I don’t think that there’s a single person in the paddock, on the terraces or watching at home who can scarcely believe that it’s a year since eight became one at Brands Hatch; Gordon Shedden rising to 2016’s challenge of champions to take a third BTCC title, his second in successive years. Yet here we are again, this time focused on a showdown between the Subaru of Ash Sutton and the BMW of Colin Turkington, two of the biggest stars of the NGTC era.
On paper, Shedden and Independent’s points leader, Tom Ingram are still in with a shout, but a reality check says that it’s Sutton and former champion Turkington who are the men to watch. Current standings see Sutton arrive at the Kent circuit with a ten-point margin over the man he replaced at BMR, but this is the lightest of cushions in a series where anything can and most likely will happen over three bruising encounters.
Despite Sutton’s advantage, many believe that Turkington’s craft and finesse will see him overcome the young charger, and of course, having the resource of BMW and Dick Bennett’s West Surrey Racing behind him provides the surety required to propel the effort. Returning back twelve months, the Irishman was nothing short of supreme as he raced himself into contention with a stunning pole position and two race wins at this very circuit, and ironically, behind the wheel of the same car that Sutton now enjoys. Against anyone else, I’d probably agree. Turkington is the master of rear wheel drive, and his record at Brands Hatch, in all conditions, is unrivalled. But this isn’t about ‘then’, it’s about ‘now’, and so is Sutton.
Back in April, I named Sutton and Turkington as the two most likely to be at the sharp end. Turkington because of what I knew he could do and what his car would be capable of; Sutton because I saw his ballasted pace and consistency in testing. He was electric. Whatever the team threw at him, he dealt with it, and then he went faster still. And as this season has progressed, so has he. Steadfastly overcoming dramas both on the track and off it. I’ve seen him grow, and so have his rivals.
Last time out at Silverstone, the two finally came head-to-head. Turkington was racing for a podium, Sutton knew he could take it from him. Neither yielded and the two clashed; Sutton gained the place but was later penalised for the move. It was a telling moment. Not because Sutton was disciplined; but because it was clear he could do it.
So that’s where I am. I respect Turkington hugely, he’s one of the finest racers of his time, but then so is Sutton. There might be 14 years BTCC experience, 2 championships and 37 wins between them, but the raw pace, the energy and the exceptional feel of the Subaru man should all combine to see him raise the trophy he and his team so very much deserve. He’s confident, he’s cool, and most importantly, he’s already done most of the hard work; much despite the burden of official hands, straining against the Levorg’s pace and performance. Unleashed and carrying the advantage, despite a 75kg weight penalty, I expect a surety to his racing that will see him for what he is; fast, driven and remarkable.
Whilst Ingram’s chances of gaining the overall title are remote, the Speedworks driver arrives at Brands Hatch very much in command of the Independent Drivers’ Championship. Starting the year in stunning form with a win on the Indy Circuit (he also took pole position here and a win in 2016), a further three victories sees him 31 points ahead of the in-form Jack Goff. But with the Eurotech man racing to his first BTCC win with the Honda at Silverstone last time out, the stage is set for a series of encounters worthy of this occasion.
Support for the Supporters
It’s not just the touring car grid which promises to deliver a weekend of stunning racing. There are titles and scores to be settled right across the support paddock.
In British Formula 4, Jamie Caroline looks set to clinch the championship he has led since winning the first race of the season, here in April. Carrying an almost unassailable lead over TRS Arden’s Oscar Piastri, the Pirtek-backed Carlin man will have to lose in spectacular fashion to be denied the crown, but with race winners Logan Sargeant, Alex Quinn, Linus Lundqvist and Oliver York all looking to add to their growing reputations, this could well be one of the closest and finest single seater finales we’ve ever witnessed.
There are two Ginetta grids, the Juniors and the GT4 Supercup, both with titles up for grabs and both with a Gamble vying for contention. Tom leads the Junior standings from Seb Priaulx whilst brother George will be seeking to overturn the deficit to Callum Pointon and Ben Green. Since Lawrence Tomlinson took control of the Yorkshire-based manufacturer back in 2005, the brand has steadily emerged as the UK’s leading manufacturer of race cars and it’s a testament to all in Leeds that these cars are now regularly raced right across the world, at an ever higher level.
Renault Clio Cup saw its title settled at Silverstone but there’s still much to race for in the fastest of all support series’, Porsche Carrera Cup. Reigning champion, Dan Cammish, has 6 wins to his credit, but with two races missed due to his commitments in the F1-supporting Supercup, and then two retirements, including the infamous clash with teammate Charlie Eastwood at Knockhill, the 2017 title looks set to be played-out between Eastwood and JTR’s Dino Zamparelli. As it stands, the two are level on points, but when the dropped score rule is applied, Eastwood emerges with a slender advantage, requiring Zamparelli to beat his rival on both outings.
From Stuttgart with Love
And if the racing isn’t enough, making a very special appearance each day is the remarkable Le Mans-winning Porsche 919. Completing a hat-trick of 24-hour victories in June, this exceptional 900bhp petrol-electric hybrid will be guided around our finest of tracks by Le Mans winner, Nick Tandy. And if this isn’t enough, Porsche will further demonstrate its excellence by also showcasing its 918 hypercar, together with the latest 2018 model 911 GT3 Cup race car.
If you can get here, then get here. But if you can’t, then warm-up the sofa and tune into ITV4: It’s what makes Sundays best.