Adrian Flux Subaru Racing driver Ash Sutton scored another double podium last weekend in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Rockingham bringing his title hopes alive as teammate Jason Plato endured a weekend of damage.
It was a dry qualifying session at Rockingham on Saturday afternoon and a weight free Jason Plato was the quickest of the two Subaru Levorg’s setting the 9th fastest time and being the top qualifying rear wheel drive car, whilst Ash, with 27 kg of success ballast on board, qualified in 10th placing the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing drivers beside each other on the fifth row of the grid. The top 28 cars qualified within a second of each other and it was Adam Morgan that came out on top and on pole for the first time in his six years in the championship.
Jason selected to use the hard compound Sport Maxx Option Tyre for the first race with Ash selecting it for the final race of the day.
With rain forecast for race day on Sunday it looked like it was going to be tricky conditions once again, however, the first race was a dry one albeit with a
slightly damp track.
With the lights out for the start of race one both Ash and Jason got great starts and managed to avoid the mayhem around them with multiple cars being caught up in a tangle at the Hairpin which resulted in the safety car being immediately deployed. Ash capitalised from the incident and was already up into fourth and despite receiving rear damage from the Honda of Chris Smiley, Jason was in running in 6th.
As expected the rain then arrived with racing commencing on lap four when Jason endured more drama as he was hit once again by Smiley forcing him off the circuit and onto the grass, which in turn dropped him back down the order to 24th place. With Jason now having extensive rear damage and being on the hard tyre it was going to be a tall order for him to get back through to the leading pack.
The rain continued creating tricky situations for most but Ash, recently nicknamed ‘Nemo’ for his outstanding wet race performances, rose to the challenge and kept his head down and focussed.
Ash was trying to find a way past the Ford Focus of Tom Chilton in front of him and was having to defend from the Honda Civic of Dan Cammish on his rear and no matter how hard he drove out of the corners the pace was lost once again on the straights as the Subaru was no comparison for the straight-line speed of the Honda.
On lap thirteen Ash finally took Chilton by surprise and nipped up the inside at Tarzan and managed to stay out in front down the flat-out straight and through into second. At this stage in the race leader Adam Morgan had a lead of over four seconds with just four laps remaining.
By the final lap of the race Ash had closed the gap to Morgan in front to just 2.9 seconds and was just too great for Ash to catch him, eventually crossing the line in a fantastic second place and gaining the teams 75th podium finish in the BTCC.
A disappointed Jason brought his damaged car home in 23rd and the team quickly set about making repairs for the next race. It was also a great start for Subaru UK who were awarded the Manufacturers Trophy for the highest scoring manufacturer of the race.
With Championship leader Tom Ingram not scoring any points due to a mechanical issue on the final lap, the points were now even closer with Ash now sitting fifth in the championship standings, just 25 points adrift of new Championship Leader Colin Turkington.
The damp track caused very tricky conditions for the start of Race 2, with the decision made to run with slick tyres in the hope that the track would dry.
Ash blasted off the line after making a superb start and was clear out in front taking the lead for the first corner and into the hairpin with Jason also safely through both turns with a good clean start.
The safety car was then deployed to retrieve the stricken BMW of Stephen Jelley who was off the circuit after receiving contact on the opening lap allowing the pack to close the gap Ash had made up front.
With racing commencing once more at the end of lap 3, Ash controlled the start and once again got away from Morgan running in 2nd.
The safety car was then deployed for the second time for another gravel trap incident involving Michael Caine, meaning Ash would have to try and make a break for a third time.
Ash got on the gas early for the restart timing it perfectly and once again extending his lead.
Meanwhile, Jason was all the way back in 26th after receiving yet more damage resulting in him being shown the mechanical warning flag for extensive damage to the rear of his Subaru Levorg. With a quick visit to the pits on lap 11 for repairs, he re-joined the race once more for the 8 laps that remained.
With a lights-to-flag victory and a perfectly controlled race, Ash crossed the line taking his 4th win of the season as the team celebrated BMR’s 30th win in the British Touring Car Championship. Ash was now just 17 points off the championship lead sitting 3rd in the points table to Ingram who was once again back on top.
Once again it was a disappointing end for Jason after he ended the race all the way down in 26th place.
The reverse grid draw was made by former BTCC Champion and BMR driver Alain Menu and the number 10 ball was pulled out of the bowl placing Tom Chilton on pole and Ash on the number 10 grid spot with the full 75kgs of success ballast and the non preferred hard option tyre. Jason would start in the race in his finishing position of 26th.
The track was dry as the cars formed up on the grid, however, the threat of rain remained. The start was then delayed due to the BMW of Ricky Collard stopping on circuit with a mechanical issue. Due to the time it took to recover the car an additional two warm-up lap were given with a new race distance of 14 laps. Unfortunately, this also allowed time for the rain to arrive and it was wipers on for the start of the race.
The cars finally got away with both Ash and Jason getting good starts but with a now damp and slippery track, there was trouble at the Hairpin with the race leader losing control and going off the track, followed by several other cars including the Subaru Levorg of Ash after he was tapped from behind. Ash managed to re-join the race, albeit with some rear damage and was now down in 23rd place. Jason managed to avoid getting caught up in the carnage and was through cleanly and into 19th.
The safety car was then briefly deployed as yet more cars played foul to the track conditions, however, they were soon racing once again with Smiley taking up the lead in the Honda.
Jason enjoyed an impressive battle capitalising on those around him that had the disadvantage of the hard tyre and worked his way through from the back of the grid finishing in the points in 11th place.
After struggling for pace due to rear damage in addition to being on the hard tyre, Ash eventually crossed the line in 17th and just outside the points.
The race was won by Chris Smiley, with Colin Turkington in 2nd.
Ash now sits third in the championship standings 32 points behind leader Colin Turkington who toppled Ingram for the second time of the day.
With only three race weekends left of the 2018 season, we now head north and across the border into Scotland where we visit Knockhill next time out on the weekend of 25/26 August.
Adrian Flux Subaru Racing Quotes:
Jason Plato – ‘A weekend of promise ruined by multiple contacts from behind. I qualified well, being the top rear wheel drive car, but I was hit off from a good position in race one early doors and then hit again and that was the story of the weekend.
‘Race Two I was hit again and had so much damage that I had to stop to get repairs made which then resulted in us fighting at the back in Race Three. I then only made progress as everyone else was on hard tyres and the only overtaking manoeuvre was around the outside at the Hairpin. Every straight I get to they just disappear, I’m in a position to overtake people but as soon as I get on the straight again that overtake manoeuvre ceases. I watch every other car overtaking down the straights and I can’t so it’s really frustrating but at least I go home having had a race.
‘On my side of the garage it was yet again a very bad weekend.’
Ash Sutton – ‘The weekend was a very similar one to Snetterton. Going off the back of last year we had some solid results at Rockingham and I was aiming to relocate those results.
‘Qualifying didn't quite go to plan, we had a few different things on the car that we hadn't really tested before and we just never found the sweet spot with that package. Overnight we had a good think about what we could do and we went back to what we knew and it just brought the car alive come race day.
‘Race one was about moving forward after not the best of qualifying sessions, come the end of the opening lap I found myself in fourth after starting tenth. I just had to manage the restart and wait for the front wheel drive cars to fall away, as soon as this happened I got an indication on the degradation from both Dan and Tom I picked my moves and brought her home second.
‘This set us up nicely for the day, starting on the front row for the second race I wasn't too fazed with having some weight onboard. The conditions where very tricky and we actually opted for wets whilst everyone was on slicks during the laps to the grid. It wasn't until we were on the grid that we jumped ship and bolted the cold slicks on. I had a clean getaway and managed a lights to flag victory despite the two safety car restarts thrown in on the opening laps.
‘Race three was just about bringing it home and securing a handful of points. Unfortunately, luck wasn't on our side and on the entry to turn one myself and many others were caught out by the damp conditions, a passenger of your own car is not ideal. We ended up exiting turn two stone cold last but knuckled down and managed to work our way up to just outside the points in seventeenth. This was a little set back after such a successful day, but we still managed to leave Rockingham third in the championship.’
Gerry Buck General Manager of Adrian Flux Insurance Services - 'Ashley Sutton and Team BMR had a strong weekend at Rockingham with a couple of podium finishes. The team made solid decisions, particularly when it came to the tyres, and together with some brilliant driving led to a first and a second position.
'There is a sense that we’re reliving last year over again with this turnaround. But things can change quickly in BTCC - that’s what makes it so exciting for the fans - so we’re hoping this form continues.'
Written by Maddy Turner
Photos by Greg Toth Photography