Sutton, Champion, BTCC

Ash Sutton, a worthy BTCC Champion?

Last Sunday, the British Touring Car Championship crowned its youngest champion since 1966 in the form of Adrian Flux Subaru Racing’s Ash Sutton. In only his second season in the pinnacle of UK touring car racing, Ash dominated with six wins and a further eight podiums to claim his maiden crown, but should the title have gone to his title rival, Colin Turkington?

Both had a less than ideal start to the 2017 season, Sutton would fail to score a single point in the opening weekend, while Turkington wouldn’t even make it to the first corner in the opening race after clashing with Matt Neal off the start line.

Despite a titanic charge at Donington Park, Sutton would head to the fourth round of the championship at Oulton Park 50 points adrift of his Irish counterpart. The course of the championship would start to shift in Cheshire though, with Ash picking up his first win of the year for the Japanese marque. Meanwhile Turkington would face a troubled weekend after sustaining damage in the opening round, meaning the points difference would fall to just 14 as they ventured to Croft.

The next two rounds would be the tipping point of the entire season. Turkington, famously known as the ‘King of Croft’ would be on fine form, but would be pipped to top-spot by over 0.5s by the Subaru driver. Having taken his first BTCC win at Croft in the wet during the 2016 season, Sutton had a soft spot for the circuit, and would convert pole into a race 1 victory, with Turkington close behind. The duel would continue into race 2, with the King of Croft asserting his dominance and claiming victory.

Not deterred, Sutton would come back with his best weekend of his 2017 campaign next time out at Snetterton, with a double-win while Turkington could only muster 7th and 2nd. The pendulum was starting to swing in Sutton’s favour, and would continue in this way until the final race of the season, at Brands Hatch GP.

Both drivers have conducted absolute masterclasses this season, both in dominant drives at the front of the field, and drives from the back of the field that have kept them in contention. In fact, Sutton holds the record for most positions gained across a race weekend in 2017, with 31 – the entire length of the grid –  during Donington Park, while Turkington gained 30 in the opening round at Brands Hatch. It is this ability to overcome the odds that defines a champion, the ability to find that extra gear that separates them from the rest of the field. In the final two rounds of the season, both drivers demonstrated this rare driving ability:

A last-lap lunge on his rival during race 2 at Silverstone would prove costly for Sutton, deemed by the stewards to have been completed off-track, he would start the final race of the day from the back of the grid, while Turkington would start from the third. Fate has a strange way of keeping things interesting however, as Turkington’s advantage disappeared almost instantly after becoming tangled up with Sutton’s teammate, Jason Plato. Sutton meanwhile would keep a cool head and strategically make his way through the pack, to finish 11th and gain valuable points, a superb effort that no one thought possible.

Next time out at Brands, Turkington would face a similar feat. After a disastrous race 1 whereby he would only gain a single point, he knew he had to outscore Sutton to keep his title hopes alive. He did just that, with a passion and ferocity that made it seem that he was in a league of his own, he carved his way through the field to take the race win, and with it keep his title hopes alive going into the final race.

Unfortunately we were robbed of what could have been a spectacular duel in the final race of the season, in changing conditions the pair systematically carved their way through the field nose-to-tail in the opening lap, however Turkington was collected by the recovering Mat Jackson as he rejoined the track, and the sustained damage took him out of contention. Ash Sutton would be the 2017 BTCC Champion.

Was it deserved? Definitely. Did Turkington through his chances at a third BTCC title away? possibly, however I would suggest this came at the opening round, or spinning out of the lead at Snetterton, not during the final races. One thing is for certain, the sheer ability and determination that Ash Sutton has shown this year is second-to-none. 14 podiums in 30 races speaks for itself, the 23 year old is set to dominate the BTCC scene for years to come. During my time in the paddock I’ve always discussed the ‘new blood’ coming through the ranks that will one day take the place of the seasoned veterans. That day has now come. With Ingram and Goff also having their best seasons in the BTCC, I believe 2018 is set to be the turning of the tide in the BTCC, with Sutton leading the charge.

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