Subaru driver Ashley Sutton took the 2017 British Touring Car Championship after a battle that was only decided in the opening laps of the final race.
At the start of the day the title had seemed Sutton’s for the taking, his Subaru Levorg 10 points ahead of only serious rival, the BMW of Colin Turkington. He would start the first of three races 14 places behind Sutton after an electrical problem in qualifying.
However, a dramatic second race from Turkington, in which he drove from 15th on the grid to win, left the two just six points apart going into the final round. But the BMW man’s hopes were then dashed on lap two of the finale when his car was fatally damaged by a collision with Matt Jackson’s Ford.
The first significant UK race championship won by a Subaru came at the end of the second season for the Levorg estate cars run by Team BMR. However, the team could not win the Manufacturer title, that prize providing some consolation for BMW.
Race one – Moffat’s Mercedes march
Ashley Sutton only had to drive sensibly in his Subaru to put one hand on the BTCC title and caution was definitely in order, most drivers choosing slick tyres despite the circuit still being damp from an earlier rain shower.
Sutton gained a further advantage on the first of 15 laps when his third grid spot turned into second. Pole sitter Jack Goff was the first to be caught out by the conditions – his Eurotech Honda Civic skated off backwards into the Paddock bend barrier, but got going again and would remarkably finish 12th.
As the Laser Tools Racing Mercedes-Benz A-Class of Aidan Moffatt assumed a lead it would not lose, Sutton soon came under pressure from the fired-up Tom Ingram. The Speedworks Toyota driver had started the day still with a mathematical chance of the title, as well as pole position for the Independents award, and soon passed the Subaru. Sutton did not fight too hard, his mind on the bigger picture.
Not that he needed to worry. With his car having no grip off the racing line, Turkington made little progress. The BMW remained mired in a battle with two Volkswagens and an MG, and crucially for much of the race outside the points. Eventually, he progressed up to 12th but then had to give best to the recovering Goff. When Colin ran wide on the last lap to score just one point in 15th, it appeared this would not be BMW’s day.
All of which left a very happy Moffatt atop the podium just three days after his 21st birthday, and an even happier Sutton in third. Now his points advantage was 24, and the title could be his in the second race.
Race two – Turkington’s Tour de force
If Colin Turkington had looked bereft in race one, he came alive in race two. On a now dry track, his BMW proved to be in a different class.
Starting 15th he made three places up before the first corner and then sliced through the field. With three laps left a tap to the rear of leader Aidan Moffatt’s Mercedes gave the BMW the lead, and the win, as the Mercedes ran wide.
In the process, Turkington also secured the manufacturer title for BMW, but the stewards took a dim view of his race-winning move, fining him £500 and putting three points on his race licence. Crucially, however, they did not take away any of his championship points…
On its way up through the field, the BMW disposed easily of Ashley Sutton’s Subaru, and this time it was the championship leader who struggled. Slipping back from third spot, he initially held onto the back of the top six, but in the closing laps slid down the field.
Av eventual 12th place earned Sutton a potentially vital four points. But even when guest Murray Walker pulled out the maximum number 10 in the reverse grid draw for the final race, the BMW remained ahead of the Subaru on the grid – and only six points adrift in the championship.
Meanwhile, the Halfords Honda team salvaged something from a disappointing season with second and third for outgoing champion Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal, and by finishing sixth, Tom Ingram tied up the Independents title in his Speedworks Toyota.
Race 3 – all over on lap 2
As is typical in the British Touring Car Championship, the 30-race season came down to what turned out to be a final 17 laps around the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit. And after all the excitement of race two, it ended in anti-climax…
Turkington made a good start in conditions that had again become greasy, but this time almost everyone was on wet tyres. The BMW man had to outscore his Subaru rival by seven points, and Sutton was just behind so Colin had to push.
Into Graham Hill bend on lap two, Tom Ingram’s Toyota tapped Matt Jackson’s Ford wide, and Turkington gratefully grabbed the space on the inside. But then the Ford came back onto the track and side-swiped the BMW, puncturing its rear tyre.
After limping back to the pits the West Surrey Racing BMW team also diagnosed a broken rear upright – Turkington was out and Sutton was champion. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said a disappointed Colin.
Back on the track, the Toyota Avensis of Rob Austin held the lead, and he pulled away to win by three seconds and to give the car a good send-off – his Handy Motorsport team will switch to a new Alfa Romeo Giulietta in 2018.
In contrast to the frantic opening laps, the final saw little more significant action, Jack Goff holding onto second spot and Sutton, the pressure now off, following him home in third.
Tom Ingram’s Toyota, the Volkswagen of pole-sitter Michael Epps and Shedden’s Honda completed the top six, but really this final was about only one person.
Joining the Subaru team from MG at the start of 2017, Ashley Sutton’s second season in the BTCC had brought him seven race wins and the title of British Touring Car Champion. Meanwhile Subaru, previously known only for rallying success, had proven that estate cars can win motor races – and championships.
It all starts again, back at Brands Hatch, on 8 April 2018.