In only his second season on the tour, Ashley Sutton has become a British Touring Car champion. For the 23 year old, it’s the stuff of dreams, but his underdog triumph is fully deserved, writes Luke Barry
What will you have achieved by the time you are 23 years old? For some of us that’s a question of reflection, others a ponder of hope. For British Touring Car Championship racer Ashley Sutton, it’s something he probably hasn’t come to terms with yet.
The BTCC is one of the fiercest fought championships in the world of motorsport. Gordon Shedden became the only man to win the series in consecutive years since Fabrizio Giovanardi in 2007 and 2008, with Subaru Levorg driver Ash Sutton now cutting his own slice of history and becoming the first man to win the coveted title in just his second season since the Italian’s successes a decade ago.
And Sutton did it by beating one of the best in the business: Colin Turkington.
BTCC ‘Finals Day’ as it’s affectionately known is always a chaotic affair. The anticipation is fever-pitch, the drivers nervous and the championship permutations endless. And with it being October in England, the weather often has its say.
In 2017, Brands Hatch was once again the battleground, but unlike proceeding years where three, four or more men have gone into the final three rounds with a shot at glory, the battle was one of two. Triple champion Gordon Shedden still had a mathematical chance as did Tom Ingram, but it would have required all three of their rivals to score next to no points to pull it off.
As it was, Sutton was squaring up against one of the best in the business. Turkington is a winner in the world championship, a double British champion and one of the most professional racers on the grid. He’s a tough prospect to face, particularly when in a West Surrey Racing BMW.
Ironically, the Northern Irishman left Team BMR and the Subaru Levorg to return ‘home’ to WSR and BMW this year, the combination that saw him win the BTCC in 2009 and 2014. A seat in the series’ other rear wheel drive car, the Subaru Levorg, was up for grabs and Sutton made the switch from Triple Eight Racing and MG to partner Jason Plato, James Cole and Josh Price.
Sutton drew first blood on the decisive weekend, qualifying an incredible third with the maximum 75kg of success ballast onboard. Rival Turkington was 17th, and that translated into a third and 15th place finish respectively in Sunday’s opening race.
The momentum was with Sutton; so job done? It could’ve been on round 29 of 30, but as it so often does in the BTCC, the pendulum began to swing. Dramatically.
Sutton fell back in the day’s second race, eventually finishing 12th, while Turkington went the other way. Sensationally, he carved his way all the way up from 15th on lap one to win the race, slashing Sutton’s championship lead to six points with a drive worthy of taking the biggest prize in British motorsport.
Turkington’s task was made harder with the reverse grid draw placing him 10th for the championship decider, just two places ahead of Sutton’s Subaru with more weight aboard his BMW.
Unfortunately, we weren’t treated to the dramatic finale we were all craving. Turkington was caught up in an avoidable accident early on that instantly destroyed his suspension, and with his path clear, Sutton seized his opportunity with a fine drive in wet conditions to take third place and with it, his maiden Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship title.
Many expected Sutton to play second fiddle to team mate Plato, the driver with the most race wins in championship history, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. Ash was superlative all year, bagging important results in both qualifying and in the races to take a fully deserved championship title home with him. Plato came home 12th. It’s the stuff of dreams, with a real underdog feel reminiscent of Andrew Jordan’s 2013 triumph. The question is, will it be a one season wonder?
Interest is also switching to 2018 though, with news from both Peugeot and Ford regarding their future in rallycross. Peugeot have committed to a programme next year with Sebastien Loeb, but it is unclear whether they will stay partnered with the Hansen team and indeed if current drivers Timmy and Kevin Hansen will continue with the French marque.
Ford meanwhile, who partner Ken Block’s Hoonigan Racing Division, have pulled the plug on their involvement, with next month’s South African race being the final one for the Ford Focus RS RX. This leaves one of the most talented drivers on the grid, Andreas Bakkerud, without employment. For now. There are certainly interesting times ahead.