Ash Sutton says that he and NAPA Racing UK have their heads held high after narrowly missing out on clinching the British Touring Car Championship drivers’ title at Brands Hatch on Sunday.
Sutton went into the meeting as the points leader with a slender five-point advantage at the top of the table.
But a sublime qualifying effort by title rival Tom Ingram – four tenths of a second faster than anyone else – meant that Sutton, who was an impressive third, would have to work hard on race day, having had no hybrid available to him in qualifying.
In the opening encounter, Sutton had to fight with the failure of his car’s turbo after the first safety car intervention, and he could do no better than fourth.
In race two, now no longer leading the standings, Sutton ran fourth in the first half of the race, but ultimately had to cede to Colin Turkington as he struggled for pace to press forward.
In the final race of the year, by now trailing Ingram by 14 points, Sutton was drawn to start from sixth for the partially reversed grid race.
Quickly up to fourth, Sutton soon realised he lacked the pace to keep with the top three, and therefore unable to fight for another title.
However he took second in the standings when MB Motorsport’s Jake Hill tried to pass him at Paddock Hill bend on the penultimate lap, with the BMW driver in turn running wide and losing places which handed Sutton second by a point.
Sutton was pleased with how his Motorbase Performance team had turned their fortunes around over the course of the year, having taken until the 17th race of the season to take a victory.
“I’m pleased with everyone’s efforts,” said Sutton to TouringCars.Net. “Everyone on this grid, even Tom, will sit there and go ‘I could have done this or that better’.
“I’m pleased as a whole with the team, NAPA Racing UK, and my efforts. I feel like everyone has given it 110%.
“We turned the car around in the middle of the year – everyone had kind of written us off up to that point.
“We weren’t really in with a shout of the championship, but we turned that around and we got ourselves in that fight and we turned up here as the leader.
“We just didn’t have the car on race day, unfortunately. I would love to have done it – I would love to have with a front-wheel drive championship and a rear-wheel drive championship to my name, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Looking back on the final weekend of the season, Sutton knew that his chances of the title would be a challenge after seeing Ingram’s pace on Saturday and experiencing his own challenges pressing forward in race one.
“In race one I had an inkling it was going to be harder, because we didn’t make the progress that I wanted to. I wanted to finish second in that race, but we didn’t make that progress.
“Don’t get me wrong, Tom’s qualifying lap was going to take something to beat, but I kind of got that inkling after race one.
“We had one goal initially, which was to try and get to the front. If I could put myself in the best position out there, then what happens behind me happens.
“[In race three] I got into third and then realised how quick Josh [Cook] actually was in that race, and he just set off after [Daniel] Lloyd. I didn’t have anything left in the tank to go after those two, so I quite quickly settled for not going for that and I had to focus on keeping second in the championship.
“Obviously, we got picked off by Rory [Butcher] and then Jake arrived on the scene. I was just focussing on making sure we finished second.
“The best man won today. We’ve got our heads held high and we’ve turned a car around that ultimately wasn’t capable of winning the championship and put it in a position where it is.
“When we’ve come into the final round with a shout of the title we’ve always come away with a title, so it’s the first time [to not win] and it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but we’ll just come back stronger.”