Reigning Champion tops BTCC qualifying at Thruxton
Laser Tools Racing's Ash Sutton kicked off his Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship title defence with a hugely impressive pole position at Thruxton today (8 May).
The breathless qualifying session commenced in wet conditions as persistent rain and high winds descended on the high-speed Hampshire venue, but conditions improved slightly as the session progressed towards a grandstand finish.
Tom Ingram (Ginsters EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com), Josh Cook (BTC Racing), Jake Hill (MB Motorsport accelerated by Blue Square) and Rory Butcher (Toyota Gazoo Racing UK) all enjoyed spells at the summit of the timesheets as lap times continued to tumble during the 30-minute session, and all would be in the shake-up as many of the contenders switched to Goodyear dry tyres in the closing stages.
It was the Infiniti Q50 of Sutton that scythed into provisional pole position as the chequered flag was prepared, although it still looked as if both Hill's Ford Focus and Butcher's Toyota Corolla may have gone even faster.
Hill's Focus caught up with the Vauxhall Astra of Jason Plato following a good run through Church and Brooklands, before the two cars briefly touched on the exit of the final chicane. The issue was enough to scupper Hill's chances of improvement and he would eventually have to settle for seventh.
Butcher was also flying in the #6 Toyota on his final run, but the Scotsman's P1 hopes were dashed as he pushed too hard and ran wide on his charge to the chequered flag.
Cook was a consistent challenger throughout as he made his way into second in the BTC Racing Honda Civic Type R, whilst Colin Turkington left it extremely late to show his hand by grabbing third.
Bath-born racer Cook regards Thruxton as somewhat of a home track and he clearly enjoys racing at the fastest circuit in the UK, having won here in each of the series' last four visits.
Team BMW's Turkington had struggled to find the ultimate pace for much of the day and was languishing down the order until the four-time champion produced the sort of magic that we've seen many times down the years. He will line up third in tomorrow's curtain-raiser around the 2.36-mile circuit.
Ingram was fourth, ahead of Butcher, whilst Team BMW's Tom Oliphant performed well to claim sixth.
Hill was seventh with series returnee and three-time champion Gordon Shedden close behind. The Halfords Racing with Cataclean star may arguably be slightly frustrated with eighth, having been further up the order during practice, but both team and driver are likely to contend for honours come race day.
Ollie Jackson and Chris Smiley ensured that both pairs of MB Motorsport accelerated by Blue Square and Ginsters EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com cars were inside the top ten.
Rounds 1, 2 and 3 of the 2021 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship take place at Thruxton tomorrow (9 May) with all of the action being broadcast live and in high definition on ITV4 from 1050.
Ash Sutton said: “Obviously we’ve been thriving in wet conditions all day and the balance was mega then. We were sitting at the top of the times in the wet and then you start hearing people are going out on slicks and you think ‘alright, let’s dig deep’. The front-wheel drive cars can generate a bit more heat quicker than us, so we had to spend a lot more time doing it, but it came good in the end.
“We’ve made a few quite dramatic tweaks from last year and that paid off in the dry because that’s normally our downside. I think I’ll stick to having this number one on the car – it’s given me some good luck.”
Josh Cook said: “I’m a big fan of this circuit – it’s good fun, one of the best circuits we come to, especially in those conditions. I'm gutted to miss out on pole by half a tenth and it’s always got to be Ash, hasn’t it! But well done to him, mega job. It was tricky conditions so I’m happy with that, and I know I’ve got a good race car around here. Just to make it through that session was good but to make it to P2 is just what the guys needed after a hard winter.
“You have to be on the circuit at the right time [to get pole] and it took a bit longer than I expected to get the temperature into the tyres. But at the end of the day we can race from P2. It’s a long season so I just need to try and get some good points tomorrow."
Colin Turkington said: “I saved the best for last! It’s obviously been tricky conditions for everybody today. We’ve been throwing a few different things at it, just trying to learn for qualifying. As usual, we got faster as the day went on and I think I just got onto slick tyres at the right time, a lap earlier would have been even better, but the grip was just improving with every lap so I’m really happy for both my team and BMW to be starting on the second row.
“It takes forever for the front tyres to switch on. The rears are ready after a few laps but you’re just turning into the corner and it’s a big, big push. That’s why you’ve got to get onto them early, try and be aggressive and build the temperature. It’s been a really good start for me."
2021 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship – Qualifying – Thruxton
1 Ashley SUTTON (GBR) Laser Tools Racing 1:18.305
2 Josh COOK (GBR) BTC Racing +0.053s
3 Colin TURKINGTON (GBR) Team BMW +0.362s
4 Tom INGRAM (GBR) Ginsters EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com +0.413s
5 Rory BUTCHER (GBR) Toyota Gazoo Racing UK +0.530s
6 Tom OLIPHANT (GBR) Team BMW +0.586s
7 Jake HILL (GBR) MB Motorsport accelerated by Blue Square +0.604s
8 Gordon SHEDDEN (GBR) Halfords Racing with Cataclean +0.810s
9 Ollie JACKSON (GBR) MB Motorsport accelerated by Blue Square +1.641s
10 Chris SMILEY (GBR) Ginsters EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com +1.740s
11 Jason PLATO (GBR) Adrian Flux with Power Maxed Racing +1.973s
12 Dan CAMMISH (GBR) BTC Racing +2.088s
13 Carl BOARDLEY (GBR) Laser Tools Racing +2.408s
14 Adam MORGAN (GBR) Car Gods with Ciceley Motorsport +2.458s
15 Jack GOFF (GBR) Team HARD. with Autobrite Direct +2.630s
16 Daniel ROWBOTTOM (GBR) Halfords Racing with Cataclean +2.677s
17 Jade EDWARDS (GBR) PHSC with BTC Racing +2.969s
18 Stephen JELLEY (GBR) Team BMW +3.171s
19 Árón TAYLOR-SMITH (IRL) Team HARD. with HUB Financial Solutions +3.172s
20 Tom CHILTON (GBR) Car Gods with Ciceley Motorsport +3.310s
21 Aiden MOFFAT (GBR) Laser Tools Racing +3.547s
22 Daniel LLOYD (GBR) Adrian Flux with Power Maxed Racing +4.065s
23 Sam OSBORNE (GBR) Racing with Wera & Photon Group +4.350s
24 Andy NEATE (GBR) Racing with Wera & Photon Group +4.574s
25 Rick PARFITT (GBR) EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com +5.460s
26 Sam SMELT (GBR) Toyota Gazoo Racing UK +5.547s
27 Glynn GEDDIE (GBR) Team HARD. with Autobrite Direct +6.152s
28 Jack BUTEL (GBR) EXCELR8 with TradePriceCars.com +6.826s
29 Nicolas HAMILTON (GBR) ROKiT Racing with iQuoto Online Trading +6.882s