The sun was shining as the series headed to Cheshire for the fourth round of the season, as 2022’s championship started to take shape. Leader, Josh Cook, started the weekend with a margin of over twenty points to Ash Sutton following four victories in the last six races.
Qualifying – Tom Ingram, Rory Butcher, Dan Lloyd, Adam Morgan, Ash Sutton, Dan Rowbottom
Despite never winning at Oulton Park in 24 attempts, Tom Ingram produced a stellar lap on Saturday to take pole position from Rory Butcher. Ingram’s Hyundai teammate, Dan Lloyd, took third with his best performance of the season with Adam Morgan, reigning champion Ash Sutton and Dan Rowbottom completing the top six.
Race One, 5.5/10 – Tom Ingram, Ash Sutton, Gordon Shedden*, Rory Butcher
- In a race that simmered throughout, without ever really coming to the boil, the top five left their grid slots in the same positions, although Rowbottom dropped down the order.
- In the opening laps, the battles in the mid-pack provided the entertainment, but at the end of lap 4, Gordon Shedden attempted to overtake Morgan at the end of the lap, but only succeeded in making contact with the back of his BMW, spinning him into the barriers and causing a safety car. Post-race, the stewards found Shedden to be at fault and applied a three-place penalty.
- After the re-start, Lloyd quickly lost several places through good driving of others and an error by himself as he dropped to seventh.
- While Ingram was comfortable in the lead, Butcher was having to work his Toyota a lot harder and eventually a move from Sutton over a good distance of a lap was fruitful, with Shedden also following him through. Butcher was then put under pressure from Colin Turkington, but crossed the line fourth by one tenth of a second.
Race Two, 4/10 – Tom Ingram, Ash Sutton, Colin Turkington
- In a relatively processional race at the front, the top eight drivers were still in their starting positions on lap 7, despite a brief switch between Lloyd and Cook on the opening lap.
- At half race distance, Turkington out-foxed Butcher after several laps of trying, as he stayed on the outside line all the way around the hairpin to take third, as Butcher expected the switch back. It was a good lap for West Surrey Racing, as Jake Hill also gained eighth from Cook.
- Like Turkington, after a few laps of trying, Shedden also succeeded with a move on Dan Cammish at the hairpin for 5th, while later in the race Hill moved to seventh after a move on Lloyd.
- Despite some action towards the back of the pack, it wasn’t one for the purists, as Ingram and Sutton claimed their second 1-2 of the day.
Race Three, 6/10 – Stephen Jelley, Aiden Moffat, Ricky Collard*, Josh Cook
- One of Ingram’s rewards for winning race two was to draw the ball for the reverse grid draw. In doing so, he created the maximum effect possible by drawing ball 12, placing Stephen Jelley on pole from Aiden Moffat, Ricky Collard and Cook.
- The drivers at the front started cleanly when the lights went out, although Collard was just over his grid box resulting in a five second penalty that was applied at the end of the race.
- Hill seemingly out-braked himself at the hairpin and went straight on. However, more drama was to follow. After exiting the hairpin, Lloyd appeared to cut across Collard, who was practically on the grass, before getting his move finished and he was catapulted into the barriers and then sent back into the middle of the track. As cars dived left and right, Turkington was completely unsighted and heavily smashed into Lloyd, who then was bumped by Michael Crees for good measure as he rolled onto the grass.
- Following the safety car period, both Infinitis, of Moffat in second and Dexter Patterson towards the end of the points paying positions, were proving to be corks in the bottle, as both drivers had several faster looking cars behind them. Patterson’s battle with several cars over many laps proved to be quite entertaining with the Scotsman eventually claiming his first point of the season, finishing 15th.
- At the front, Jelley was a comfortable winner and some resolute defending from Cammish allowed him to pick up sixth from a determined Morgan.
Ingram and Sutton were the weekend’s main beneficiaries of points with their double first and second, but both were caught up in taking avoiding action during race three’s big crash incident. As a result, Cook’s 15 points for third allowed him to have exactly that gap at the top of the standings ahead of Croft. Oulton Park was also going well for Turkington, as his BMW showed excellent race pace, but the heavy impact with Lloyd’s car could have a longer impact.
First of all, it was great to see the drivers get out of their cars relatively safely; another testament to the safety work that has been completed over the years. However, will Turkington be able to fire on all cylinders at Croft within two weeks of the crash and will the front end of his car be salvageable given the extent of the impact?
Cook endured his worst weekend of the season so far, as none of the BTC Hondas seemed to switch on and it will be interesting to see how they go at Croft. Was it a one-off poor weekend on a difficult circuit to overtake at or was it something a little more serious? Cook had a brace of fifths, coupled with a third, last year at Croft and something similar would continue his championship form ahead of the summer break.
For the last couple of years, Sutton has dominated the championship. Despite a move of teams and a switch from rear wheel drive, Sutton has been consistently achieving high points scoring finishes and he is well within the title hunt. Although he hasn’t won a race yet this year, he knows that consistency is the key in a change of attitude and a first win won’t be far away.
The season isn’t quite at the halfway point yet, but it would appear that the realistic title challengers are the current top four, although suitable arguments could be made for Hill, pushing it to five. The title is shaping up to be an outstanding battle as the points are relatively close and no-one is dominating like Sutton has done in the previous seasons… and the championship is better for it.
As we head to Croft, it will be interesting to see how many cars need to pit to remove grass from their front grilles and splitters. It seems that this season, more so than ever, the cars are unable to deal with any grass at all and instead of trying to run with it for a few laps, they are pitting immediately. It could be a funny quirk, or it could perhaps have something to do with the hybrid systems.
Finally, it was lovely to see Jade Edwards win the Jack Sears Trophy for Oulton Park. She continues to work as hard as anyone and it would be great to see the effort rewarded with a few more championship points next time out.
|1.||Josh Cook||169 points|