Hill Earns Double-Win and Sutton Extends Title Lead in Thrilling Outing at Knockhill (Full BTCC Round-Up)
This year's BTCC campaign took in more epic twists and turns on a ran-soaked weekend at Knockhill, with Jake Hill responding to his disappointing weekend a fortnight ago with a double-win and championship leader Ash Sutton finally bolstering his lead over his main rivals whilst also chasing away his 'reverse grid race' demons with a victory in race three.
Expectedly, bouts of inclement weather also added to the excitement as track conditions became unpredictable, sending the title chase in one direction and then another.
Race One (Round 19)
Success in qualifying saw Ash Sutton's NAPA Racing UK machine on yet another pole position - the team's seventh in a row - with in-form Josh Cook (One Motorsport with Starline Racing) close behind him and hoping for his first victory of the season. The two battled from the off, with Cook maintaining the pressure on Sutton at the front. On lap four, Cook utilised the momentum off the high kerb at the chicane beautifully to snatch the lead.
A few laps later, however, the rain started coming down, prompted the first batch of drivers to dive into the pits to change to wet tyres with Tom Ingram, Colin Turkington, George Gamble and Árón Taylor-Smith amongst those to take the early initiative.
Lap ten saw Ash Sutton reclaim the lead after taking the inside line to complete a move on Cook into the hairpin, demonstrating one again the deadly straight-line speed of the Ford Focus ST as he powered away from Cook on the drag up to the line.
The entertaining battle at the front took a turn, however, on the next lap as Sutton made contact with Cook going into turn two, sending the One Motorsport driver spinning off into the tyre wall, thus ending his race in disappointing fashion.
As the car-body count continued to rise, a Michael Crees spin-off brought out a safety car on lap sixteen. Having pushed his tyres as far as he could in the worsening conditions, Sutton had no choice but to pit to change to wets, thus relinquishing his race lead.
Local lad Aidan Moffat took over at the front, albeit briefly as he soon found himself on the grass, giving the top spot to reigning champion Tom Ingram (Bristol Street Motors with Exceler8 Motorsport), whose decision to change tyres early had clearly paid off, closely followed by Knockhill's own Rory Butcher.
The reigning champion held on to take his second win of the season, momentarily usurping Sutton at the top of the driver's standings. Closely following were championship rival Jake Hill (Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport) in second and Ingram's team-mate Tom Chilton who took advantage of early tyre changes and wet conditions for the second time this season to claim third.
The drama was far from over, however, as the front-runners made their way to the post-race scrutineering. Both Ingram and Chilton failed the ride-height checks and were disqualified from the results, handing Jake Hill his third win of the season and promoting Power Maxed Racing's Andrew Watson and Toyota GAZOO Racing's Ricky Collard to the podium.
Final Result - Race 1 - Top Ten
1. Jake Hill, Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport 27 laps
2. Andrew Watson, CarStore Power Maxed Racing +6.792s
3. Ricky Collard, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK +7.565s
4. Stephen Jelley, Team BMW +8.049s
5. Ronan Pearson, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +9.091s
6. Ashley Sutton, NAPA Racing UK +9.381s
7. Árón Taylor-Smith, CarStore Power Maxed Racing +9.922s
8. George Gamble, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK +10.528s
9. Mikey Doble, CarStore Power Maxed Racing +11.733s
10. Daniel Lloyd, Autobrite Direct with Millers Oils +1 Lap
Race Two (Round 20)
Owing to the post-race penalties, Tom Ingram started race two from the back of the grid, giving championship rival Jake Hill a golden opportunity to place himself firmly back in contention for this year's driver's crown.
A typically strong start from Hill in his BMW 330i M Sport saw him quickly pull away from the pack, with BMW team-mate Stephen Jelley making an equally successful play on Andrew Watson to surge up to second.
By the time the safety car was deployed soon into lap one, due to Jade Edwards finding herself in the gravel, Ash Sutton had already made progress from sixth up to third. Jake Hill pulled away from the pack again upon the restart, with Ash Sutton completing another masterful play at the chicane to take second place from Stephen Jelley. By the ninth lap, Hill and Sutton had powered ahead to create a 4.5-second gap on Jelley, ensuring their battle for the lead could play out largely uninterrupted.
Sutton would continue to take his chances but in the end he just could not wrest away the lead from a determined Jake Hill, as they crossed the line almost twelve seconds clear of the rest for Hill to grab his second win of the day, fourth of the season and second double of the campaign.
Jake Hill said: “Huge, huge thank you to Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport. They’ve done an enormous job over this weekend and the car is going well. It might not be the fastest thing out there but it’s going more than well enough. Huge thank you to them – credit where it is due.
“Races one and two have been amazing today. The first race was extremely challenging with the mixed conditions, but it’s great to come away with the win. In Race Two I really had to defend hard to get the win, but it was a good battle and I got it."
Stephen Jelly secured his second podium finish of the day and a season-best finish for Árón Taylor-Smith in fourth bagged his second Independent Driver's win of the day.
Josh Cook and Tom Ingram - who both started from the rear of the grid due to results from race one - beautifully carved their way through the pack to finish eighth and tenth respectively.
Further back on the grid, the day was not faring well for the second half of Team BMW as their other championship hopeful Colin Turkington started losing places when he was forced off onto the grass and found himself down in nineteenth, with Adam Morgan being forced to retire with five laps remaining. One the second-to-last lap, Turkington's day would go from bad to worse when he ended up careering off into the tyre wall after contact with NAPA Racing UK's Dan Cammish.
Final Result - Race 2 - Top Ten
1. Jake Hill, Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport 26 laps
2. Ashley Sutton, NAPA Racing UK +0.374s
3. Stephen Jelley, Team BMW +11.946s
4. Árón Taylor-Smith, CarStore Power Maxed Racing +18.881s
5. Daniel Lloyd, Autobrite Direct with Millers Oils +19.616s
6. Ricky Collard, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK +21.441s
7. Ronan Pearson, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +21.711s
8. Josh Cook, One Motorsport with Starline Racing +22.171s
9. Andrew Watson, CarStore Power Maxed Racing +22.912s
10. Tom Ingram, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +23.771s
Race Three (Round 21)
Jake Hill was the man to make the reverse grid draw for the final race of the day and pulled out ball number seven, placing Ronan Pearson in the dream scenario of starting on pole in front of his home crowd.
The rain was not finished yet as a torrential downpour whilst the cars were lined up on the grid meant a delayed start to the race, with the first five laps being run under safety car conditions.
Pearson raced admirably to hold on to his lead as Ricky Collard, who started in second, cost himself places after launching off of the high kerb on the chicane into Stephen Jelly, sending himself down to fifth. Amongst the drama, Ash Sutton took full advantage and powered through to third, up from sixth at the start.
Progression was soon slowed, however, and the pack brought back together after the safety car was brought back out after Nick Halstead left the circuit and ended up in the tyre wall.
Soon after the restart, Ash Sutton quickly moved up to second and again showing the #116 machine's superiority at the hairpin, took the lead from the valiant Pearson and within a few laps had given himself a comfortable 2.2-second lead from the rest of the field.
Further back, Josh Cook was determined to continue to turn his day around and had moved from eighth up to third by lap sixteen. A couple of laps later, Cook took second from Ronan Pearson it what appeared to be a simple move down the outside on the run into the hairpin, demonstrating the straight-line speed of the Honda Civic Type-R again on the drag out and up to the line.
Tom Ingram had made similar progress and had pulled up from tenth at the start to fourth place with five laps remaining, after a tense battle with former team-mate Dan Lloyd (Team HARD. Racing). With Sutton by now a full six seconds clear of Cook, however, the result was looking to have already been written.
On the final lap, Ingram had to make the heart-wrenching decision to move past team-mate Ronan Pearson, denying the Scotsman his first BTCC podium finish in order to keep up the pressure on Ash Sutton in the championship standings.
Sutton crossed the line to take his well-earned eighth victory of the season and, after a highly frustrating weekend at Croft, finally pulled clear on nearest rival Ingram to forge a 37-point lead in the title race.
Ash Sutton said: “I’m ecstatic I won’t lie. After race one I thought we were going to have a tough task on our hands in terms of the Championship, but with the disqualification of Tom [Ingram] and the performance in race two. Then to finish it off with a win, I couldn’t ask for much more than that.
“This is the biggest gap I have ever experienced in British Touring Cars so I’m not going to complain about it at all, but we have seen even this weekend how quick things can change. I’m not going to get too excited just yet. We are closer than we have ever been before, but we still need to be clever.”
For Josh Cook, securing second-place after his unfortunate non-finish in race one is a testament to the improvements the team is continuing to make to the car, displaying the pace it is capable of and giving us all yet another classic BTCC fight-back story to reflect on as the campaign moves towards its last few meetings.
Final Result - Race 3 - Top Ten
1. Ashley Sutton, NAPA Racing UK 27 Laps
2. Josh Cook, One Motorsport with Starline Racing +9.636s
3. Tom Ingram, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +16.568s
4. Ronan Pearson, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +17.699s
5. Ricky Collard, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK +19.841s
6. Dexter Patterson, Re.Beverages and Bartercard with Team HARD +20.457s
7. Aiden Moffat, One Motorsport with Starline Racing +21.178s
8. Daniel Lloyd, Autobrite Direct with Millers Oils +21.969s
9. George Gamble, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK +22.906s
10. Dan Cammish, NAPA Racing UK +23.055s
Championship Standings - Summary
Championship leader and former three-time champion Ash Sutton retains his lead on the overall Driver's standings, 37 points clear of nearest rival Tom Ingram. Jake Hill's double-win helped lift him back up to third (50 points behind the leader), whilst Colin Turkington's title hopes are now looking all but over after slipping to 81 points behind Sutton.
Team BMW remain top of the Manufacturer's standings, 11 points ahead of Motorbase Performance/Ford, whilst Napa Racing UK maintain their lead atop the overall Team's standings, 119 points clear of Bristol Street Motors with Exceler8.
It's also all smiles for One Motorsport with Starline Racing as they continue to lead the Independent Team's championship, with Josh Cook remaining at the head of the Independent Driver's table, 93 points ahead of team-mate Aidan Moffat.
Power Maxed Racing's Mikey Doble is still leading this year's Jack Sears Trophy, now only a point ahead of team-mate Andrew Watson.
The BTCC season continues in two weeks' time when it returns for this year's second visit to Donington Park and the first time the competition has run on the Grand Prix circuit there since 2002!
BTCC Journalist @ F1 Journal