“Underdog” Sutton sets sights on BTCC title

Man of the moment Ashley Sutton has just set the fastest lap in a mid-season tyre test at Snetterton, and he’s looking relaxed as thunderstorms crash around the Norfolk track.

That won’t surprise anyone who knows the affable 23-year-old, who combines an easy manner with the fierce determination required to succeed in motorsport.

After a debut BTCC season cutting his teeth with MG, which reaped the Jack Sears Trophy for leading rookie, Sutton is now hunting down the championship title itself thanks to two wins and three podiums in the last six races.

Topping the times on Thursday in the Adrian Flux-sponsored Subaru Levorg is significant, because round six of the championship sees a return to Snetterton in three week’s time.

Sutton lies fourth in the title race, 20 points behind leader Gordon Sheddon in the Honda, with Rob Collard and Colin Turkington’s BMWs in between.

Those three have more than 1,000 touring car races and five titles between them, so can the young man from Bishop’s Stortford reel them in?

“I’m the underdog I think,” he says. “I’m slowly picking my way back up there, but I’m still 20 points away.

“Three rounds ago we were 80 points behind – we’ve had a real good run to claw that back in three rounds, so 20 points is not too much. It’s not going to be easy, but I do have my eyes set on that title. It’s becoming more realistic. Until that chequered flag waves at Brands it’s not over.”

The switch from MG to Team BMR in the close season was a natural move for Sutton, who has long had a close relationship with team boss Warren Scott.

“He picked me up in the Clios and last year I was under his managing banner and he looked after that side of things,” he says.

“So I knew everyone in the team. This was a natural step and it felt like coming home from MG to Subaru. Nothing against the other guys, but this is home for me and was always the end goal.

“Last year, picking up a race win and a few podiums, that showed what I was capable of doing in a touring car. No-one knew what I was capable of doing, and it was a chance to prove myself.”

He says moving to the Subarus, in only their second year in touring cars, was “always going to be a challenge”.

“I knew the cars were capable of winning races after last year,” he adds. “I had my expectations, but in the early rounds sometimes didn’t quite meet them.

“We had a few things thrown at us and there were quite a few errors from my point of view, which didn’t help with the results.”

The Subarus were hit with new centre of gravity regulations, and suffered from a lack of power at Brands Hatch, with Sutton finishing well down the field.

“I came away from Brands and thought ‘OK I’ll write that one off’. My season started from Donington – we changed a lot with the car, and I changed the way I raced. From then I’ve not had any major damage in terms of Championship points lost.

“The improvement since has been a combination of things. There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes regarding our power, discussions between the team and TOCA engineers, things like that. We’ve been working closely together to get our car where it should be.

“In the past few races we’ve been getting to the sweet spot to be able to race with everyone on the grid. Fingers crossed we’ll stay there for the rest of the season.”

The two-day test at Snetterton was a chance to get the set up of the car fine-tuned for round six, and to get back in the car after nearly a month since Croft.

“It’s nice to have a summer break, but it can become a bit tedious and now I want to get out in the car. It’s good that they put this on and good to break the summer up, and important to give us some insight for when we bring the car here at the end of the month.

“At these testing days there’s a mixture of things going on – some teams are trying to find out ultimate pace. For me, it’s more about looking at the set up.

“The past two days has been trying to hone the car. We didn’t get a lot of winter running, so we’re playing catch up now, and it’s nice to have this test here and progress forward again. In this game you never stop learning things – they are always changing.

“For me it’s about dragging every last drop of performance from the car. Every track has its own distinct needs from the car and drivers and we’re always looking for that extra bit.”

As he seeks his first title, Sutton, who works at Newkart and helps run the BMR karting academy at Rye House Raceway, has been able to draw on the vast experience of team-mate Jason Plato.

“JP has helped for sure – he’s a top guy,” he says. “It’s really a group effort, with James Cole as well, and Josh (Price) is still learning but getting there and making leaps and bounds.

“We’ve all got our own problems, but we’re bouncing stuff off each other and using each other’s information to help each other.”

In the future, Sutton has his eye on the V8 Supercars series in Australia, but for now there’s only one thing on his mind.

“I’ve always wanted to get on the touring car grid – I’ve achieved that and now I want to win a championship,” he says.

He could be just 15 races from fulfilling that dream.

The next round is at Snetterton on July 29 and 30, with live coverage on ITV4.

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