The 2017 British Touring Car Championship looks to be heading firmly in one direction – to Subaru.
The Levorg GT of James Cole took a surprise first race victory at Rockingham Motor Speedway in Northamptonshire, and Andrew Jordan covered pole position into victory for BMW in race three. But it was Cole’s team-mate Ashley Sutton who again made the most of the weekend – another win, a second and a fifth, puts the Subaru man in a firm championship lead as the races begin to run out.
King Cole dominates
The first 16-lap race proved unusually well-behaved, as James Cole confounded the sceptics. Perfectly timing his start from pole position, the Team BMR driver put his Subaru Levorg into a lead it never gave up. Initially heading a four-car train he pulled away to win by 2.5 seconds.
Jack Goff headed the pursuit in his Eurotech Honda Civic Type-R, with Ashley Sutton’s Subaru and the MG6 of Josh Cook close behind, but the order seemed set until into the hairpin on the last lap Goff made a slight mistake and Sutton dived through to take second spot and the championship points lead.
The other title rivals suffered. Erstwhile series leader Colin Turkington could only manage sixth in his Team BMW 125i, behind the Halfords Yuasa Honda of Matt Neal, who made the most of a good start from seventh on the grid.
Those third to fifth in the points all failed to score. Reigning champion Gordon Shedden, starting 16th, was forced to the pits with a puncture after , Rob Collard’s BMW progressed only as far as 17th from a 20th-place start, and Tom Ingram’s third spot on the grid was rendered meaningless when he failed to take the start after the brakes failed on his Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis.
The gloves came off in race two but the result was familiar with a Subaru winning – except that this time its driver was the one looking increasingly like a champion-elect, Ashley Sutton.
With race one winner Cole weighed down by success ballast team-mate Sutton quickly assumed the lead and Josh Cook’s MG went through to second, before further back Shedden’s Honda made with Rob Austin’s Toyota and retired on the spot, scrambling the safety car.
Sutton’s speedway stroll
On the restart Sutton simply drove away to an easy victory, and as Cole slipped back down the field to an eventual 13th place finish, Cook’s second spot came under pressure from the second Halfords Honda, driven by a fired-up Neal. Inevitably they collided at the hairpin, effectively ending both drivers’ races.
Matt Jackson’s Motorbase Ford Focus assumed second place, but with no hope of catching the leader, and in the closing laps the Ford came under severe pressure from Turkington’s BMW. Keen on grabbing second spot to limit the damage to his title hopes, Colin crawled all over Jackson’s car on the final lap but just failed to snatch the spot.
Further back Andrew Jordan survived a frantic battle with his BMW team-mate Rob Collard to take seventh place, which proved fortuitous when the reverse-grid draw for the final place put the Pirtek BMW into pole position.
Jordan bosses for BMW
Jordan made the most of his gifted pole position and his Pirtek BMW was never headed in race 3, coming home with a 1.7-second advantage.
The second front-row starter, Adam Morgan’s Wix Racing Mercedes A-Class, emerged best from the inevitable first hairpin sort-out and initially threatened the leader, as for a couple of laps the first seven ran together before Jordan and Morgan pulled out a gap on the field and then each other.
Goff’s impressive Honda again led the chase, challenged initially by Plato’s Subaru and then the BMW of Collard. Eventually the pair clashed along the straight behind the pits, the BMW pitched into the barrier and causing a safety-car period.
When the dust settled it was Plato claiming the final podium place, Goff in fourth and then Sutton, further extending his championship lead to 12 points over Turkington, who followed him home. Ingram’s Toyota was eighth behind the impressive rookie Senna Proctor in his PowerMaxed Racing Vauxhall Astra, while a disastrous weekend for the Halfords Honda squad at least brought some points in the final race, a mere four for Shedden in 12th and three for Neal just behind.
A meeting at a track thought to favour front-wheel-drive cars had seen all three race wins taken by rear-wheel-drive machines, and while BMW had added to its win tally, again it was Subaru going home happiest, with two more wins and a solid championship lead. Their rivals will expect to be chasing them at the BTCC’s penultimate meeting at Silverstone in three weeks’ time.