Adrian Flux Subaru Racing come away from Donington Park with 2017 BTCC Champion Ashley Sutton leading the Drivers Championship after an outstanding performance in his Subaru Levorg in Rounds 4, 5 and 6 of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship calendar, after taking another two podiums to add to his 2019 tally of three so far in what was only the second race weekend of the season.
Teammate Senna Proctor also put in a solid display scoring points in only his second weekend out in his Levorg despite his performance being hampered by the many incidents that occurred on track throughout the three races on Sunday.
At the beginning of the weekend, Ash would sit 7th in the championship standings and he would run with 18kg of success ballast on board as he went out to qualify on Saturday afternoon with Senna being weight free.
The tricky qualifying session was affected by the weather and numerous red flags which resulted in the quickest times being set early on in the 30-minute session. Unfortunately for Senna, he didn’t get a clear run before the first red flag appeared with 21 minutes remaining on the clock. Senna then wasn’t able to get into a good rhythm with a clear track ahead of him. Combined with the session being plagued by further red flag stoppages and changing weather conditions leaving a greasy track, Senna would end up settling for a time that would place him in a lowly 21st position on the grid.
Ash however, was one of the lucky few who managed to get in a quick lap when the track conditions were at their best, securing him a position of 3rd for the first of Sunday’s three races as the ballast free BMW of Colin Turkington took Pole Position.
The weather was brighter on Sunday morning for the first race of the day and as the lights went out it was Turkington that remained out in front as Ash made the jump on the heavily ballasted Honda of Championship leader Josh Cook who had started alongside Turkington on the front row of the grid.
Senna also made a good clean start with Lady Luck being on his side as he narrowly missed a multicar pile up after the BMW of Andrew Jordan was turned around at The Old Hairpin in the middle of the pack ahead of him. As a result, Jordan, Adam Morgan, Jake Hill, Ollie Jackson, Matt Simpson and Stephen Jelley all became victims of heavy damage resulting in the first safety car period of 2019 after less than half a racing lap. The safety car remained for a further six laps before racing got going once again on lap 8.
Once again it was ballast free BMW of Turkington that made the break ahead of Ash before the safety car was then deployed for a second time for an incident involving Nicolas Hamilton.
The race was soon restarted with Turkington controlling the pace once again with Ash staying close behind. Senna had dropped a place to Jack Goff but only briefly for one lap before managing to edge past him again. Meanwhile, Turkington was once again getting away out front with Ash making the most of the corners to try and stay with him and at the same time conscious that he had Turkington’s teammate Tom Oliphant in his rear-view mirror.
Senna was soon up to a fine 12th place, a position he would hold for the remainder of the race and scoring some vital points in the process for him and the team.
Ash also held onto his position finishing in a superb 2nd place and his second podium of the 2019 season thus far. Ash had now moved up to sit joint 2nd in the overall Drivers Championship standings and just 4 points behind new leader Tom Chilton.
The lights were out for the second time of the day and this time Ash was beaten off the line by the BMW of Oliphant forcing him back to 3rd position, although It wasn’t long as Ash made a pass back into 2nd at the Old Hair Pin. Senna was also beaten off the line and dropped back a couple of places to 14th place.
The safety car was deployed on lap three to retrieve a stricken Mark Blundell after contact with Sam Osborne. Turkington once again controlled the restart and this time got the jump on Ash who was now doing all he could to fend off Oliphant who was now on his tail, with Matt Neal also looming and ready to pounce. Ash did a great job of holding off the duo making his Levorg as wide as possible. However, Neal finally nipped past Oliphant and it wasn’t long before the Adrian Flux backed machine of Ash was his next target.
At this point in the race, Senna had dropped back to 17th after having to take to the grass to avoid a wayward Jelley at the exit of the chicane at the end of lap 9.
Yet again another safety car was deployed on lap 13 to clear the track of Chris Smiley’s Honda which allowed Neal to bunch up behind Ash diminishing the gap that he had built up. Thankfully the top three cars were all running with ballast from the previous race success so the differential between them was not too great and with the race restarting on lap 16 it would be a close three-lap battle.
Straight away Turkington having the quicker BMW got away out in front and Ash was now having to defend hard from Neal in the Honda who finally squeezed past on the straight on the following lap and Ash now found himself coming under pressure from Tom Chilton who was now on the back on him in 4th.
Meanwhile, Senna was turned around by Michael Crees which consequently caused Senna damage and forcing him to make a brief visit to the pits for a tyre change after picking up a puncture in the process. This spelt disaster as he found himself all the way down at the back of the field in last place. He did however manage to recover a few places crossing the line in his battle-scarred Subaru Levorg in 20th position.
Ash held Chilton off for the remainder of the race and took a victorious second podium of the day in 3rd place gaining his second podium in as many races and his third of the season so far. His result allowed him to remain 2nd in the championship standings, although no longer a joint position.
The race 3 reverse grid draw was made and the number 10 ball drawn placing Tom Ingram on Pole Position for the final race of the day demoting Ash to start the race from 8th and Senna lining up all the way down in 20th.
For Race 3 both Ash and Senna were on the unfavourable Hard Option Tyre so the third encounter was going to be even more of a challenge.
With the lights out for the final time of the day both of the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing drivers made perfect starts with Senna immediately having to take evasive action after a pair of wayward Volkswagens went off track in unison with one another at the Craner Curves hitting the barriers and causing significant damage. The safety car was deployed once again and as the pack completed the opening lap Senna found himself in 17th with Ash also making up a solitary place into 7th.
With the track clear up being quite a task for the safety team racing eventually recommenced on Lap 8. Once again both drivers made good restarts.
On Lap 9 Ash was soon through to 6th after a superb pass on Chilton whilst Senna was starting to struggle with the hard tyre and suspected steering issues and had dropped back to 23rd.
Ash extracted everything possible from the Subaru and was up to 6th and then gained another place as he nipped up the inside the Audi of Jake Hill and into a fantastic 5th place which was the position he held until the end of the race. Senna having made up a couple of positions in the latter stages of the race crossed the line in 21st.
Ash’s results made him the second highest point scorer over the weekend bagging him a total of 43 points which moved him from 7th in the championship standings to secure him the overall BTCC Drivers Championship lead. Both Ash and Senna scored many manufacturer points between them and Subaru now sit 2nd in the BTCC Manufacturers/Constructors Championship standings and the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing team move up to a fine 3rd place in the overall BTCC Teams Championship table.
Adrian Flux Subaru Racing Quotes:
Ashley Sutton - “The weekend couldn’t have gone any better. If someone said at the start of the year that I was going to come away leading the championship I would have laughed. But with a little bit of Lady Luck on a Saturday we have managed it, I personally think we have been overachieving at this current time based on some pieces of the puzzle not being quite right yet and out of our control…
“I can’t thank the team enough, the car was mega in all conditions and even when we bolted on the hard tyre. It left me comfortably sitting at 100% the whole weekend making sure we grabbed every point possible and doing this with two podiums and a 5th in the final race was great. Thruxton is going to be very hard now carrying this extra ballast but for sure we won’t give up fighting."
Senna Proctor - “Donington Park for me was a weekend to forget, a tough weekend starting with a very unfortunate qualifying which made race day very difficult for me.
“Race one was a great race and we managed to get some good points under our belt and looked set for a strong points haul for the day however contact in race 2 ruined our chance of another points scoring finish. We moved up into second in the Manufactures Championship so that was a positive to take from the weekend.
“I cannot wait to get going again at Thruxton in a few weeks!”
Gerry Bucke, General Manager at Adrian Flux Insurance - “Ash Sutton is known for driving at his best in wet conditions. It may have been dry at Donington Park this weekend - but his strong performance in Rounds 4, 5 and 6 means he’s the new championship leader.
“Senna should also be pleased, particularly with his impressive climb in Round 4 from 21st place to 12th. He did well to steer clear from the crashes and stoppages during that particular race.”
He added: “We know Team BMR work tirelessly behind the scenes, and we’re all looking forward to what Thruxton has in store.”
Paul Tunnicliffe of Subaru UK - “We didn’t have particularly high expectations form this circuit and were delighted to qualify in 3rd. However, what we have learned is that you underestimate Ash Sutton at your peril. His sheer persistence and racing intuition were brilliantly rewarded by an unanticipated points haul, and puts down a strong marker that he will be fighting for the honours come the end of the season.”
Next time out the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship heads to Thruxton for rounds 7, 8 and 9. Ash will carry the maximum success ballast of 54kgs of weight into both Free Practice sessions and Qualifying on Saturday as well as Race 1 on Sunday.
You can catch all of the BTCC Donington Park Highlights on ITV Sport as follows:
Saturday 4th May @ 06.45 ITV4
Sunday 5th May @ 06.50 ITV4
Thursday 9th May @ 00.40 ITV
Written by Maddy Turner of BMR Racing
Photos by Jakob Ebrey