This season saw a slightly later than usual start to the British Touring Car Championship and the series wasted no time in delivering its usual drama, close racing and talking points at the UK’s fastest circuit, Thruxton.
Qualifying Top Five – Ash Sutton, Josh Cook, Colin Turkington, Tom Ingram, and Rory Butcher
Saturday’s qualifying session took place in tricky wet and windy conditions and the fastest times were set at the end of the session as the track dried out. Several drivers had spells at the top of the time sheets, but 2020 champion Sutton came out on top and secured the first point of the season.
Race One Rating 6/10 – 1st Josh Cook, 2nd Tom Ingram, 3rd Jake Hill
- Sutton maintained the lead off the line, but Turkington inadvertently tapped him into the complex sending him spinning, allowing Cook to take the lead.
- A busy first lap soon brought a safety car as returning Gordon Shedden made contact with Ollie Jackson. Consequently, Shedden collected the unfortunate Chris Smiley as he tried get back on the track resulting in them hitting the barriers heavily.
- The top four had a good-sized gap to fifth for much of the race and fourth placed Turkington was glued to the bumper of Hill for the majority of the race.
- Cook won with relative ease, while Turkington was demoted to 10th post-race for the incident with Sutton.
Race Two, 7/10 – Josh Cook, Dan Cammish, Jake Hill
- Cook got away well and Hill was going for second, but drama behind resulted in a red flag. Andy Neate, later fined £2,000 and had his licence endorsed with three points for his instigator role, crashed into the back of Glynn Geddie, who in turn collected Jade Edwards sending all three of them into the barriers. Geddie, especially, was fortunate to emerge uninjured after his brand new Cupra Leon rolled several times.
- On the first lap of the second start, there was another prolonged safety car period to recover Butcher’s car after another heavy impact with the barriers.
- When racing resumed, Cook and guest teammate Cammish scampered off with Hill not too far behind, while Daniel Rowbottom secured an impressive fourth.
- Sutton, following an early pitstop, stormed through the field to take ninth.
Race Three, 9/10 – Ash Sutton, Jason Plato, Jake Hill
- The changeable conditions made the race as the drivers were split between wet and slick tyres. A wet start saw Sutton soon take the lead from reverse grid pole-sitter, Stephen Jelley.
- On lap 6, Tom Oliphant, on slicks, set the fastest lap as the race swung in favour of those on slicks. Oliphant and Hill then charged through the field, as did the other cars on slicks, to the front with Hill leading.
- The rain started again on lap 10 and it wasn’t long before Sutton started to close the gap on the leaders and slowly but surely, he picked off the cars to lead. Plato closed on Hill and took second on the line from Hill as the chequered flag waved.
Hill leads the early championship table with Cook a point behind after he took maximum points in the first two races. Cook will be hoping for a better season, after a slightly disappointing ninth in 2020. It is his third season in the car, so he should be at his peak with this car and on the evidence of Thruxton, he will be. However, Hondas have generally always gone well around this circuit, so it will be interesting to see how they compete at Croft or Knockhill, for example.
Meanwhile, Hill, who finished seventh last season after an impressive second half of the season, will be hoping to build on that this time around. It will be interesting to see the effect of the championship leader success ballast at Snetterton in a month’s time on his Ford Focus as it is a different style of track. However, it is clear that the Focus in the hands of Hill is going to be a rapid car this season.
Reigning champion Sutton may class himself as being a little bit unlucky at only being fourth in the championship standings after the opening round. He was certainly hit by some bad luck in races one and two, but still produced his renowned storms through the field on each occasion to take a brace of ninths, before his victory.
Sutton and his Infiniti seem to go together like Ant and Dec or fish and chips. He gets the best out of that car every single time he is on track and it once again looked like the best car out there. The rest of the field need to take note and improve their game as you would not bet against Sutton retaining his crown on the evidence seen at Thruxton. Last season’s closest challenger, Turkington, once again didn’t look to be totally comfortable with the BMW in the wet conditions. With Sutton’s car seemingly on fire in any conditions, WSR and Team BMW have had the gauntlet set to them.
Finally, at Thruxton, it was great to see some familiar faces returning to the paddock, most notably four-time champion Gordon Shedden and two-time champion Jason Plato. Shedden had a difficult opening couple of races, before finding his feet in the final race claiming fourth.
Plato, however, leaves Thruxton third in the championship after a stellar weekend in his Vauxhall Astra, now incredibly the oldest car on the grid. For a 53-year-old man to return to the championship after a year out and be straight on the money at the fastest circuit on the calendar is seriously impressive. He showed that he’s lost none of his race craft, fight or desire and it will be very interesting to see if he can continue this throughout the season. But, for Thruxton, he was undoubtedly my driver of the weekend.
|1. Jake Hill||46 points|
|2. Josh Cook||45|
|3. Jason Plato||38|
|4. Ash Sutton||36|
|5. Dan Cammish||30|
|6. Tom Ingram||27|