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Hunter turns hunted as Sutton breaks clear

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August 31, 2017
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Ash Sutton was happy playing the role of hunter.

But having burst clear of the BTCC pack at Rockingham, the Essex racer must now prove as adept in the role of prey as he was predator.

Just six races, and a determined former champion in Colin Turkington, stand between Sutton and a maiden touring car title in just his second season.

But the man who would, at 23, be the youngest British touring car champion since John Fitzpatrick in 1966, is unfazed at being up there to be shot at.

Ash Sutton BTCC

I like being the hunter, I’ve said that in the past, but I’ve got myself in the situation where I’m now being hunted,” he said, after picking up his sixth race win of the season at Rockingham to go with second and fifth-placed finishes.

“My mindset isn’t going to change though, I’m still going to be racing in the same manner. Since Donington my mindset’s been completely different, and I’m aiming to maintain that in every single race.

“I’m trying not to let it sink in. I’m enjoying it and trying to not let it get the better of me.”

Having started the weekend at the Northamptonshire circuit four points adrift of Turkington, Sutton headed home with a 12-point lead, with Gordon Shedden and Rob Collard a further 43 and 44 points adrift respectively.

“It could not have gone any better,” said the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing title favourite, now a skinny 3/10 with Betway to win the championship.

“It was a real good weekend considering we went into qualifying with a bit more ballast, which was always going to make life a bit harder, and I was pleased to qualify fourth. Then race one and two were brilliant.”

After chasing home BMR team-mate James Cole, for whom it was a maiden BTCC win, in race one, Sutton forced his Levorg to the front at the first bend in race two and was never headed thereafter.

Ash Sutton BTCC win Rockingham

“It was great to have James lock out the front two for race two and take the race win. It was me and Jason (Plato) last time, now me and James, which was perfect for the team.

“Race three was all about surviving in my opinion. We got caught up with a few incidents at the start, dropped back to P12 and muscled our way back up to fifth and again managed to beat Colin for the third time that day. It was a really important tick in the box to take points away from him in every single race.”

But Shedden’s nightmare weekend, which saw him pick up just six points after a puncture and collision in races one and two, was not lost on Sutton.

“We saw how quickly it can change for Shedden and Collard at the weekend,” he said. “I’ve got nearly 60 points over them now, so it can turn very quickly.”

“Using Gordon as an example, he was on the receiving end of some bad luck from what I’ve seen – it was not his own errors so you can play your side of things absolutely perfectly but have a drama such as a puncture or get caught up in someone else’s incident, so it’s just a question of minimising those risks.

“I’ve got huge faith in the team to deliver a car that’s always going to be finishing races, so then it’s down to me with tyre management to not get myself into situations to pick up punctures.

“Then it’s about knowing when to give up the battles. A lot of people keep fighting until they are in the gravel trap. So it’s about accepting you’ve lost that particular battle and being there to fight for another one.”

Talking of battles, there was a school of thought during race three, as Sutton moved up to the rear bumper of Turkington, that he didn’t need to take any risks having already bested the Northern Irishman in the first two races.

But there’s taking risks, and there’s taking opportunities, as Sutton explained.

“People should know me by now – I was happy to sit behind Colin, but he left the door open and gave me an opportunity and everyone should know by now I’m going to try to take it,” he added.

Ash Sutton podium Rockingham

So is it the two-horse race suggested by the bookies, who have Turkington at 3/1 second favourite with Shedden a distant 10/1?

“Realistically, if no dramas happen for either me or Colin, it’s probably between us two, but if we have a bad race or two it’s not over for the others,” said Sutton.

“We’ve got a nice little margin now, and it’s up to me to maintain that gap. On average, as long as I’m scoring the same as Colin then we’ll get there.”

So it’s on to Silverstone on September 16 and 17, where Sutton will carry maximum ballast in qualifying for the first time.

Having taken pole in the MG at the circuit last year, Sutton took the chequered flag in race one only to lose the race for a technical infringement.

“That particular car was very good there last year,” he said. “I don’t know if we are going to suit that circuit as well.

“Looking at how the guys got on there in 2016, all the rear wheel drive cars had a little bit more of a struggle.

“It’s probably a weak track for us in terms of ultimate pace, but I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve to pull out in qualifying – I’ll keep people guessing, but there’s a plan in place.”

And if recent form is any guide, you wouldn’t bet against it being a winning plan…

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