Adrian Flux Subaru Racing endured a challenging trio of races at Oulton Park last weekend (29-30 June), although Ashley Sutton continued a solid run of double points finishes to ensure he remains in the title hunt as the 2019 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) reached the midpoint of the season.
Bright sunshine and hot conditions welcomed BMR Racing to Cheshire on Saturday and qualifying was a sweltering 30-minute session with Ash securing a best time of 1m 26.881s to place him 14th at the chequered flag, although he inherited a 13th place race starting position after Chris Smiley recurved a five-place grid penalty which he earned back at Croft. For Senna Proctor, a lap of 1m 27.208s around the 2.23-mile track would place him in a lowly 24th. The results came as a bit of a surprise following previous successful results for the Subaru Levorg at the Oulton Park Circuit in recent years and the with the ballast laden BMW taking pole position with a 1m 25.825s we knew we had a great deal of work to do in Sunday’s first race.
With Sunday came cooler conditions which was unfortunate for Ash and Senna who both prefer the wet conditions, the forecast was also set to remain dry.
The lights were out for the first time in asking and with both drivers making good starts off the line, Ash had already made up a couple of places up to 11th by the time they’d reached the start-finish straight for the first time, whilst Senna had retained his 24th position. Race leader Colin Turkington in the BMW had already built up over a one second lead even with the full ballast and soft tyres onboard. There was a short safety car period due to Mat Neal losing a wheel and going off circuit allowing the cars to bunch up once again and when racing resumed Ash made up further positions and passed Jason Plato for 8th before going on the attack on Tom Ingram. Inevitable contact was made in the process which forced him back down to 9th. At the next corner, Ash was once again alongside Plato and was forced out wide across the grass losing two positions in the process and back down to 11th. Now on the attack of Jake Hill, it wasn’t long before he took the place back and was back into 10th behind Adam Morgan. Ash tried to find a way past for the 9th position and with a late manoeuvre he made an attempt to nip past at Cascades however he misjudged it in the process and clipped the back of the Mercedes which resulted in damage that ended Morgan’s race. Meanwhile, Senna had also made up two places and was into 22nd and like his teammate was all the while struggling to match the pace of others on circuit being 4mph down on the straights. On the penultimate lap Ash was on the tail of his former teammate Plato and used his late braking skills at Island Bend to grab another place and into 8th where he crossed the line with Senna holding onto 22nd. The race was won by Turkington with a gap of 2.021 seconds.
Ash was then handed a post-race 5 place grid penalty for his contact with Morgan meaning he would start race two from an unlucky 13th and to add even more frustration we were then received the news that Senna had been excluded from the race results due to a technical infringement and would start race two from the back of the grid.
For Race 2 was Subaru’s 100th BTCC race and both drivers had opted to use the soft tyres. The Levorgs got off the line well before Ash received side contact from Rob Collard. Subsequently, he was sent into a spin and off the circuit, causing damage in the process forcing him to make a visit to the pits for brief repairs before rejoining the race. Luckily for Ash, there was a safety car period following drama between Jack Goff and Chris Smiley which allowed the Subaru Levorg to catch up to the back of the field. Senna had thankfully managed to avoid all the drama. The race resumed once more and Ash was soon on the move and up to 23rd with Senna running just ahead in 21st. Both Subaru Levorg’s made up places into 20th and 21st positions on lap 9 and were up to 19th and 20th a couple of laps later. The safety car was deployed once again as Sam Osborne made heavy contact with the tyre wall. Ash eventually brought his car home in 16th with Senna following through in 18th with neither driver picking up a point. The race was once again won by Colin Turkington in the BMW.
Closing the weekend, the final race at Oulton Park was underway. Once again Ash made up a couple of positions and was soon up to 14th by the end of lap one with Senna’s first lap having the reverse effect and him losing places to find himself back in 21st. There was more race drama on lap 3 with the leaders Jake Hill and Mat Neal tangling which also resulted in Tom Ingram and Jason Plato being caught out. The damage from Plato’s car dragged oil all the way down to Lakeside which then caused a number of others to go straight on at Island Bend. Ash managed to stay out of trouble and was through to 9th as Senna’s race was hindered finding himself back in 25th. Ash managed to gain a further two positions passing Turkington for 8th after a race-long battle and would hold station until the chequered flag. Senna crossed the line in 20th after fighting hard and clawing back positions in the latter stages of the race.
Both Ash and Senna drove the absolute wheels off their Subaru’s with them reporting that both Levorg’s were spot on with setups, so hats off to the team for giving them the best machinery possible.
With Ash now fifth in the overall driver’s standings 48 points adrift of leader Colin Turkington, we head into the annual summer break until we reconvene at Norfolk’s Snetterton Circuit on the 3rd and 4th August.
Quotes from Adrian Flux Subaru Racing:
Ashley Sutton – “Oulton Park was always going to be tough, it wasn’t kind to us last year. Ultimately, I was hoping to be inside the top ten when it came to qualifying but despite giving it my all it wasn’t enough. There was nothing left in the tank from me or the car so we only managed P14.
“Race day it was just about trying to work our way up the grid throughout the day. We were surprisingly one of a few who could make good progress, that said it wasn’t easy. The moves I was having to pull off where high risk and unfortunately it didn’t pay off completely after I just misjudged a move and clipped the back of Adam Morgan, causing him a DNF.
“For Race two I received a 5 place grid penalty from the contact with Adam, the game plan here was just to try and do the same we did in race one and get inside the top 10 for the reverse grid, but contact from rob collard, dropped me to last after a pit stop.
“Race three was just about trying to get as many points as possible but we had some slight damage that was picked up during the race which stopped us progressing further than 7th.”
Senna Proctor – “Oulton Park was disappointing to say the least; our pace was not strong enough to challenge for the top ten which is where I believe we should be. After being put to the back of the grid for race 2 for a technical infringement I worked my way through the pack and gained 12 positions so that was a positive. Again, race pace was strong however we seem to be struggling to extract the times out of the car in qualifying compared to everybody else.
“We will keep working hard over the summer break to come back stronger in the second half of the year.”
Gerry Bucke, Adrian Flux General Manager "What an entertaining weekend it was for BTCC fans! Despite the challenges, it's amazing to see that Ash is still 5th in the championship. He's had to fight hard for every inch of track, and every overtaking move has been made with skill, passion and determination - it's those moments which set him apart from the drivers around him on the track and in the championship.”
Paul Tunnicliffe, Subaru UK “We went to Oulton in the hope that the gods would smile on us as the Subaru Levorg made its 100th appearance in BTCC, but sadly it was not to be. Repeated misfortune left us all frustrated, despite the drivers’ usual 100% commitment to the job in hand. The playing field was levelled somewhat in Race 3, as we started to find the pace we needed to keep us in contention, but the podium we were all striving for eluded us.
“We’re still within a shout of the leaders, and in BTCC simple small decisions can bring unexpected consequences, so we are still planning to be fighting for the ultimate honours at Brands in October.”
Written by Maddy Turner
Images by Jakob Ebrey Photography