Snetterton Circuit in Norfolk hosted the Diamond Jubilee 60th Anniversary celebrations of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at the weekend and it was a weekend that brought double podiums and double dramas for the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing team.
Race One was declared a wet race Ash was starting from 9th on the grid with Jason starting the opener from 25th. The narrow start finish straight at Snetterton has a history of start line incidents and coupled with visibility issues from spray going into the first corner, both Ash and Jason were hoping for good clean getaways and to survive the first lap battle without any dramas.
With the lights out Ash and Jason had rocket starts with Ash shooting his Subaru Levorg through the middle of the pack and by the first turn was through into fourth. For Jason however, our worst fears were confirmed, when he was hit from either side, forcing him off the track with nowhere to go and into barriers. He managed to get back to the pits for repairs and re-joined the race once more albeit two laps down.
Ash was on maximum attack and was soon up to second place behind pole sitter Jack Goff in one of the Honda’s. With the Subaru Levorg not suiting the track conditions, being a rear wheel drivetrain, it wasn’t long before the another front wheel drive Honda of Dan Cammish was catching and flashing his lights in a bid to pile on the pressure.
By lap five Goff was leading the race by 3.9 seconds with a determined Ash chasing him down and making the most of his renowned cornering skills.
By lap eight the gap to Goff was down to less than 2 seconds and with lots of standing water still on the track it meant that Ash was driving right on the edge to narrow the gap even further in a bid to take the lead of the race.
By lap nine Jason was having to work harder than ever behind the wheel to make up as many places as possible and was up to 24th.
On lap eleven Ash had caught up and was on Goff’s tail and the gap widened again on the start finish straight. It was the final lap that Ash was looking to try and find a way past Goff on every corner, but Goff was defending well and hanging on to the race lead. A slide from Goff at Coram allowed Ash to get along the outside of the Honda when there was slight contact between the two and whilst giving each other racing room Ash had the inside line at Murrays. He briefly took the lead by the time they got to the start finish straight, however the Honda’s straight line speed was no match for the Subaru and Goff got the win on the line with Ash in 2nd with a margin of just 0.152 seconds.
Due to Jason running two laps down he wasn’t able to make further progress and finished the race in 24th place.
Ash’s second place result catapulted him four places up the championship standings into 4th place and now just 34 points shy of the leader Colin Turkington who only scored a single point.
For Race Two the track conditions were still tricky with a damp but drying track, with blustery conditions and rain clouds still lurking. The decision was made to run with slick tyres which meant all competitors on slicks had to run the soft option tyre due to the first race being wet and the prime tyre being enforced by Dunlop to be used by everyone for final double distance race.
Ash, carrying 66 kilograms of success ballast on board, lined up on the 2nd grid spot with an absent Jack Goff from pole position next to him after he disastrously missed the pit lane time window and would therefore have to start from the back of the grid. This gave Ash a massive advantage and the pressure was on to get another great start and do his best to stay out in front for the opening lap.
A weight free Jason took the decision to start from the pit lane in a bid to avoid a repeat of another start line incident.
Ash made another rapid start off the line and managed to get away well with the front wheel drive Honda of Cammish attempting to hunt him down on the opening lap. Ash however, covered his line well and held on to the lead with a gap of just over one and a half seconds by the end of lap three.
Whilst Ash was controlling the pace at the front, Jason was fighting his way through the field and had made his way up to 23rd place by lap six when disaster struck the following lap. Unfortunately, he lost the rear of his Levorg, sending him into a spin and into the barriers causing both front and rear damage which put an end to his race. Thankfully he managed to limp his Subaru back to the pits for the team to commence repairs as early as possible in a bid to get the car ready for the all-important double points race at the end of the day.
The safety car was deployed on lap ten to retrieve the stricken BMW of Rob Collard which negated the huge 5 second gap that Ash had extended as his fellow competitors closed up, making his life so much harder with the added disadvantage of two laps being added to the race distance.
With the lights out on the safety car signalling that racing would recommence Ash was in control of the re-start and took the opportunity coming out of Coram. His outstanding cornering ability allowed him to make the break with a gap of only eight tenths of a second by the time they reached the start finish line.
Josh Cook, running 3rd, in the Vauxhall got a good run on the outside of Cammish down the Bentley Straight moving through into second place which could spell danger for Ash for the last lap as he was now the fastest man on track. The gap was virtually nothing by the time they arrived at the final sector and Ash managed to hold off his former team mate taking a lights to flag victory, his third win of the season and his tenth to date in the British Touring Car Championship. The win moved Ash even further up the table and he was now sitting 3rd in the Championship with a deficit of just 13 points to leader Turkington who failed to score a single point. It was game on, and we were well and truly in the title fight.
Next up was the ‘Diamond Double’, 60th Anniversary, twenty lap race which would possibly have the biggest impact on the 2018 Championship with all cars running ballast free and double points to play for. The Adrian Flux Subaru Racing crew did a sterling job on Jasons Subaru Levorg repairing the damage and having it race ready for this all-important one off race.
During the previous days unique 15 minute qualifying session, we expected Ash to qualify in the top ten, as he did in his earlier session, to find that he could only manage 15th after his flying lap was blocked by Rob Austin who was on a warm up lap which immediately put him on the back foot.
Jason qualified 23rd after struggling with the balance of the car and was promoted to 22nd after the BMW of Collard was ruled out of the race after they failed to make repairs in time for the start. Once again it would be a fight for survival on the start straight with both cars in the middle of the pack.
The track now had a dry line as rain clouds threatened and both cars ran on the medium compound prime tyre.
Neither Ash or Jason got great starts after being held up in the mid pack squeeze with both managing to avoid any contact or damage.
The Diamond Double then brought double trouble as we then received the news that Ash was given a 30 second stop go penalty for the team failing to have the car on the ground by the time the three-minute board was shown. Due to the timetable not running to schedule, caused by on track incidents earlier on in the day, the grid time was reduced from fifteen minutes to just eight and by the time Ash reached his grid position there were just five minutes remaining. We were busy changing set up on the grid as the weather once again looked uncertain and the time caught us out.
We were advised by a TOCA Official in pit lane that we were to ‘Choose where to stop and we were to control it’. So the team decided to serve the penalty straight away to give Ash as much time as possible to catch up in the race.
The safety car was then deployed to retrieve cars that were caught up in the drama on the opening lap, which was huge relief as we hoped this would at least act in our favour a little and give Ash a fighting chance to catch up to the back of the pack and get back up to a point scoring position.
We were then advised that the penalty had not been served correctly as Ash was not in the correct position in pit lane and there was a shortfall in the time served so Ash completed his lap and then came back into pit lane to re-serve the full thirty second penalty.
Unfortunately, the safety car was still waiting at the end of pit lane by the time Ash was ready to re-join the track and therefore he was stuck behind it without being waved through. By the time Ash was waved through, although this was the fastest lap of his race, it wasn’t enough to catch the queue of cars and by the time the safety car came back in he was a massive three quarters of a lap down.
Jason meanwhile seemed to be down on power following his race two crash but made up places following the demise of others and finished the race in a point scoring position of 15th.
Ash eventually finished all the way down in 20th.
The Championship gap was once again stretched out following Ash scoring no points in the double awarding race and he now sits in 7th and 39 points behind new Championship leader Tom Ingram.
We would like to say a special thank you to our sponsors and fans who, despite the truly awful weather conditions this weekend, still turned out first thing on Sunday morning to support us.
We head to Rockingham next time out on the weekend of the 11th and 12th of August.
Adrian Flux Subaru Racing Quotes:
Ash Sutton ‘It was great to get back out after the summer break. I left the tyre test unsure of how we were going to fair up come qualifying. Conditions weren't great on Saturday and it made it hard to find the sweet spot in the setup, but we definitely maxed everything once it came to qualifying. I was very pleased with Q1 putting it P9 for the opening racing on Sunday. However, I was a little disappointed with the qualifying for the Diamond Double, this wasn't down to anything myself or the team had done but, on my flying lap I was held up through turn 11 which costed us four tenths meaning we missed out on another top ten and had to settle for P15.
‘Come race day it was a different ball game, the heavens had opened and it was my kind of weather. Starting from P9 meant we had a good chance of some points. I managed to get it hooked up off the line and up into fourth come turn one and by turn three I was into second. From then on I just managed the cold tyres at the start and then got my head down on chasing the leader. I lived life on the edge around the outside of Jack through turn 11 which looked like it paid off until we entered the drag race to the finish line and unfortunately power won that one!
‘Race two we started up on the front row with 66kgs onboard. It was tricky conditions as it just started to dry but everyone jumped onto the softs. We had a good start and managed the race very well holding the lead all the way up to a safety car. From then on I knew I was very venerable to the front wheel drive cars who were now at their peak. It was a two-lap dash to the end and after a cracking restart it gave us enough breathing space to have a lights to flag victory. We were now sat in a surprisingly third place in the championship.
‘The Diamond Double, what could have been a get race for us soon turned out to be a disaster, with some last minutes changes we didn't quite meet the time frame required on the grid, as to when the car is meant to be on the deck. This lead to a 30seconds penalty which was deemed to be served incorrectly meaning we had to serve it again. At this point it was game over to scoring any decent points, it was a shame but it’s how we all bounce back from this. Overall, we made a net gain this weekend to the leaders and we won't give up. I can't thank the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing boys enough for working their magic in the changeable conditions."
Jason Plato ‘A disaster of a weekend for me but thankfully a great weekend for Ash. In the first race I was shovelled into the wall at the start. In race two I made a mistake into turn one and put the car in the wall and in race three I had engine problems with a very down on power engine. All in all, a day to forget.’
Gerry Bucke, General Manager of Adrian Flux Insurance Services ‘It was really great to see such a huge amount of support for Ash and Jason at our local race weekend and to experience the highs and lows of motorsport. It was refreshing to see hard work and skill pay off with a couple of visits to the podium for Ash and his retro race suit, and without the unlucky first lap incident for Jason who knows where he'd have finished, too?’
‘It's a shame we couldn't take advantage of the longer 60-mile third race, but we want to say a huge well done to the top three in that memorable race - Matt Neal, Jack Goff and Tom Ingram - a real mix of experience and youth to showcase BTCC in this highlight event of the calendar!’
Paul Tunnicliffe, Automotive Development Director of Subaru UK ‘We arrived at a wet and windy Snetterton with modest objectives. It's not a circuit that normally favours rear wheel drive cars, and qualifying did not fill us with optimism. However, nobody had told Ash Sutton any of this, and by the end of the start/finish straight in Race One, it was clear that our anxieties were misplaced. His sheer determination and unique skill gave us all the advantage we needed, and we were unlucky not to claim maximum points. Still with a point to prove, he went one better in Race Two. Even his prodigious talent could not make it the perfect weekend by producing more of the same in the final, showcase race, but, be under no doubt, this championship still has some way to go. Ash is the one driver all teams should fear.’
Written by Maddy Turner
Photos by Gergo Toth Photography