Ashley Sutton kicks off BTCC title defence with Donington Park podium

Ashley Sutton made a solid start to the defence of his Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship title at Donington Park this past weekend (April 23/24), scoring a deserved podium in race three following two top six drives.

Kicking off the hybrid era for the series at the Leicestershire venue, the NAPA Racing UK driver – who is bidding to win a record-equalling fourth crown in 2022 – picked up a fourth and sixth before powering his way to the second step of the rostrum in the reverse grid contest.

Featuring towards the top of the timesheets throughout Saturday’s two practice sessions as he fine-tuned his Ford Focus ST, the reigning champion proved to be one of the star performers during what was an ultra-competitive qualifying.

Dipping under the existing lap record around the 1.98-mile circuit, the 28-year-old missed out on pole position by a mere 0.023s as he set a best time of 1:08.441 to clinch a third place start for the first of Sunday’s three races.

Race one saw Ashley narrowly miss out on a podium as he finished fourth. In what was a historic contest as the BTCC raced with hybrid power for the first time, the three-time champion was in the thick of the action in the opening exchanges as six cars battled for the lead.

When things finally settled down Ashley ran untroubled in fifth, shadowing Gordon Shedden all the way to the line. Following a post-race penalty for Jake Hill, fifth became fourth for the BRDC Member as he was promoted up the order.

Ashley added to his points tally in race two with another measured drive as he guided his front-wheel-drive machine to sixth following a wheel-to-wheel battle early on with former team-mate Josh Cook.

Starting the reverse grid bout from fourth, Ashley ended his day on a high as he claimed a second place finish. Jumping into third off the line, Ashley wasted no time in taking second as he passed Dan Lloyd on lap two and from there it was a comfortable drive to the chequered flag.

At the end of the first weekend of the 2022 season, Ashley sits third in the BTCC Drivers’ Championship, 11 points shy of the summit.

Ashley Sutton: “It’s good to end the weekend on the podium but obviously we are never going to be completely happy until we’re standing on that top step. It’s been a learning curve but the positive is that we come away from Donington having made some real improvements – especially in that last race.

“Our one-lap pace was phenomenal but it was the race pace where we were having to play catch up in a few areas. We made a lot of changes throughout the day and in race three that was the best the car had been, so it’s encouraging to know we’re heading in the right direction.

“In terms of the hybrid, I really enjoyed using it. We’ve got another element to think about and it adds more strategy into the races, which is mega, and I think it is only going to add to the on-track action as we continue to get our heads around it.

“We’ve got a solid haul of points on the board and valuable date, which we can now dig into the data to see what we can do to unlock a bit more for when we get to Brands Hatch.”

The Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship next heads to Brands Hatch for Rounds 4, 5 & 6 of the 2022 season on May 14/15. 

Chris Ashby
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