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Sutton “buzzing” as Plato prepares for supporting role

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September 28, 2017
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On Wednesday, Ash Sutton was sitting in the passenger seat on the Brands Hatch GP track where he hopes to make history this weekend.

It was all part of the day job as an instructor for the Association of Racing Drivers Schools, coaching aspiring drivers in the arts of racecraft.

The following morning, he’s back at the historic Kent circuit for the pre-race shakedown, joining the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing teammates who have vowed to have his back as he bids to become the youngest BTCC champion since 1966.

Jason Plato, James Cole and Josh Price could all have a vital role to play in helping Sutton hold off the challenge of double champion Colin Turkington, who switched from Subaru to BMW this season.

Sutton Plato Team BMR BTCC

“It was quite nice going there on Wednesday, even just sat in the passenger seat on the GP circuit made me a bit more confident and reminded me how I’ve really missed the place – it’s my favourite circuit,” said Sutton, who holds a 10-point lead in the title race.

“I’m literally buzzing for it. It’s the calm before the storm at the moment and I can’t wait to get going. This is why I do the job.

“I know 100 per cent I’ve got the right team around me. The guys have all been brilliant supporting me and have helped me along the way in the last few rounds. We’ve got four cars compared to Colin’s two, which will hopefully be a benefit.”

Plato, of course, has been there and done it all before, and the two-time champion – unburdened by success ballast – is hoping to help his young teammate over the line.

“If he does pull it off it’s going to be brilliant for us all,” he said. “We will do the maximum to get Ash a good position in qualifying to make sure he’s at the sharp end on the grid.

“We’ve all got to work together to give him a tow. I think I’m probably going to be a bit quicker round there because of the weight, so the plan would be for him to sit three car lengths behind me so I can cut his air resistance – it could be worth maybe three tenths of a second.

“During the races, depending on how it’s unfolding, if I find myself behind Ash, let’s say he was third and I was fourth, I would back the other cars away from him to give him clean air. I’ll take the heat from behind and protect him.”

Jason Plato Ash Sutton podium BTCC
Sharing the podium earlier in the season

All of which is music to Sutton’s ears, as he prepares for Saturday’s qualifying session that could go a long way to deciding the destination of the championship.

“In my eyes qualifying is a 50 per cent part of this weekend,” he said. “We have to be up near the front, to give us the best chance of outscoring Colin in races one and two.”

It wouldn’t be the Essex racer’s first title, having won the Clio Cup in 2015 for Team BMR, and thus far he’s shown few signs of nerves on his steady rise to the top of the standings since a poor start to the season on the Brands Indy circuit.

“I’m trying to treat it the same, but it does feel different,” he said. “I went into the last round of the Clio Cup in second, quite a few points behind, and it was always a real push to come away with the title.

“This is a more prestigious championship and instead of being behind I’m in the lead. It’s a different matter, but I’m trying to approach it with exactly the same attitude.

“I’m really hungry for the championship. I can’t wait to get back in the car and give it my best shot.”

The forecast rain on Sunday, after a dry qualifying session, promises to add extra spice to the already unpredictable nature of the BTCC.

But Sutton has already proved his mettle in wet conditions, notably at Croft both this season and last, when he opened his BTCC account in the MG.

“I’ve always liked the wet,” he said. “Brands is a tricky circuit in the wet, every circuit is different, but I like driving in the rain. I’m confident in myself and in the team to deal with it.

“I feel like I can extract all the performance from myself in the rain and I have every faith in the team. But yes, the wet brings the unknown into it and it can throw a spanner in the works.”

Ash Sutton podium Rockingham
Sutton hopes to be number one after Sunday’s racing

For Plato, success for his teammate this weekend will represent the culmination of a project he was instrumental in pulling together, even if he would obviously rather be the one chasing the crown.

“Having helped put all this together, bringing the manufacturer in and getting the sponsors on board, I would get a great deal of joy from it even if it’s not me, but my teammate, that gets the prize,” he said.

“Whether or not it succeeds is a bigger thing than me being a selfish professional sportsman, which we all are. Anyone of us could deliver the ultimate prize – I want it to succeed and I want every one of our partners and sponsors to have a brilliant year because I want it to continue.

“I’m older than I was four or five years ago, I know I’ve had a crap year and the reasons for it, and now I just want Ash to do well.

“I’ve never been in a position where I can help a teammate clinch a championship, but each race is just a race and it won’t change how we work together.

“Going racing, there’s just one switch and it’s not a dimmer switch, it’s on or off.”

So after 27 races at nine different circuits across the country, it all comes down to this weekend – one final showdown in the natural amphitheatre of Brands Hatch, a fitting setting for a thrilling finale.

* ITV4 will be showing live coverage of Saturday’s qualifying session online only from 3pm, with live coverage of Sunday’s meeting on TV from 11am

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