The dust has settled on what was an incredible Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship season. In 2017 we were treated to the very best in tin-top action from 32 of the best drivers in the country. 13 different drivers graced the top step during the course of the year and a total of 17 different drivers visited the podium.
2017 was also a season to be remembered for more reasons, the return of BMW as a manufacturer in the series, the return of some old faces and a front running team in strife.
Brands Hatch gave us some early season drama as Matt Neal and Colin Turkington came together on the grid,taking each other out of the first race of the year. Team HARD had an excellent first showing as Jake Hill and Micheal Epps in particular, claimed solid top 10 finishes on the opening day. Tom Ingram showed yet more maturity in the Toyota to take a victory and Andrew Jordan claimed his first win for BMW as he fought off a hard charging Colin Turkington in race three. There was to be no smiles down at Team BMR however, as they had a miserable day at the office. Jason Plato was in the wars and there was to be DNF’s for Ashley Sutton and James Cole. The highest position the team could get would be a 16th in race one.
Donington came next and so came more unpredictability as Rob Austin grabbed pole for the first of the three races. Young scot Aiden Moffat stole the headlines as he showed a mature performance to storm through the field and take the first win. Wins for Tom Ingram and Colin Turkington showed that certain drivers were eager to stake their claim for a championship challenge.
The fortunes for some teams took a turn at Thruxton at the following round. It had been a fairly quiet start for the Honda machines but they turned up the heat and claimed a lock out podium in race one and a handful of points in the following races. A double podium for Ingram and a top five result for Rob Austin in race three were the pick of the results.
A drivers favourite was the next destination on the calendar, Oulton Park in Cheshire. This would be the weekend where the cream would rise to the top as they say. Andrew Jordan fended off Matt Neal for honours in race one as the Subaru Levorg of Ashley Sutton claimed a third in what would be the beginning of what was a huge turnaround for him and BMR. Sutton would then go on to take a 1st in race two and a 4th in the final race to seal off a great weekend. Many standout performers from Oulton Park included Aiden Moffat Michael Epps and Luke Davenport to name a few.
Croft was the final weekend before the summer break and it was here where Ashley Sutton really started to put his name in the hat for championship honours come the end of the year. He took pole before taking a win and two seconds to catapult him up the championship. Mat Jackson impressed by taking a double podium in the Motorbase Ford Focus and Jason Plato finally graced the podium for the first time in 2017 after a ding dong battle with Rob Austin in the final encounter. There were mixed results for the Honda pair of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden as a DNF for Neal meant he was playing catch up all weekend, but a good string of results kept Shedden in the title fight. The weekend would be overshadowed by the huge multi car accident in qualifying which took many cars out of contention.
Snetterton came and it was more of the same from the Subaru of Sutton who took the opening two races, however a DNF in the final race meant he wouldnt be able to complete that perfect weekend. The Eurotech Honda of Jack Goff showed consistency as a trio of good results kept his confidence at a high and Mat Jackson proved that Croft wasnt just a one off as the Focus again showed pace during the three races. A double top ten finish for the Power Maxed Racing boys of Tom Chilton and Senna Proctor proved to be one of the results of the day in the final race meanwhile James Cole took an impressive 5th in race three. Elsewhere Ant Whorton Eales took an superb 11th in the Audi S3 for AMD Tuning. Gordon Shedden took the final win of the day.
The BTCC headed up north to Knockhill next and it was a double podium for the BMR pair of Ashley Sutton and Jason Plato, the latter enjoying a more competitive car for the first time all season. Knockhill is traditionally a BMW circuit and it certainly showed as Colin Turkington and Rob Collard took a handful of points from the weekend to surge themselves up the championship ladder and challenge the all conquering Subaru of Ashley Sutton. James Cole, Adam Morgan, Senna Proctor and Dave Newsham all enjoyed some good performances here.
It was then back down south as the BTCC rolled into Rockingham for what was to be the first of a crucial weekend of racing. Team BMR’s turnaround was complete, as throughout the day, they had at least one different driver visit the podium. James Cole took his maiden BTCC win in the opening race, Ashley Sutton held of Mat Jackson in race two to win and Jason Plato took a third in the final encounter. Elsewhere, Andrew Jordan and Adam Morgan paid visits to the podium and BTC Norlin’s Dave Newsham and Chris Smiley took a double top ten finish in the final race. The Honda’s of Shedden and Neal had a terrible weekend and their championship hopes therefore, took a big hit as their rivals were outscoring them when they weren’t finishing the races.
Silverstone again proved to be another pivitol weekend in the championship standings as things were closing up between Colin Turkington and Ashley Sutton in particular. Jack Goff took a well deserved pole position followed by Tom Ingram and Adam Morgan and the three then followed that up with a podium in the first encounter, albeit in a different order. Ant Whorton Eales had his best result of 2017 with a sixth place in race one, meanwhile Dave Newsham yet again outlined that BTC Norlin had made huge progress throughout the year. Slight controversy in the second race of the day as Ashley Sutton had been punished for an illegal overtake on Colin Turkington. The place was swapped and Sutton had to start the final race from the rear of the field.
Rob Huff had joined the Power Maxed Racing team for the weekend, filling in for Tom Chilton. Huff impressed immediately as he took the teams best finish of the year so far in 2nd after having a great battle with Matt Neal. Special mentions for Rob Austin, Chris Smiley and Dave Newsham who all finished on a high.
So, the scene was perfectly set going into the final races of the 2017 season. Slip up here and it was game over. The standout story of qualifying was that Ashley Sutton would line up in third and nearest rival Turkington, all the way down in 17th place. Come race day it was again the charging young scot Aiden Moffat, who backed up his first win at Donington, with another victory here. Further back Sutton finished 3rd but all Colin could manage was 15th. Race two was a different story as Turkington drove like a man possessed to take the win in what was one of the drives of the year. This meant that the title fight would again be going down to the final race.
But it was over as soon as it started, as a tap from behind led Turkington into Mat Jackson and the pair collided, breaking the steering on the BMW and therefore ending what was a heroic battle. Rob Austin took a runaway victory in the final race but all eyes were on Ashley Sutton, a first ever British Touring Car title. It was very hard to find any negatives in Ash’s performances throughout the year and after starting off a little slow, he and the team certainly picked up the pace and looked truly unstoppable at times. He is a worthy champion, the first of many maybe?
Its been another stellar year in the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. We’ve been treated to excellent racing and its hard to find a championship with as much action as this one.