Duel for the BTCC crown – Ash Sutton & Colin Turkington lead the chase for title
The race for the most prestigious title in British motor sport is set to go right down to the wire once again at Brands Hatch next weekend (30 September-1 October) with a head-to-head duel in store between standings leader Ash Sutton and double champ Colin Turkington.
The pair lead the way after a rollercoaster trip to Silverstone, where the initiative swung one way then the next, leaving Team BMW’s Turkington just ten points shy of Adrian Flux Subaru Racing’s Sutton atop the table. With 67 points on offer over the final three rounds of the campaign at the legendary Kent venue, there is plenty of time for change before the final chequered flag falls on 2017 come Sunday evening.
Reigning champion Gordon Shedden is third in the running and Tom Ingram sits fourth – both still retain the faintest of hopes of clinching the championship.
The iconic Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit is set to play host to three unmissable races and has witnessed many a memorable moment over the last six years as the BTCC’s final port of call. A huge crowd is expected at the hallowed Kent venue – packed spectator banking and grandstands are a sure thing, while many more will be watching the drama unfold live and exclusively on ITV4.
Who’ll come out on top?
Sutton is nearing the end of what is only his second campaign in Britain’s premier championship and heads the charge with just three rounds left to run, holding a narrow 10-point margin at the top of the charts.
His season has gathered pace ever since a pair of podiums at Donington Park back in April outlined his intentions. They followed a difficult opening weekend at the opposite end of the season at the Kent venue, albeit on the shorter Indy loop. A first victory of the year came at Oulton Park, as the Subaru Levorg once again proved it would be a force to be reckoned with, following on from a storming second half of 2016 – largely in the hands of his immediate rival in 2017, Colin Turkington.
Further trips to the top step of the rostrum followed at Croft, Knockhill and Rockingham, punctuated by a stunning win-double at Snetterton. No driver has taken more victories than Sutton this season. The Subaru man outstrips Turkington and Shedden by double – that duo sit second and third in the Drivers’ standings respectively, each on three wins.
“I’m in a strong position,” said Sutton. “I just need to carry on the momentum we’ve got. Brands GP is a circuit I love and I’m feeling confident heading into the finale.”
Turkington, meanwhile, has been there before. The double champion has headed into the finale, in a West Surrey Racing-prepared BMW no less, with it all to do and has come up with the goods. This year, he’s matched Sutton almost every step of the way. He’s a podium shy, but has managed two more top six finishes. It’s this consistency that is so vital to a good season in the BTCC and with the pressure on next weekend, will experience prove to be a key factor in the Ulsterman’s favour? Two wins on his last visit to the longer GP circuit would indicate he’ll be a tough nut to crack.
“I’m obviously on the back foot,” said Turkington. “From race one I’ve got to start reducing the deficit. It’s a positive that it’s only ten points now. I have nothing to protect heading to Brands next weekend, it’s all 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.”
The other drivers still in with a shout are reigning champion Gordon Shedden and Tom Ingram. The Halfords Yuasa Racing man has scored two titles on the bounce, though at this stage a hat-trick looks unlikely. That said, nothing is impossible and the Scot has seen points differentials swing in his favour, with a never-say-die attitude in each of the last two seasons at Brands Hatch ensuring he came up trumps in both of those encounters.
Meanwhile, Speedworks Motorsport’s Ingram – who tops the Independent Drivers’ charts – enjoyed a flying start to 2017. A mid-season lull has been followed by a strong comeback in the second half of the campaign, with his four wins in the Toyota the best of the bunch behind Sutton’s six.