vauxhall and a lap later he was past Neal too out dragging the Honda driver out of Surtees.
A lap later and Turkington was past Ingram before pulling the same move on Shedden as he did on Neal, Turkington was up to third.
Turkington’s inspired driver was not finished as he dived down the inside of Jackson for second and quickly set his sights on Moffat for the lead. Lap 13 and with two laps to go Turkington made his move, tapping the rear of the Mercedes driver into Paddock Hill Bend to take the lead from 15th on the grid.
In all the commotion both Shedden and Neal made their way past Jackson as Moffat slipped to fifth leaving Turkington leading with Shedden second and Neal third.
Behind the top five, Sutton was beginning to struggle and although he had made his way up to seventh the championship leader slipped to 12th by the end of the race. With Turkington winning and in doing so, driving one of the best races of the year, closed the gap at the top of the standings to 6 points with one race to go.
Behind the top five of Turkington, Shedden, Neal, Jackson and Moffat finished Ingram in sixth, Chilton in seventh as Goff, Austin and Epps rounded out the top 10.
Turkington would later receive a fine and three points on his licence for the move on Moffat however crucially he did not lose any positions.
Race 3 and the reverse grid draw saw Mike Epps on pole in his Team HARD VW CC with Austin alongside. As it was the top 10 reversed it meant that Turkington and Sutton were only two cars apart. To add to the drama the rain from earlier in the day had returned ensuring that all bar three drivers started on the wet tyres in what were very tricky conditions.
As the lights went out for the final time in 2017 Austin got the best start from second however Epps was able to hold him off for the lead as the duo went down into Paddock Hill Bend. Epps’ lead did not last long though as by Graham Hill Bend, Austin was through it was the Toyota Avensis’ last outing for Handy Motorsport before the team switch to an Alfa Romeo for 2018.
Behind the top two Turkington was once again slicing through the field and was already up to sixth by the end of lap one and was setting his sights on Ingram and Jackson in front as Sutton followed through in seventh. But by Graham Hill Bend on the second lap the championship was over as Ingram nudged Jackson sending the Ford driver wide. As Jackson returned to the circuit he tapped the rear of Turkington’s car, puncturing his tyre and breaking the right-rear suspension.
Turkington drove straight into the pits, his championship fight was over, crowning Sutton the 2017 BTCC victor.
The safety car was deployed on lap three to recover Senna Proctor’s beached car at Druids and once the safety car returned to the pits, Austin started to pull away from Epps in second. Behind the top three was Jack Goff and new champion Sutton who had worked his way past Ingram just before the safety car was deployed.
Sutton was not finished though and quickly set his sights on Goff, able to relax in the knowledge he was champion. Epps was still a comfortable second though by lap 8 he was under pressure from those behind him. By lap 9, Goff was through following a forceful move at Druids which also allowed Sutton through.
By the time Goff and Sutton were past Epps, Austin held a four second lead and never looked like being caught on his way to his third BTCC win and the first for Handy Motorsport. Goff and Sutton rounded out the podium places while behind, Ingram made his way past Epps for fourth to claim third in the driver’s standings. Gordon Shedden finished sixth with Jackson, Neal, Morgan and Jake Hill rounding out the top 10.
It was a fantastic season, 2018 starts on the 8th April at the Brands Hatch Indy circuit.