Silverstone circuit served up a day of drama at the penultimate round of the 2017 British Touring Car Championship, with neither of the top two drivers contesting the title troubling the top step of the podium. But despite being banished to the back of the grid for the final race, Ashley Sutton will go into the final rounds in two weeks in prime position to take his and Subaru‘s first title.
Toyota driver Tom Ingram keep his title hopes alive in race one, had to give best to the Eurotech Honda of Jack Goff in race two, while a fired-up Matt Neal took race three in the Dynamics Honda. But perhaps the star of the weekend was World Touring Car star Rob Huff, who in a one-off guest appearance came very close to scoring the first victory for the PowerMaxed Vauxhall team.
Race One – Toyota man Ingram survives best
A very tight qualifying session on Saturday saw a BTCC first – the entire 32-car field covered by less than a second. More importantly, the title contenders languished down the grid as the Eurotech Honda of Jack Goff took pole for the first 22-lap race.
Fellow front-row starter Tom Ingram got away best, however, his Speedworks Toyota Avensis slotting into the lead, with Goff second and Adam Morgan’s Cicely Mercedes-Benz A-Class third. These three pulled away from the chasing pack, which became all the more frantic as a brief shower of rain turned the track very slippery.
Initially, it was the independent entries of Dave Newsham (Norlin Chevrolet Cruze) and Ant Whorton-Eales (AMD Tuning Audi S3) who showed best, but they soon came under pressure. First, it was Matt Neal’s Dynamics Honda Civic Type-R and the Motorbase Ford Focus of Matt Jackson, until they touched and Jackson spun.
Lead title contenders Colin Turkington (West Surrey Racing BMW 125i) and Ashley Sutton (BMR Subaru Levorg GTI), then took up the chase, forcing their way through to fourth and fifth places by lap 15.
Any hopes of further progress, however, were halted by an almighty accident down the field. Rob Collard’s BMW made with the MG of Aaron Taylor-Smith and appeared to break its steering. The BMW slid across the wet grass verge at Becketts and back onto the track where it was hit heavily by the Toyota of Will Burns and Andrew Jordan’s BMW. A shaken Collard stepped out, both he and Burns taking precautionary trips to hospital, their racing done for the day.
After several laps under the safety car, a red flag was shown and Ingram celebrated his fourth win of the season, while just two points were shaved from Sutton’s title advantage over Turkington, leaving the Subaru man 10 points clear.
Race 2 – Goff comes good for Eurotech Honda
Jack Goff has knocked on the door several times in 2017, but finally it came good for the Honda driver as he scored his and Eurotech’s first win of the season. While again beaten off the line by Ingram’s Toyota, he made the most of the extra success ballast carried by his rival to move past on lap 3 and simply drive away.
Behind the two leaders, Turkington had a lonely race until the final couple of laps, when his BMW was caught by the man he was trying to overhaul in the points, Sutton. Into the complex on the final lap the Subaru man saw half a gap and with a robust move eased the BMW aside and stole third place, and what appeared to be four useful extra points.
The BTCC stewards thought differently – Sutton’s move was declared out of order, and the finishing positions were reversed. And as it was his third ‘strike’ of the season, the Subaru was put to the back of the grid for race 3. Suddenly the title chase had potentially opened up again…
The duelling Toyota and Audi of Austin and Morgan took the next two places, with Gordon Shedden’s Honda progressing from 11th to seventh as he sought to hold onto diminishing hopes of retaining his title.
More impressive, however, was Rob Huff, the 2012 World Touring Car champion driver back in the BTCC for the first time since 2004. He was making a one-off outing for the PowerMaxed Vauxhall team after regular driver Tom Chilton failed to recover from surgery in time.
Having only driven the car for the first time on qualifying day, Huff went to the race one grid 27th, finished 16th and then fought his way to eighth in race two. With the reverse-draw grid for the final race selecting nine, Huff would start on the front row alongside Newsham’s Chevrolet.
Race 3 – Neal wins, Huff stars
Rob Huff did what many wanted with a fast start to lead Newsham into the first corner, and stayed up front for three quarters of the race. In the pack behind Turkington’s efforts to make the most of Sutton’s banishing to the back of the grid soon went wrong – at Brooklands on lap one the BMW slid sideways and plummeted 15 places down the field to 21st.
Worse was to come, as with five laps down Josh Cook’s MG appeared to tip Jason Plato’s Subaru into a spin in the middle of the pack and in the ensuing carnage Turkington was caught up. The BMW suffered serious frontal damage, was forced to pit and eventually finished 22nd, out of the points.
On the restart, Huff continued to hold on at the front, now under pressure from Ingram. The Toyota put two wheels onto the grass trying to go past, but Huff held his nerve and Ingram slipped to third.
Coming fast by now were the Dynamics Hondas, until Shedden’s title hopes virtually disappeared when he was tipped into a spin at Becketts, sliding across the track and coming so close to being collected. He would finish, equally pointless, just in front of Turkington.
Shedden’s team mate had no such concerns. Now out of the title race, Matt Neal had nothing to lose, and by half distance was on Huff’s tail and looking faster. With four laps left he made the decisive move and pulled away to his 69th BTCC win. Huff was an overjoyed second, while equally delighted was Newsham, claiming the final podium place for the Norlin Chevrolet team.
Perhaps happiest, however, was Ashley Sutton. Driving hard and benefiting from other people’s dramas, he climbed the field to finish 11th. In a race in which his championship lead should have disappeared, he restored his advantage over Turkington back to 10 points.
As a result the BTCC title is Ashley Sutton’s to lose going into the final three races of the 2017 championship, at Brands Hatch on 1st October. Turkington is still very much in the hunt, while mathematically Shedden, 66 points back, and Ingram, 67 points down, could also win. It’s unlikely, with a maximum of 67 points on offer at the finale, especially considering as Sutton has come a long way since he left Brands Hatch after the opening BTCC weekend in April having scored not a single point…