Adrian Flux Subaru Racing’s Ashley Sutton wrote his name into the history books at Brands Hatch as he achieved a lifelong dream, winning the 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.
In a nail-biting climax around the famous Grand Prix circuit, the 23-year-old became the youngest driver to win the coveted crown since John Fitzpatrick in 1966. Arriving at the Kent venue, a favourite on the calendar for Ashley, holding a ten-point advantage over Colin Turkington, his pursuit of a maiden title got off to a strong start in qualifying. Despite carrying 75kgs of success ballast on-board his Subaru Levorg, Ashley benefitted from a slipstream off of team-mate Jason Plato to produce a superlative lap in tricky conditions, putting him third on the grid for the opening race of the weekend.
Starting 14 places ahead of Turkington, race one saw Ashley take a step closer to the biggest prize in British motorsport. With rain falling prior to the start, the decision on what tyres to run threw another curveball into the mix. Electing for slick tyres, Ashley launched off the line and jumped into second as pole sitter Jack Goff spun away his advantage at Paddock Hill Bend. Hot on the heels of leader Aiden Moffat, Ashley soon began to come under pressure from Tom Ingram and dropped to third at the halfway marker. Hounding Moffat and Ingram all the way to the chequered flag, Ashley crossed the line to take third. Virtue of Turkington’s 15th place, Ashley extended his championship lead to 24 points.
Race two would see the latest twist in the title pendulum as Turkington took victory and Ashley was bumped down the order, finishing 12th. Those results meant that the title battle would go down to the wire, with Ashley holding a six-point advantage over Turkington.
Starting directly behind Turkington on the grid for round 30 with no weight, another pre-race rain shower saw the vast majority of the field, including Ashley and Turkington, switching to wet tyres on the grid – further adding to the tension. As the lights went out, Ashley immediately began to pick his way through the top ten, following Turkington wherever he went. The destiny of the title was decided on lap two however as Turkington suffered damage following contact with another driver, forcing him to retire. His demise meant regardless of where he finished, Ashley would be the brand-new BTCC champion. Crossing the line third, Ashley arrived to raptures of applause in parc ferme as he jumped on the roof of his Subaru to savour the moment.
Ashley’s rise through the BTCC ranks since debuting last year has been anything but remarkable. Reverting to the familiar surroundings of rear-wheel-drive machinery, Ashley’s campaign ironically didn’t get off to the best of starts as he failed to score a point at the 2017 curtain-raiser. Fighting back from an exclusion in qualifying, Ashley took two third place finishes at Donington Park before going on to notch a trio of top tens at Thruxton. The championship charge really kicked into life at Oulton Park for Ashley as he bagged his first victory of the year in race two at the Cheshire track. He further cemented his championship credentials at Croft with another win and brace of second place finishes.
Following the annual summer break there were two wins at Snetterton before he made further visits to the top step of the podium at both Knockhill and Rockingham. In total, Ashley scored six wins during the course of the 2017 campaign, more than anyone else on the grid. A further nine podiums, one pole position and four fastest laps underlined his pace championship-winning pace throughout the season.
Ashley Sutton, 2017 BTCC Champion, said: “This is a dream come true for me, nothing can top this! I can’t thank everyone enough at Adrian Flux Subaru Racing, they have put me in this position and have done me proud. I’m worn out with the emotions of it, it’s not sunk in yet. It was a rollercoaster day, race one was greta but the tables turned in race two and all that hard work was undone.
“I knew that I had to do whatever Colin was doing, it was a simple as that. We went into Graham Hill Bend in the same place and on the exit, I could see there was some contact. I was just focused on making sure I got ahead without any contact. Half a lap later I got the call that I was champion, I had to double check with the team as I didn’t believe them at first.
“Things didn’t look good after the first round but the team came together and really worked hard. Since Oulton Park we have been on a roll and now I’ve achieved the target I set out at the start of the year. It is an unreal feeling, that one was for Warren (Scott), he took me under his wing and gave me the chance to win the title.”