By Mick Palmer
The two teams that battled for glory at Croft in 2021 have had a tough start to the 2022 campaign. The common denominator – Ash Sutton – has moved from Laser Tools to Motorbase/NAPA and has yet to taste any top step champagne this term with his new steed, while his old stallion has also struggled to get to the front of the field.
It was only nine months ago that Croft was rocking to Aiden Moffat taking his first ever BTCC pole position. The Infiniti Q50 racer added a fourth win to his career tally in the first race, and followed that with a combative second place in race two – with a maxed out weight penalty in an impressive battle with Motorbase Ford Focus racer Jake Hill.
The weekend was a catalyst for a run in to the end of the year that delivered consistent results for the Scottish driver, and a career high eighth place in the championship once the final flag of the season flew. This year was meant to be a continuation of that but the Infiniti squad has been stymied by Hybrid problems more than most this year.
Croft will hopefully be the chance for the Scotsman to turn the season around for the squad. Although he and team mate Dexter Patterson ran in the pre-season test at the circuit they suffered delays in getting on track and perhaps didn’t quite get the data that they needed. The traditionally rear wheel drive venue is losing some of that moniker with the 2019 repave bringing the other drivetrain derivative to the fore more often, but heading into the mid-season break a good result here could turn things around for the team. And let’s be honest, a night out in Newcastle this Sunday after a successful run would be the perfect fillip after the year that the team has endured so far.
Carl Boardley will return for a one off at Croft – something I’m wary of considering last year in Qualifying his enthusiastic turn one action showered me with gravel and left a bit of a lump on my head (while taking the photo below!) He replaces Rick Parfitt Jr who is on Rock, rather then Race, duties this weekend with pre Covid commitments to be fulfilled. Boardley said: ”After deciding on a sabbatical from the Championship for 2022 for varying reasons being asked to fill in for Rick at Croft was a carrot dangled that I just couldn’t say ‘No’ to. Having seen the Championship from the sofa so far has been strange but I am looking forward to the Croft rounds with the sole aim of trying to enjoy it. Obviously I have ties with the team so seeing some familiar faces will be good and fitting in will be seamless.”
The King wears his crown, but right now it looks like he’ll struggle to keep it. Motorbase have put a lot of work into re-engineering the Ford Focus to work in the new Hybrid era, but it was only last September when Jake Hill pulled two wins out of the hat at the North Yorkshire venue, then Silverstone a couple of weeks later. After two seasons of wins with the Focus ST it looked like the perfect step for Sutton and the team to work together to take the car to the next step with a title tilt, but it hasn’t quite worked. Yet.
A useful test at Croft for all four cars, with all four drivers, liveries and whatnot sorted in April gave the impression that having all the ducks in a row for Motorbase would have them kicking off 2022 as one of the favourites. The results haven’t matched the ambition, but consistency has meant that Sutton is third in the running with plenty of podiums under his belt. A win at Croft for him would likely light the fire for a second half upturn in form.
“Croft is a circuit I’ve always loved,” Sutton said. “It’s fast, lairy and quite old school – I just seem to click with it. I’ve got fond memories there as well as it was where I scored my first BTCC win back in 2016. We’re continuing to unlock more and more from the car so I’m heading into this weekend feeling confident that we can have another solid three races. If we can end the first half of the season with a win that would be mega!”
A win for the other NAPA machine of Dan Cammish is equally as important for the team to aim for. The Donington Qualifying fire has shown how just one unfortunate moment can catch and make a weekend unravel, and then the back foot stance is taken into the rest of the season while catchup mode is turned on, but Cammish is equally capable of delivering a victory for the team. His Croft stats in the BTCC aren’t something to shout about from the top of a spire, but in his Porsche Carrera Cup exploits Cammish has three wins and two second places from six starts at what could be considered his home venue. A Friday trip to Goodwood for the FoS will see Cammish gain a new experience on his way North before the weekend.
“This week is definitely one of the busiest of my career so far, starting off with the trip to Goodwood to drive the NAPA Racing UK car up the hill,” commented Cammish. “I’m really excited to be part of the Festival of Speed and representing NAPA, Motorbase and, of course, Kwik Fit and the BTCC. I’ll be heading up to Croft from there by helicopter, so that’s going to be fun as I’ve never been in one, and I can’t wait to be back at my home track. We did the best we could with what we had at Oulton, and moved up the championship, but I’m hungry to be back on the podium and determined to achieve that at Croft.”
The Motorbase side of the garage has had a rough start to the year and hope that a turnaround here heading into the break could lift the squads before the resumption at Knockhill at the end of July.
“We were competitive at Croft last year and I’m hopeful that will be the case again this weekend,” Ollie Jackson said ahead of the journey North. “Especially after a strong conclusion to Oulton. We definitely hit on something with the car ahead of race three there which helped with the weight and the balance, and the impact was obvious as we could really fight hard with some quick guys. Three points finishes would be fantastic, if we can push into the top 10 even better for a positive end to the first half of the season.”
Sam Osborne said: “Croft’s a great track and I really am looking forward to being back there at the weekend. We’re moving forward with the car all the time, in qualifying we’ve got the pace it’s just translating that for the races. Oulton was another step forward for us with the set-up, just a shame we got a bit beaten up in the races. Last season at Croft was very positive, so I’m aiming to at least replicate that and hopefully string together our best raceday of the season so far ahead of the summer break.”
Last season at the venue both Osbourne and Jackson brought home points and both suffered some bad luck. Osbourne in particular was nerffed off the circuit in an incident with Dan Rowbottom that resulted in his Focus ST crabbing into pitlane and coming to a stop at the entrance.
Motor Racing UK Magazine was launched by former F1 and Endurance engineer Mick Palmer in 2019 to tell stories from the British national and club scene. The growth of the magazine, and a growing focus on Touring Cars, means that the time has arrived to re-launch the magazine website to carry stories and news from across motor racing, instead of just being a place to find out about the latest issues of the magazine. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to find more great content from MRUK.