After the dramatic events of the previous rounds at Silverstone, it was always going to be a hard ask for Croft to be on a par, but it certainly gave it a good try. The main championship protagonists heading to North Yorkshire, Ash Sutton and Colin Turkington, both suffered problems as Dan Cammish’s good form pulled him into serious contention.
Tom Ingram’s title challenge suffered a major setback at Silverstone and he was keen to make amends in Saturday’s qualifying session, something he duly did by setting the fastest time of the session. However, his car failed the ride height test and he was subsequently positioned at the back of the grid for the opening race. Ingram’s loss was Josh Cook’s gain as he lined up on the front row with Jake Hill, while it was a Team BMW lockout on row two with Turkington ahead of Tom Oliphant. Bobby Thompson took an impressive fifth in the Audi S3 with leader Sutton sixth.
Cook made a good start to maintain the lead and Turkington, for a few corners, temporarily took second from Hill. At the end of a frantic lap, Rory Butcher clipped Sutton’s rear as they entered the complex, spinning the Infiniti driver around. Luckily for Sutton, he was able to continue in 14th.
For the next couple of laps, Hill pressed Cook hard at the front with Turkington slowly catching up to the pair, as Butcher was lonely in 4th. Meanwhile, Sutton provided the main entertainment as he was carving his way through the field with ease like he did a fortnight ago at Silverstone. Tom Chilton managed to be the only one to get the memo about Sutton’s seemingly signature move at the hairpin as he temporarily halted his progress, but was powerless to stop a move at Tower.
Sutton clawed his way back to finish 5th, although he gained another place post-race as Butcher was penalised with a position switch after the pair’s contact. Cook won by just over half a second from Hill with Turkington completing the podium.
However, in race two, there was to be no podium for Turkington as he didn’t even make it to the second corner. He locked up and went straight on into the gravel, although there seemed to be a small nudge in his rear end from Sutton. There was no way Turkington was getting out of the gravel and a safety car period was needed. As a result, the championship swung massively in Sutton’s favour.
Similarly, Butcher’s faint hopes of a championship diminished as he had a high speed off-track excursion, but was able to re-join well down the pack.
After the re-start, Hill tried hard again to overtake Cook, with Sutton in 3rd. However, Sutton’s racing instincts took over and as he smashed into Hill at the hairpin a couple of laps later, their cars momentarily became stuck together and the resultant damage caused a puncture for Sutton. Had Sutton finished 3rd, he would have brought about a good gap between himself and Turkington.
On lap 9, Cook had a comfortable two second lead at the front, but from 7th on the grid, Matt Neal was on a charge and was up to 2nd. As good battles ensued between Chilton, Cammish and Ingram, Neal closed the gap to Cook and with a few laps to go he was all over Cook, who was defending well. On the final lap, Neal gave it one last try, and with a late lunge at Sunny In, there was a heavy wallop on Cook’s car and Neal was through and took the chequered flag.
It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that the positions were, of course, reversed post-race giving Cook his second win of the day. Impressively, Hill claimed his second podium of the day as Sutton missed the chance to stretch out a big lead as he finished 20th.
As Neal crossed the line first, he still had the honour of completing the reverse grid draw and pulled out ball 6 to cause the minimum disruption with Chilton being promoted to pole with Cammish second and Ingram third.
However, Ingram didn’t stay there for long as he was second off the line and then in the lead after half a lap with a brave move on Chilton. However, the biggest drama with championship consequences came towards the back of the field as Turkington’s wheel was clipped by Ollie Jackson at the opening corner and he had to limp back to the pits with a suspected broken toe link.
As the race started to settle down, there was a prolonged safety car period after a huge crash for Thompson after being sent wide at the Jim Clark Esses and as his Audi dug into the ground, he barrel rolled several times. His car was every much a wreck as Butcher’s at Silverstone, if not worse. Thankfully, Thompson emerged, understandably shaken, but seemingly fine otherwise.
Ingram re-started the race well, but Chilton and Cammish went with him as the trio edged out a gap to the rest of the field. This was helped by Neal seemingly being a bottle neck in the pack, although he did manage to stay there for the rest of the race.
The glow of brakes on the newer version Civics were a great sight and after a period of cooling, Cammish made his move on Chilton at Tower for second and he started to catch Ingram. As hard as Cammish tried, this was to be Ingram’s race as he won by under three tenths of a second.
Throughout the race, there was, again, a charging Sutton and, again, he was obviously helped by the field closing up because of the safety car, just as he was by the red flag at Silverstone. Come the chequered flag, Sutton had made it to fifth as he was finally able to extend his championship lead, but now from Cammish and not Turkington, who incidentally did manage to take a point for the fastest lap in his repaired BMW.
While Croft was always going to struggle to match the intensity and drama of Silverstone weeks earlier, this was by no means a boring meeting with plenty of incidents involving the championship contenders.
Sutton now holds a slender seven-point lead over Cammish, with Turkington a further five points behind. Ingram’s victory in the final race of the day means he is still in touching distance, 29 points behind Sutton. A day of what could have been.
One of, if not the most, successful circuits of Turkington’s BTCC career proved to be one of his most unfortunate this season. It is hard to see how he regains the momentum after a horror show in races two and three, while Sutton must also be kicking himself for his puncture picked up in what was a totally unnecessary move. He could be home and dry by now, but as it is, he now has Cammish hot on his heels.
Cammish provides a different challenge to Sutton than Turkington as their cars are so different and the fact that out of the three, Cammish has by far the best rear-gunner in Neal. Make no mistake, Halfords Yuasa Racing work more as a team on track than any other team out there and nothing would give Neal, rumoured to be in his final season, more pleasure than helping his teammate secure a championship. Moffat is nowhere near as fast as Sutton to help and Oliphant seems to be outdone every single time when defending, especially from Sutton.
In addition, Cammish seems unstoppable at the moment with five top five finishes in his last six races – championship winning form. However, if Sutton doesn’t win the championship, he will surely look back on the second race at Croft and wish he’d just reigned in his fighting spirit for once. If anyone beats Sutton to the championship, it may well be that Sutton has beaten himself.
With six races left to go, it’s far from over. But, if Turkington wants to take a fifth crown, he’s going to have to go extremely well at Snetterton. He’s also going to hope the insanely fast Infiniti – strangely, even with full ballast – runs into problems, and that Cammish is unable to capitalise.
Race One: 6/10
Race Two: 6/10
Race Three: 6.5/10
|Ashley Sutton||261 points|