NAPA Racing UK dominated much of the day as they claimed podium lock-outs in the first two races, before Colin Turkington and Team BMW blew the title race wide open again in a dramatic outing at Croft.
Championship leader Ash Sutton looked set to round out the weekend having extended his lead over his nearest rival and defending champion Tom Ingram, before the gremlins of the reverse grid race struck again for the second successive meeting, leaving Sutton with a pointless final race.
The meeting was also notable for seeing Josh Cook regain the pace he has been lacking for much of this season, claiming two top-four finishes and an outright podium as well as sweeping the Independant driver's spoils.
Race One (Round 16)
It was a blue-and-yellow whitewash at the front of the grid after Dan Cammish secured pole in qualifying, joined by teammates Dan Rowbottom and Ash Sutton behind him in second and third. With all three tyre choices on offer for Croft, Sutton opted for the medium set whilst the two Dan's went with the advantageous soft tyres for race one.
After a good start by all three NAPA Ford Focuses, it was Jake Hill who provided the first play as he snuck past BMW teammate Colin Turkington to take fifth, bringing Tom Ingram with him and knocking the Northern Irishman to seventh in the process.
A solid performance by Cook saw him defend a further challenge by Hill on lap five, ensuring he stayed in fourth place.
The front portion of the field eventually broke away from the pack, with eighth-place Stephen Jelley pulling a full twelve seconds away from One Motorsport with Starline Racing's Aidan Moffat.
It was not only the NAPA Racing machines at the front that commanded attention, as Sam Osborne shot up six places to tenth by lap eleven and turned in a sterling defensive display to retain his spot whilst under pressure from the four cars piled up behind him.
In a fairly clinical finish, Dan Cammish took the lights-to-flag victory and his third win of the season, having grabbed a memorable double at the first meeting at Donington Park earlier this year.
Ash Sutton inherited second place from Dan Rowbottom, which many argue was down to team orders. However, Rowbottom claimed after the race that it was due to a genuine error on his part when shifting gears on the run-up to the line.
Dan Cammish said: “What a result for NAPA! It was fantastic to get a 1-2-3 for the first time in Qualifying yesterday. It’s great being at the front but you can also get it very wrong if you are not careful.
“From our side, I think we have had more team debriefs this weekend than we have had in a while and are doing our absolute best for NAPA Racing UK as a whole.
“We played a strategic game in the first one with Ash [Sutton] using the medium and me and Dan [Rowbottom] racing it out on the softs.
“For myself to win at my home circuit, my first ever win at Croft in a touring car, I am very pleased with that.”
Final Result - Race 1 - Top Ten
1. Dan Cammish, NAPA Racing UK 15 Laps
2. Ashley Sutton, NAPA Racing UK +0.717s
3. Daniel Rowbottom, NAPA Racing UK +1.327s
4. Josh Cook, One Motorsport with Starline Racing +5.522s
5. Jake Hill, Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport +5.907s
6. Tom Ingram, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +7.124s
7. Colin Turkington, Team BMW +7.403s
8. Stephen Jelley, Team BMW +10.482s
9. Sam Osborne, NAPA Racing UK +26.129s
10. Árón Taylor-Smith, CarStore Power Maxed Racing +28.734s
Race Two (Round 17)
It was Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport's Jake Hill that once again made an early play on the opening lap, attempting to sneak past Josh Cook to take fourth. However, it was Tom Ingram that took full advantage of Hill's failure to complete the manoeuvre as he leapt past both cars to take fourth for himself. soon chasing Dan Rowbottom for his podium spot.
Aidan Moffat had his heart in his mouth for a few moments after spinning off and back onto the track, narrowly missing the stream of cars that surged past.
Ash Sutton also wasted no time in staking his claim for the win by taking the lead from teammate Dan Cammish - all of this in a dramatic first lap!
The pack settled into a more even flow from then on, with Sutton showcasing the Motorbase-run Ford Focus' blistering pace by pulling further away from second-placed Cammish, whilst Dan Rowbottom once again helping out his team-mate by masterfully defending and keeping Sutton's closest championship rival, Tom Ingram, at bay in fourth.
It must have seemed like even more of the hard work was being done for Sutton, when Jake Hill got too close whilst attempting another pass on Josh Cook at Hawthorn, picking up gravel from the side of the track in the process and momentarily spinning off the track. Hill managed to recover himself quickly but dropped to eleventh and, most importantly, missed out on more vital championship points.
A comfortable win for Sutton as he crossed the line 7.6 seconds clear of Dan Cammish, securing his seventh victory of the season, the thirty-fourth of his career and the second NAPA Racing UK lock-out of the day, extending his lead at the top of the championship to twenty-three points.
Ash Sutton said: “Those changes overnight definitely worked – that car just came alive, it’s absolutely mega on the soft tyre. All cars are but that was just something else.
“I got a nice launch and I think I made the most of that soft tyre and got the jump on Dan [Cammish]. But he was still there on the inside, so I had to go a little bit later than I wanted to on the brakes just to make it stick.
“Just pleased with it. Got my head down, got the fastest lap point and then brought it home. To get a podium 1-2-3 twice is just fantastic for NAPA Racing UK.”
Final Result - Race 2 - Top Ten
1. Ashley Sutton, NAPA Racing UK +0.717s
2. Dan Cammish, NAPA Racing UK +7.682s
3. Daniel Rowbottom, NAPA Racing UK +9.853s
4. Tom Ingram, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +10.607s
5. Josh Cook, One Motorsport with Starline Racing +13.607s
6. Colin Turkington, Team BMW +13.607s
7. Stephen Jelley, Team BMW +14.292s
8. Ricky Collard, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK +15.103s
9. Daniel Lloyd, Autobrite Direct with Millers Oils +15.627s
10. Tom Chilton, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +17.122s
Race Three (Round 18)
As the winner of the previous race, Ash Sutton was the man to perform the reverse grid draw for race three and made no secret of his preference to draw number six from the bowl, ensuring the best possible result for himself.
Six was the lucky number - pulling Colin Turkington up to pole position - but we would quickly find out that the race would be far from favourable for the championship leader.
Off the back of NAPA Racing UK's successes of the day so far, and having two of his closest title rivals ahead of him on the grid, Sutton was looking for the best possible start. However, an oil spill during the previous Legends race - and a further one from Ricky Collard's Toyota whilst waiting on the grid - had made conditions on the track even more challenging.
In similar fashion to the previous race, Tom Ingram took advantage of a failed play by Josh Cook on leader Colin Turkington to take Cook's second place.
Behind them, however, the chaos was just beginning as Dan Lloyd fell victim to the oil on the track and met with the tyre wall. Moments later, Stephen Jelley found himself involved in an incident with the three NAPA Racing UK machines of Cammish, Rowbottom and Sutton, with Sutton coming off worse with severe tyre damage, forcing him to retire from the race.
It was to be the second successive meeting where the championship leader found himself out of race three within the opening moments, unable to build on the points lead he had opened up on his rivals earlier in the day.
The first BTCC-related safety car of the day was able to leave the track on lap five, allowing leaders Turkington and Ingram to quickly break away from third-placed Josh Cook.
It was an unfortunate case of deja-vu for Jake Hill as he once again cost himself places and points whilst chasing a higher position, this time whilst challenging Dan Rowbottom for fifth. During the move, Hill placed his left-hand tyres on the grass and lost traction, again causing him to spin and drop to eighth.
Turkington confidently kept Ingram at bay and claimed his second-straight race-three win, retaining his crown as 'King of Croft' as he upped his tally to fourteen victories at the Yorkshire circuit.
Colin Turkington said: “I really didn’t think that was on the cards! Obviously as you saw lap one was the critical moment and I had to keep Josh [Cook] and Tom [Ingram] behind as they are both super quick, super aggressive.
“I could see where Tom [Ingram] was quick, so he would catch me into and out of Tower, but the rest of the lap I felt like I had the legs. I was pleased when I saw him start to degrade a bit, but that’s two weekends on the bounce we have won with the hard tyres – it used to be our Achilles heel but, so far, we have got on top of it.
“A big well done to Team BMW, they grafted really hard for that one today!”
The victory also saw Turkington leap-frog team-mate Jake Hill to third in the overall driver standings, 34 points behind leader Ash Sutton. Despite extending his championship lead over second-placed Ingram after the first two races, another consistent display from Tingram ensures the pressure is still on Sutton and, coupled with his retirement in race three, the title race is once again as open as it was at the start of the weekend.
The 2023 BTCC campaign continues in two weeks time when it returns to Knockhill on 12th & 13th August.
Final Result - Race 2 - Top Ten
1. Colin Turkington, Team BMW 18 Laps
2. Tom Ingram, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +3.242s
3. Josh Cook, One Motorsport with Starline Racing 5.287s
4. Dan Cammish, NAPA Racing UK +5.886s
5. Daniel Rowbottom, NAPA Racing UK +7.192s
6. Aiden Moffat, One Motorsport with Starline Racing +10.402s
7. Jake Hill, Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport +12.336s
8. Rory Butcher, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK +13.152s
9. Árón Taylor-Smith, CarStore Power Maxed Racing +21.699s
10. George Gamble, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK +22.819s
BTCC Journalist @ F1 Journal