Ash Sutton and Colin Turkington locked in BTCC Battle Royale
The 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship will go down to the wire at Brands Hatch in two weeks’ time after a sensational penultimate race day at Silverstone saw the title picture take a number of twists and turns.
A head-to-head is poised between standings leader Ash Sutton and Colin Turkington with just ten points covering the pair, whilst Gordon Shedden and Tom Ingram still have the faintest of chances to clinch the coveted crown.
Tom Ingram, Jack Goff and Matt Neal claimed a win apiece on the day as the huge crowd enjoyed a thrilling triple-header in Northamptonshire.
Speedworks Motorsport’s Ingram took an early lead from pole-sitter Goff in the opener and the Toyota man subsequently romped on to claim his fourth victory of the season.
Eurotech Racing’s Goff kept the eventual race winner honest throughout, but Ingram would hang on until red flags ended the encounter prematurely.
Adam Morgan grabbed an impressive – if a little lonely – third place finish, but it was the accident behind that provided the main bulk of the action.
Chris Smiley’s Chevrolet and Aron Taylor-Smith’s MG touched on the run down to Maggotts on lap 14, which had a knock-on effect on those behind. Rob Collard’s BMW was collected in the melee and his damaged machine left the track, slid wildly across the grass, before firing back across the circuit at Becketts. An unsighted Will Burns then slammed into Collard’s car, with Andrew Jordan also unfortunately involved – ending the trio’s respective efforts and eventually resulting in the race being cut short.
Collard and Burns were both taken to hospital for precautionary checks, with the latter suffering rib injuries, but both were discharged later in the day.
Goff returned the favour on race one winner Ingram as the Honda Civic Type R driver claimed a hugely popular and impressive win in the second bout.
Ingram’s Toyota made another stellar getaway as the pole position man fended off Goff’s Honda out of the traps. Goff hounded Ingram in the early running, however, and made a firm move stick into Becketts on lap three. Goff then went on take a dominant victory – his first for Eurotech Racing.
The scrap for the final podium position had implications on the title race with championship leader Sutton making a last gasp move on rival Turkington.
Team BMW’s Turkington was in defensive mode as Sutton nosed his Subaru down the inside into Luffield on the final tour, and the former couldn’t hang on as the young standings leader completed the pass on the approach to Woodcote.
Stewards reviewed the incident post-race, however, and Sutton was subsequently penalised for the move – the podium place awarded to Turkington as a result. As this was the young star’s third penalty strike of the season, he was then forced to start the final contest from the back of the grid.
Halfords Yuasa Racing’s Neal surged from 12th on the grid to win the final thriller, which also saw Power Maxed Racing’s Rob Huff and BTC Norlin Racing’s Dave Newsham score crowd-pleasing podium finishes.
Pole-sitter Newsham bogged down from pole position, enabling Huff’s Vauxhall to inherit the lead early on.
Speedworks Motorsport’s Ingram picked up the baton in challenging Huff for the lead and the duo went side-by-side at mid-distance, but Huff’s staunch defence was enough to see off the Toyota.
Neal was busy making ground and when he disposed of Ingram, Newsham and Adam Morgan’s Mercedes with relative ease, the triple BTCC champion then began hauling in Huff’s Vauxhall Astra.
The latter’s defence was finally broken on lap 21 of 25 as Neal’s Honda nipped up the inside at Becketts. The veteran racer went on to extend his advantage over the remainder of the race to take his 61st BTCC victory.
The title chase took another incredible twist when Turkington’s BMW got caught up in someone else’s incident, ending his weekend on a rather low point, especially given he was unable to capitalise on rival Sutton’s earlier penalty.
His 125i M Sport had already been shuffled down the order before an altercation involving Stephen Jelley’s Ford and Jason Plato’s Subaru happened directly in front of him. The Ulsterman had nowhere to go and heavy contact followed, leaving the championship contender crawling back to the pits with a damaged Bavarian machine.
Therefore it was 11th placed Sutton who arguably had the most to celebrate. With Turkington and reigning champion Shedden hitting trouble, the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing driver was able to extend his championship lead to ten points with 67 still on offer at the Brands Hatch season finale.
BMW and Team BMW maintained their lead in the Manufacturers’ and Teams’ standings. Tom Ingram and Speedworks Motorsport hold the initiative in both Independents’ tables, whilst Power Maxed Racing’s Senna Proctor now boasts an unassailable points lead in the Jack Sears Trophy. The youngster has flourished in his maiden BTCC campaign. Tallying 14 JST victories, he’s been a force to be reckoned with in the Vauxhall Astra.
Rounds 28, 29 and 30 of the 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship will take place at Brands Hatch on 30 September/1 October with yet another enthralling title showdown set to wow the crowds.
Ashley Sutton said: “I’m over the moon with that – I didn’t expect it. We were on the back foot to start with and we’ve bounced back from it. It was always going to be a tough ask – I said on the grid top 15 would be nice. I was assisted with the incidents going on and I’m pleased to have bounced back like that. It was a nice little sight to see Turkington on the exit there and it took a little bit of the pressure off – it was a nice surprise. The BTCC is the pinnacle of British motorsport. For me, it’s time to reset and sit down with the team – Carl (Faux) and Jason (Plato). Jason’s been here before and I need to pick out what I can ahead of Brands.”
Colin Turkington said: “A third and a fourth have helped us close in, even if it was just by two points. It really took a twist from the first corner in race three with a couple of guys going off. The first sequence of the lap went okay for me. I got tagged going into Brooklands on the first lap. That turned me around three-quarters of the way down the field. There was another incident at Luffield and the cars ahead made a roadblock – I couldn’t get out of the way. It’s so frustrating. I worked so hard in race one or two to claw points back but there’s nothing I could have done to stop that race three drama unfolding so I’ve just got to go and reset and go on to Brands. I’m obviously on the back foot. From race one I’ve got to start reducing the deficit. It’s a positive it’s only ten points now, I’ve taken two from the gap having finished just two of the races really. I have nothing to protect heading to Brands, it’s clear in my head I’ve got to outscore Ash (Sutton) at every opportunity – it’s very straightforward for me from that point of view.”
Tom Ingram said: “I’m delighted with the win. It was a bit of a strange one with that late incident. We had that safety car and you’re just focusing on where you need to drop the hammer and on keeping temperatures up. I got the jump on the restart and all of a sudden, I got the call that there would be a red flag. I really didn’t expect to start as well as I did as the right side of the grid was wet. I thought I’d be down in fourth or fifth but when they matter I seem to be able to pull them out of the bag. When the rain came down, it was the hardest thing. I had a huge moment at Copse – as soon as I hit the brakes, I slid on. The worst place to be is the lead in that situation. Everyone uses you as a judge of the conditions and inevitably it’s the leader that falls off. To take another overall win as well as the Independents’ win is fantastic to get us back on track after that mid-season dip.”
Jack Goff said: “The second victory took a little while to come. It’s been over two years now! It’s for all the Eurotech guys – we’ve had a tough time with Jeff (Smith)’s accident and it’s for all our sponsors too. I watched some old footage of Andy (Jordan) and Jason (Plato) back and I saw that at turn one we might get a bit of help with the softer compound tyre. The car was fantastic. It’s usually pretty good but performance over the race distance is sometimes our downfall. It was great there though even with ballast. The first NGTC pole for a Honda and a first win for Jeff as team boss. Brilliant!”
Matt Neal said: “We’ve had long weekend, so that was lovely. It’ll make pack up and the journey home a wee bit shorter. It’s great for everybody involed, but it has been a tough weekend. I was a little bit lucky but a lot went for the hard option tyre earlier on and I took the risk. It was a bit of a struggle for me in race two on that rubber through copse, so I thought it’d be a good hunting ground for me in race three, and so it was. I tried to make headway early on and then things settled and I could try and work out where we were strong and others were weaker. It was the fast stuff where we are generally, and it is there where the Honda Civic Type R goes well. I thought it was going to be hard work, trying to pass Rob (Huff) but he left me a little chink of light and I got through.”