SUTTON TAKES MAIDEN BTCC WIN
MG MAN’S BREAKTHROUGH
na day that initially belonged to the old guard of the BTCC, it was Ash Sutton who raised soggy spirits in the final race to claim a maiden win to reinforce that the next generation of touring car star is alive and well.
On a wet road, Sutton was sensational in race three as he sorted out rear-wheel drive opposition – dominant earlier in the day – to score a win in race three in his Triple Eight Racing MG6.
Elsewhere, there was delight on the spectator banks that over at Team BMR, drivers were allowed to race devoid of team orders. Inside the team’s garage, and especially Colin Turkington’s car, there was frustration that contact between Turkington and Jason Plato cost the Subaru Levorg team a possible win as ever-opportunistic Rob Collard (WSR BMW 125i M Sport) jumped from fourth to first to go on to victory.
That internecine warfare came just hours after Turkington had bagged his second win of the season, as he jumped away from pole position to win the opener.
But as some in the paddock packed away trophies, Halfords Yuasa Racing had little to cheer about as the cars, breathless all weekend, struggled for pace all meeting and the team’s mood on Sunday night was as grey as the weather…
The opening turn, Clervaux, always produces drama, and the opener was no exception. Turkington’s ballast-free Levorg made a good start from pole but Dan Lloyd (Eurotech Racing Honda Civic) shocked himself with his getaway from second as he found himself level with the estate car at the braking zone.
“If I’d made an average start, I could have tucked in behind him, but I didn’t…” said Lloyd.
Instead, Lloyd tried to brave it out around the outside and promptly ran into the gravel and Sam Tordoff ’s BMW 125i M Sport followed suit. Lloyd was out on the spot, parked against the barriers, while Tordoff dropped down the pack as he recovered from his gravelly moment.
At Hawthorns, Adam Morgan (Mercedes-benz A-class) was turned sideways by Hunter Abbott (Chevrolet Cruze) with Abbott, after a great qualifying effort, went out with damage.
With Lloyd’s car needing to be removed, an early safety car period allowed leader Turkington to catch his breath. Team-mate Plato was behind and Sutton was third. On the restart, Turkington started to edge away from Plato, as Sutton had to work hard to keep Jack Goff (BMW 125i M Sport) at bay.
Goff closed around the lap only for Sutton to power away down the pit straight. “I expected the Subarus to get away,” said Sutton, “so it was about managing the tyres.”
Not even two more restarts, after two more safety car periods, offered Goff a chance to jump the car he drove last year.
The first of those safety car periods came after Mark Howard (Team BKR Volkswagen CC) went off at Clervaux and then, five laps later, Gordon Shedden (Honda Civic) had a wild moment at Clervaux and came back on to the road to discover Aiden Moffat’s Ciceley Racing Mercedes-benz A-class exactly where he wanted to be.
A disgruntled Moffat was out on the spot with a broken front-left corner. Shedden’s moment seemed to have been caused by liquid on the road and that had two culprits, both of whom were in strife: Tordoff and Andrew Jordan (Ford Focus).
Championship leader Tordoff was suffering after his trip through the gravel, a stone having been ingested and that in turn led to an oil leak. He dropped back and nursed the car home to 13th in need of an engine change. Jordan was suffering a gearbox oil leak and it was squirting on to his front-left tyre making the car a real handful.
“It wouldn’t have done another lap,” he said. “On the last lap, it wouldn’t change up or down so I was lucky to get to the line.”
Fifth was his reward having had a grandstand view of Goff ’s efforts to pass Sutton, but a new gearbox was needed for race two.
Behind Jordan came one of the heroes of the day as Jake Hill forced his way up from ninth in the Team Hard Toyota Avensis to take a career-best sixth with Collard all over him but never able to dislodge him. “Rob was really good,” said Hill. “He never gave me a nudge and it was a good race.”
Up front Turkington’s win looked a formality. He said afterwards: “With my track record here, everyone expects me to win. It wasn’t easy managing three safety car periods but the guys gave me a super car.”
The other half of Subaru’s one-two finish had to admit Turkington was just a bit too far ahead. “I like a lunge,” said Plato, “but he was too far ahead for a lunge.”
Those words would resonate a little louder after race two…
It should have been a Subaru one-two. Front row lockout, running in formation, working as a team. For seven laps, the Subaru duopoly continued as Turkington led away but Plato edged ahead into Clervaux and took the lead.
“Colin and I had a deal,” said Jason. “If I was on the outside and got slightly ahead, he’d let me have the lead instead of being hung out to dry and I’d give him the lead back a few laps later.”
Fine: Plato led Turkington and the quick-starting Goff with the race neutralised after James Cole’s Subaru fell off at Clervaux on the opening tour. On the restart, Plato gave Turkington room at Tower on lap five to give the Northern Irishman the lead as behind, Goff had to fend off Collard who looked quick but couldn’t find a way past his team-mate.
And then, on lap eight at Tower, Jason had a lunge. He dived up the inside of Turkington’s heavier Subaru and there was contact: the first impact turned Colin sideways and the second straightened him up.
As Plato was delayed as well, Goff should have been the beneficiary but was alarmed to discover Turkington sliding backwards into his path. He hit the brakes leaving a huge gap on the inside of the fracas for Collard to exploit.
From fourth to first in one move and a lead he was never to lose, Collard made good his escape. “The car was fantastic,” he said. “I made the start work and settled into a rhythm and then it was bedlam at Tower. I saw it happening and got up alongside Jason and there was just enough room to finish the move. I wondered if there was going to be room, but if in doubt, flat out!”
“It proves we don’t have team orders,” said Plato. “There was a gap, I was in the gap and the gap started to close. We kissed.”
“It was more than a kiss,” reckoned Turkington. “That wasn’t quite what we agreed. I struggled with damage after that as well so I wasn’t really able to fight back, but third isn’t too bad in the circumstances.”
Subaru team manager Alan Cole was as sanguine as possible: “If we don’t let them race, what’s the point of buying a ticket? I will be having a word, though, because that cost us a possible win.”
The pair recovered with Plato taking second – which is where he was before he made the move – and Turkington third, with Goff dropping to fourth as he stood on the brakes.
Behind, Sutton (on the hard tyre
introduced into the equation this weekend) took fifth ahead of Mat Jackson’s Ford Focus, while Tom Ingram was seventh in the Speedworks Toyota Avensis.
After his engine change, and against expectations the car was ready for race two, Tordoff tigered his way from 13th to eighth, a battle with title rival Matt Neal (Dynamics Honda Civic) being a warm-up act for his efforts on Ingram. Tordoff ’s strength was to use the traction out of the last hairpin and he used that to pick off places, but Ingram was tough. Tom slowed the car at the apex and denied Sam the chance to attack and on more than one lap past the pits they rubbed front to rear, the BMW looking decidedly second-hand postrace, although Sam was relieved to have been in the race at all after the engine change between races.
Ninth was Jordan, the new gearbox being fitted just in time for the race after a Herculean effort by Motorbase Performance, but that left the team with no time to change the set-up meaning that the understeer that prevailed in race one was still an issue. Neal’s breathless but ballast-free Honda rounded out the top 10, with team-mate Shedden further back in 13th place, just squeezing into the points.
Late afternoon rain was the last thing the teams needed before race three, but the drizzle in the preceding Porsche race became heavier as the cars headed to the grid. It wasn’t fully wet, so wet tyres would be chewed, but it was too wet for slicks. Or was it. Mat Jackson and Motorbase decided to fit slicks from third on the grid, a bold gamble and one that risked chucking away a decent haul of points from a good grid position. Shedden was another to gamble, but from 13th, he had less to lose.
Tordoff had pole position on the draw for the reverse grid and he shot away from pole on an increasingly wet road to lead Ingram to Clervaux with Goff and Turkington in behind. Jackson fell away on the opening lap and was seventh at the end of the lap before a safety car was needed as Warren Scott’s Subaru had to be pulled from the Clervaux gravel.
Jackson ran wide on the restart and lost more ground, as Tordoff tried to pull away from Ingram, but Sutton was flying on a track at which he had enjoyed success in other categories.
Both he and Turkington moved passed Goff and then Sutton caught Ingram thanks to another safety car period after Jackson lost his unequal struggle against adhesion and clattered back on to the road and clobbered Moffat in an incident that mirrored the Scotsman’s demise in race one with Shedden.
Shedden pitted for wets at the end of the safety car period but had lost huge chunks of time, as attention focused on Sutton. He made a bold dive up the inside of Turkington’s heavier Subaru at the Hairpin on lap nine, and Collard sneaked by as well to bag fourth spot. Sutton’s next target was Ingram, having a second successive consistent weekend, and a lap later Sutton chucked the MG up the inside heading into Tower to secure the place.
On lap 10, Sutton was 2.2s behind the leader Tordoff and the gap was down to 1.6s when out came the safety car again, this time for Abbott who had been collected by an errant Jeff Smith and was out at Hawthorns.
The restart was over just two laps and it was on the first of them that Tordoff, under pressure at his home track, ran a little wide coming out of Barcroft and gave Sutton just enough of a gap to dive up the inside down to Sunny. On an increasingly wet road, Sutton was the master as he didn’t put a wheel out of line over the final lap and secured his first touring car win by over a second.
“I love Croft but I am surprised to have won. I definitely didn’t expect that,” said Sutton. “With this being a rear-wheel-drive circuit I wasn’t expecting wins but the team gave me a great car and in the wet it felt like it was on rails. It was unbelievably good.”
Tordoff hung on to second after a difficult race. “I was the guinea pig. Every lap I had to discover the grip levels, but Ash was very quick today. By rights, we shouldn’t have been on the grid for race two but the guys did a great job so this really is a bonus,” said Tordoff.
With Neal down in in 11th, Tordoff edged away in the championship, too.
Ingram managed to repel Collard’s advances for third place, with Turkington on the tail of the pair. Turkington made a dive up the inside at Tower on the last lap, moving level with Collard but the BMW fought back and retook the place at the Jim Clark Esses, only for Josh Cook, whose MG was also flying, to dive up the inside of Turkington at the last corner and run both of them wide gifting Jordan fifth place.
Next stop is Snetterton and MG took a win there last season.
Right now, expect Subaru to be hard to beat in qualifying and race one, but if Triple Eight and MG can maintain this form, a fascinating season is only going to get better.
Sutton broke his BTCC duck A determined drive meant Sutton grabbed first
Morgan is hit by Abbott in race one