Sutton grinds out points despite engine setback

Ash Sutton was full of praise for the engineers who carried out a rapid engine swap prior to qualification to keep his hopes of a second consecutive BTCC title alive at Donington.

It was hardly the ideal start for the reigning champion when an engine failure on his first outing with the new unit threatened to leave him at the back of the grid for race one.

But engineers from Team BMR and Swindon raced against the clock and completed a full engine swap in a two-hour window to get the 24-year-old back out for one flying lap in qualifying.

“… they [the team] did a splendid job to get me back out there…”

Photo credit: Gergo Toth Photography (Also main image)

“It was all looking good before the weekend going into Donington with the new Swindon Powertrain, but it was very short-lived, a real shame,” said Sutton, with an engine noise picked up in the early laps of FP2 causing grave concern.

“It was a massive curveball for the team. I can deal with it, just put another one in and off I go, but from the team’s point of view it was not ideal and they did a splendid job to get me back out there. It was a race against time.

“I just needed to get one fast lap in to remove 10 places from the back of the grid. The boys did a rush job, but a brilliant job to get me out there.”

Starting at the back of the grid again in Donington

Photo credit: Gergo Toth Photography

Starting in 22nd, one place behind teammate Jason Plato, Sutton worked hard to get the car up to 12th and in the points, before making further progress up to 8th in race two.

Pushed up to P2 in the reverse grid third race on the hard option tyre, Sutton produced a superb tactical drive to hold on to 6th in the face of severe pressure from those on the quicker Prime tyre.

“It was a very similar situation to last year at Donington, starting from the back of the grid,” he said. “We knew the car had got the potential to do well there and I’ve proven I can move up the grid round there.

“We were very lucky with the reverse grid ending up on the front row. On Saturday prior to qualifying we made the bold decision of selecting hard tyres for race three, which suddenly became one of the worst decisions! Having said that we wouldn’t have got to that position without following the strategy we did.

“I was shocked at our performance in that race, hanging in for a lot longer than I thought. I said to Louise Goodman (of ITV4) beforehand that I’d struggle to stay in the top 10 here, but I was still in P3 and going a lot better than planned for a long way.

“It was only on the last two laps that Aiden Moffat prised the door open, then I was on the back foot from that point on. I was off line and allowed Rob Collard and Andrew Jordan to go through as well.

“But I was one of the few drivers to only lose a few positions on the hard tyre. That tyre seemed to be the worst of the two throughout but the car was great on it. We managed to get a good start, knuckle down, spread the legs a little and go backwards as slowly as possible.”

Sutton’s remarkable performance

Photo credit: Gergo Toth Photography

Sutton’s performance was all the more remarkable given the Subaru’s lack of straight-line speed, at times a full 5mph slower on the straights than the quickest cars.

“We know we are on the back foot with our power,” he admitted. “Our section one times look great but that’s halfway through a corner and we’re one of the strongest through corners.

“Halfway down the straight we’re looking at about a 4 or 5mph deficit and it makes our job as drivers harder to push forward.

“I had to resort to racing smart to hold position. Our stars haven’t quite aligned yet but when things fall into place the results will come. I’m still fifth in the standings somehow, still at the right end and collecting points.”

“It’s [the BTCC] massively more competitive than last year….”

Photo credit: Gergo Toth Photography

Sutton maintains that retaining his title will be tougher than winning it in 2017.

“It was definitely a little bit harder at Donington than last year,” he said, with two podiums at the Leicestershire circuit last spring.

“There are a lot more drivers in different cars. They are 90 per cent the same drivers, but they’ve moved around in different cars and that’s mixed up this season more so it’s made my job harder again.

“It’s massively more competitive than last year. Maybe two thirds of the grid have got race-winning potential in them, and the whole grid has podium potential with the cars they are in.”

Sutton now heads to the fastest circuit in the championship at Thruxton, where he broke the qualifying lap record in testing last month, on May 19 and 20.

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