Last season there was a snippet of how the year would end when an under pressure Colin Turkington clipped the gravel at the chicane during race two and Ash Sutton sped past into the lead. In one way it was a microcosm of how the championship battle would play out, and it was the signalling of Sutton 2.0.
The normally vociferous racer is known for taking no prisoners. Not rivals, not his car, not even the track itself, and a refreshed interpretation of Sutton emerged. One who could wind back the throttle and accept points over prizes in the short term. A tactic that brought him the 2021 title.
From the outside it appears to many fans that the BTCC is rinse and repeat in the sense that year-after-year drivers get a budget together and get into a car, and the pecking order is determined by the performance of the machine. Not so. Development is still constant and underneath from one season to another there are changes to the machines. Okay, this isn’t Toyota et al in the WEC with an unlimited budget and access to company-wide resources, it’s a little more modest. But as Motorbase hone their Focus, so do WSR with their BMW contingent, Dynamics with the Honda and so on.
At Knockhill that moment from last season was repeated. A WSR BMW in race two making a mistake and kicking up dust at the chicane with Sutton slinking past into the lead and towards a win. This year however Knockhill could prove to be the transformational moment that will see a renewed charge for a fourth title from Sutton. The thoughtful Sutton of the second half of last year has kept him well in the odds in the first portion served up in 2022. Podiums and points, with no wins. If he can now swap around the year and run for wins then it could be title #4 for the NAPA driver.
The man Sutton managed to best in the second encounter had the most successful weekend of his career to date. Jake Hill pushed on for a win (from pole,) two seconds, and two fastest laps. After piling out of the starting gates at Donington the RoKIT driver has been there or thereabouts, but a follow up win hasn’t arrived until now.
Simply sublime speed allowed Hill to pressure Sutton in race one, and a nerf at the hairpin didn’t distract the leader. Hill had to use his noggin to get the perfect exit to use the arse end drive of his beemer to power over the hill and grab the lead into the first turn to outfox Sutton. It was a hard fought win that had ‘Hoy, I’m after the title’ written all over it. If his landing out of the chicane launch pad in race two hadn’t went awry it could have been two visits to the top step. In race three he arguably put out there his best performance of the day.
With hardly any hybrid his rise from sixth was helped by Tom Ingram and Gordon Shedden giving room after a tussle and Colin Turkington letting his faster team mate through. Beating off Sutton early on was noted, but getting past Butcher had the WSR machine fired with the leader in sight, but it was a bit of an even stevens moment that wasn’t going to be cracked and second was it.
Pre-season in our magazine preview we stated that George Gamble would win a race this year. That’s in the bag. The weekend delivered two Jack Sears Trophy wins in the first two races with fifth and seventh overall. His podium at Donington in April justified our prediction at first, but in the meantime he’s sort of tripped over the kerbs here and there – despite the speed always being on show. A race three pole was given by The Legend John Cleland and Gamble thanked him by taking a surgically precise win (there you go to our detractors, we told you he’d get there!) With that out of the way there should be some more podiums and the JST is all but won.
For the championship leaders it was on paper a quiet weekend. There is no quiet weekends at Knockhill though. Ingram played the points with his positions. Fourth and sixth before the aforementioned rub with Flash put him into 12th fro race three, where he surrendered the championship lead to Colin Turkington. The 330e M Sport racer went third, third, fourth with calculated reasoning before heading to Snetterton.
Turkington has taken four wins and two podiums there in nine races since the 330 replaced the 125, and that kind of form should return to boost his challenge this year. Ingram – now second, five points behind – has also had a few good years at the Norfolk circuit. Last season he delivered the first win for the Excelr8 Hyundai on what was his best weekend of the season. There will be titanic tussles next time out, but don’t put a bet on either of the lead two sacrificing solid points for short-term glory. Sutton and Hill however…….