Ashley Sutton salvages podium on ‘what could have been weekend’ at Donington Park

Ashley Sutton rescued a podium finish on what he described as a ‘what could have been weekend’ as the 2023 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship season blasted into life at a wet and wild Donington Park.

The NAPA Racing UK driver began his pursuit of a record-equalling fourth title by bouncing back from a non-finish and 15th place in races one and two by producing a sensational charge to third place in the reverse grid encounter.

Having become a father for the first time just days’ before the season-opener, the 29-year-old entered the weekend in a buoyant mood; which only continued throughout Saturday’s track action as he took on a starring role across practice and qualifying.

Qualifying – which ran under the ‘Top Ten Showdown’ format – proved to be an ultra-competitive affair which culminated in the three-time champion missing out on pole position by a mere 0.041 of a second.

Topping the times in the opening segment, Ashley found himself up against it in the second part of the session after losing his best time – which was good enough for top spot – to a track limits infringement.

With the clock ticking down, Ashley set off on one final lap however a slide at Redgate and electing to play it safe at the final chicane meant he crossed the line to secure second on the grid for the opening round of the season.

Unfortunately, Ashley’s chances of victory in the first of Sunday’s three wet races ended almost instantly as he was forced back to the pit lane to retire at the end of the opening lap.

Making a lightening start as soon as the lights went out, Ashley eyed an immediate opportunity to surge into the lead however he was soon fired onto the grass, which filled the front of his car and left him with no other option but to head back to the garage.

Starting at the rear of the grid for race two, heavy rainfall on the formation lap meant tyre choice was critical and whilst others dived for wets, Ashley and a number of others stuck with slicks in the hope that conditions would improve.

Valiantly fighting his way up the order in the early stages despite the rain only worsening, the BRDC Member ultimately pitted to bolt on a set of wet tyres and went on to take the chequered flag in 15th place.

Lining up on the eighth row for the weekend’s third and final contest, Ashley showcased his speed by carving his way up the order to put himself on the cusp of the fight for the podium.

Hounding the back of Colin Turkington’s BMW for a number of laps, the Essex-based racer finally made a move stick at McLeans and despite a late attempt to take second from Tom Ingram, Ashley settled for a first podium finish of the new campaign.

At the end of the first weekend of the 2023 season, Ashley sits ninth in the BTCC Drivers’ Championship.

Ashley Sutton: “I think it’s fair to say that it’s been a ‘what could have been weekend’ but to come away with a podium in that last race is a nice way to end things; there are certainly plenty of positives that we can take away from Donington. 

“Since we rolled the car out on Saturday it’s been on absolute rails and we perhaps should have had pole position however I pushed the envelope on track limits and then played it a little too safe because we didn’t have a time on the board in Q2.

“Race one was annoyingly over before it really began and then race two was just bonkers. The radar was telling us the rain was going to pass but it ultimately never did; it perhaps needed me to just grab the bull by the horns and commit to wets a little earlier than we eventually did.

“To start from 15th in that last one and come through to third was a mega way to conclude things though and I think it’s shown that when things do fall our way that we’ve got a really, really good car underneath us.

“I’ve got give a big shoutout to all the guys and girls at NAPA Racing UK because they’ve done an amazing job over the off-season and we’ve reaped the rewards big time. I’m now just looking forward to getting home and spending some quality time with my family before we start looking ahead to Brands Hatch.”

The Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship next heads to Brands Hatch for Rounds 4, 5 & 6 of the 2023 season on May 6/7. 

Chris Ashby
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