Donington Park, the second circuit on the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship calendar, proved to be a tricky weekend for the team as a whole in respect of mechanical issues and a need to improve engine performance.
The weekend started with two wet practice sessions which is never a perfect way to kick off the weekend when the forecast is dry for the next day. The usual opportunity to scrub tyres and get a good set up for Sunday’s races doesn’t present itself and that coupled with a driveshaft failure for Jason and an engine failure for Ash certainly tested us to our limits on Saturday. In true BMR spirit it didn’t phase our team of mechanics as it was jackets off and all hands on deck to complete an engine change for Ash and a new back end for Jason to eliminate any further issues. It was a monumental effort by everyone and all within a two hour time period in an attempt to be ready for qualifying in the afternoon.
Josh’s Autoglym Academy Subaru Levorg was the only BMR machine joining the track at the commencement of the qualifying session whilst the team continued to work on the Adrian Flux Subaru’s. Jason’s session commenced four laps in with Ash joining much later. A brief red flag session to remove the stricken car of Aiden Moffatt at the Chicane left just five minutes on the clock, which in turn meant that Ash, with 39 kg of success ballast on board his Levorg, only managed to produce one flying lap which put him in a qualifying position of 22nd. Jason also experienced the hugely interrupted session, he qualified just ahead of him in 21st with Josh 26th.
With a long night ahead of us we set about to start from scratch to prepare the cars once again for race day.
A new day and in contrast to Saturday’s wet conditions, the forecast was dry but chilly. Ash would start the day 5th in the Drivers’ Championship with 26 points and Subaru 2nd in the Manufacturers Championship just 2 points behind leaders BMW.
With the lights out for the first race of the day, the Subaru Levorg drivers all got good clean starts with both Ash and Josh making up a few places between them on the opening lap and Jason holding his position. Josh then dropped down the order trying to avoid contact from those around him. Ash had a good race moving his way up through the field gaining eight places to finish in a very impressive 12th. Jason finished in 25th after initially making up places but then dropping back to 27th after being forced off the track by Mike Bushell. Josh took the chequered flag in 26th.
For race two the Subaru drivers once again made great starts off the line with all three making up places on the opening lap. As the race progressed the Levorg’s clearly suffered with straight line speed with Ash making the most of the corners and his ability to brake later than his rivals in an attempt to stay in a point scoring position. Ash crossed the line in a comfortable 8th place as Jason made up seven places finishing in 20th. Josh came home in 26th place following a fierce battle with Matt Simpson and Bobby Thompson ahead of him, with less than a second separating the trio.
Circuit owner MSV’s Managing Director Jonathan Palmer made the reverse grid draw pulling number 9 from the bowl which moved Ash up the order to start on the front row of the grid in 2nd for the third and final race of the day, and although it looked good due to just 27 kg of success ballast on Ash’s car, all three Subaru drivers had selected to run the hard option Dunlop Sport Maxx Hard tyre for the final encounter which looked approximately a second per lap slower than those using the medium version.
With lights out for the final time Ash had a good start and held his position in 2nd as Jason held on 20th with Josh launching his Subaru to make up three places off the line. Disaster then struck for Josh on the opening lap when an out of control Mike Bushell, who had locked up behind, made contact at Josh’s rear sending him into a spin which resulted in further contact as Josh veered back into the side of Bushell causing front end damage that ended his race. Ash meanwhile had taken the lead and then the safety car was deployed to retrieve the Autoglym Academy backed Subaru of Josh and several others who had also been caught up in a mid-pack incident. With the race under way again by the end of lap 6, Ash accelerated into the chicane in a bid to escape 2nd placed man Adam Morgan who was waiting to pounce behind him. He held onto the lead for the next lap and clearly struggling with pace Morgan took the lead by the end of lap 8. He did all he could to prevent himself tumbling further back down the order on the hard tyre and held onto 3rd until the last two laps and eventually finished the race in 6th. Jason managed to avoid all of the on track dramas and came home in 18th.
All in all it wasn’t our finest weekend, however the points scored by Ash’s has ensured that he held onto his 5th place in the Driver’s Championship and Subaru are third in the Manufacturer’s Championship. Ash also remains as one of two drivers scoring points during every race of the 2018 season so far, with championship leader Tom Ingram being the other.
The next BTCC weekend for the Subaru Levorgs will be at Thruxton in just three weeks’ time the 19th and 20th May.
Jason Plato commented “Well Donington proved to be a struggle! It took us until the dying moments of qualifying to get the chassis working in the wet and although we have made good progress in the dry races with the new setup I’m running, despite a well handling car it is very clear that we need to improve in the bits between the corners! Our straight line performance is woeful. Disappointing weekend but we remain focused to try and find a solution.”
Ash Sutton commented “Donington was a strong track for us last year regarding the cars cornering performance and it was very much the same this year. Saturday was a little bit of a dramatic day for the team though. Unfortunately, after my first run during FP2 we picked up an engine noise which left the Swindon guys concerned. Both Swindon and the team made a bold decision to change engines before Qualifying, this was always going to be a tough ask in such a short period of time but man its good watching them work as one. I can't thank the boys enough for getting me out and it was just enough to get one flying lap on the board placing me P22.
"Sunday was going to be a repeat of last year in my eyes. The aim for the day was to just try and move forward as much as we can, making sure we were collecting those valuable points. Races 1 and 2 we were on the mediums which gave us a helping hand leap frogging us up the grid, but racing smart was key. But come Race 3 it was my turn to be on the hards, we knew as a team that it was all about damage limitation and it couldn't have gone much better, we only dropped back to sixth after starting on the front row."
Josh Price commented “An unfortunate qualifying meant a tough weekend from the off. Hoping for a bit more luck at Thruxton”
Micky Sergeant, BMR Team Manager commented “The whole team has worked really really hard to get us where we are chassis wise but we still have work to do alongside Swindon Powertrain to get the engine performance we need to be competitive.
"Ash drove the wheels off the Subaru Levorg as normal and made up for the lack of engine performance.
"We were obviously hampered too in qualifying because of the engine change after free practice two which meant less qualy time.
More of the same since Brands really but great driving by Ash, even on the less favourable hard tyres round Donington to keep him in 5th.
We’re optimistic as we move forward to Thruxton and then Oulton and hoping for some warmer weather! Not necessarily dryer though!!
Gerry Bucke, Adrian Flux Insurance Services General Manager said "BMR Racing definitely had a dramatic weekend at Donington Park. On Saturday, they changed Ash Sutton's engine in little over two hours between FP2 and Qualifying. Jason Plato also had a new driveshaft fitted together with a lot of back end changes.
"But even though the team was really up against it, everyone pulled together and pushed through. The effort, grit and determination definitely came through in the quality of the racing in the third and final race on Sunday. Well done BMR Racing - this is why Adrian Flux is proud to support British motorsport."
Chris Graham, Subaru UK Managing Director commented: “Donington proved a mix bag for Team BMR and our Levorgs this weekend, however Ash Sutton did extremely well to retain his 5th place standing overall. A mix of elements challenged our drivers but they showcased some great racing which I’m sure spectators enjoyed. It’s still early on in the BTCC season and I’m sure we will continue to go from strength to strength”.
Written by Maddy Turner
Photos by Gergo Toth Photography