BTCC Championship leader Ash Sutton earned his fourth pole of the season by topping the times in a fast-paced qualifying session at Knockhill. In doing so, Sutton also maintains NAPA Racing UK's incredible 100% qualifying record this season with their seventh straight top spot.
Sutton did well to come away with the quickest time after a hotly-contested battle throughout both Q1 and Q2's Top Ten Showdown with Josh Cook, besting the One Motorsport with Starline Racing driver by only six-thousandths of a second.
After a rain-soaked FP1 earlier in the day, the track still provided challenges for the drivers in certain areas and it wasn't until the final eight minutes of Q1 that the grid lit up with a barrage of personal-best's being set, as the slick tyres finally found their optimum temperature.
At this point, Josh Cook sat atop the times to determine those who would qualify for the Top Ten Showdown before soon being bettered by Dan Cammish. Frustratingly, the NAPA Racing UK driver lost control of the rear of his car and ended up on the grass as he tried to straighten, picking up front-end damage in the process.
With only a minute-and-a-half remaining in the first qualifying bout, Team BMW's Stephen Jelley spun off and back onto the track, prompting a red flag and an additional five minutes on the clock.
After the restart, activity in the times came thick and fast as Cook traded top spot for the remainder of Q1 with the likes of Aron Taylor-Smith, Tom Ingram and Knockhill's own Rory Butcher. However, Jake Hill was the one to finish the session with the fastest lap running into Q2.
Cook's One Motorsport team-mate Aidan Moffat - who made his BTCC debut at the Fife circuit a decade ago - set the pace early in Q2, before quickly being usurped by Cook himself, showing the progress the Honda Civic Type-R continues to make from it's early-season performance.
Characteristically, reigning champion Tom Ingram was quietly setting blistering pace himself, at one point setting the top time before Cook replied with a better one of his own.
But once again it was to be the Motorbase-run Ford Focus ST which reigned supreme as the clock ran down as Ash Sutton set the fastest lap of the weekend (51.267s) to ensure the best possible start for Round 19 of the championship tomorrow, pipping Josh Cook to pole by only 0.006s.
Ash Sutton said: “That was a struggle – it was a push. Hybrid around here makes such a big difference, especially through the hairpin and onto the back straight.
“We’ve had a bit of a rough day to be fair. We had a damper issue in FP2, which kind of limited our running. The pressure was on when the slicks came out, but we know this car is phenomenal on the soft tyre and I just had to dig deep and I did exactly that.”
However, in stark contrast to the team's performance at Croft a fortnight ago, Sutton remained the only NAPA Racing UK machine in the top ten, with Dan Rowbottom having to settle for 13th and Dan Cammish, unable to return to the session after picking up that damage in Q1, starting from 23rd on the grid.
Whilst One Motorsport should clearly be pleased with the performance of Josh Cook and Aidan Moffat, who will start P2 and P7 respectively. Despite gaining his best qualifying result since the opening weekend of this year's campaign at Donington Park, Cook remains cautious as to his prospects for tomorrow's opening race.
“We’re pleased with the progress that we have made, but it doesn’t count for anything unless we can convert it tomorrow.
“We are around the guys fighting for the Championship – I’m sure they have got their minds on the points they need to score, but we have our minds on the big win, so we’ll see what we can do. I’m just really pleased for the team. It’s been a long year, so to get a decent qualifying like that really sets us up for the weekend.”
Cook's position on the grid sees him sandwiched between championship-leader Sutton and Laser Tools Racing's Jake Hill, who will looking to make amends after the errors that cost him vital championship points at Croft. Hill bested FP2 earlier in the day and was continually chasing the fastest lap times in qualifying, to prove that he should not be counted out of the championship race just yet.
Jake Hill said: “At least we we got third, that’s decent. I’m just gutted I couldn’t quite get that pole as I think we are definitely fast enough. I’m happy though! At least we are up there and we get to go and fight again for another win.
“We had a fantastic time last year with a win and two second places, and it would be nice to replicate that. Ultimately, we are in a strong position now and it’s just about going out and trying to have a good day. You can only manage your own race.”
Elsewhere on the grid, Team HARD. Racing - who are running into a second straight meeting with driver changes - will see one of their Cupra Leon's in the top ten tomorrow as Dan Lloyd earned 10th place.
Former World Touring Car champion Rob Huff, brought back to the BTCC by Tony Gilham's side for the Scottish meeting as apparent cover for absentee Nicholas Hamilton, will be looking to quickly improve on his P20 at the start of race one tomorrow so will definitely be one to watch!
Rounds 19, 20 and 21 of the 2023 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship will take place at Knockhill Circuit in Scotland tomorrow, with the entire race day being broadcast live on ITV4 and ITVX from 1115.
2023 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship – Qualifying – Knockhill
1. Ashley Sutton, NAPA Racing UK 51.267s
2. Josh Cook, One Motorsport with Starline Racing +0.006s
3. Jake Hill, Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport +0.029s
4. Rory Butcher, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK +0.108s
5. Tom Ingram, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +0.230s
6. Adam Morgan, Team BMW +0.265s
7. Aiden Moffat, One Motorsport with Starline Racing +0.332s
8. Colin Turkington, Team BMW +0.405s
9. Tom Chilton, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +0.519s
10. Daniel Lloyd, Autobrite Direct with Millers Oils +0.630s
11. Ricky Collard, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK +0.404s
12. Árón Taylor-Smith, CarStore Power Maxed Racing +0.487s
13. Daniel Rowbottom, NAPA Racing UK +0.514s
14. Ronan Pearson, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +0.536s
15. Andrew Watson, CarStore Power Maxed Racing +0.539s
16. Sam Osborne, NAPA Racing UK +0.620s
17. George Gamble, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing UK +0.868s
18. Stephen Jelley, Team BMW +0.927s
19. Jade Edwards, One Motorsport with Starline Racing +0.960s
20. Rob Huff, Go-Fix with Autoaid Breakdown +1.015s
21. Dexter Patterson, Re.Beverages and Bartercard with Team HARD +1.057s
22. Mikey Doble, CarStore Power Maxed Racing +1.150s
23. Dan Cammish, NAPA Racing UK +1.223s
24. Jack Butel, Go-Fix with Autoaid Breakdown +1.262s
25. Michael Crees, Autobrite Direct with Millers Oils +1.283s
26. Nick Halstead, BRISTOL STREET MOTORS with EXCELR8 +2.005s
27. Daryl DeLeon, Re.Beverages and Bartercard with Team HARD +5.199s
BTCC Journalist @ F1 Journal