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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Why TOCA is correct to keep away from parity tweak in Sutton BTCC domination

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It’s round 10am on Saturday 22 April at Donington Park. The primary British Touring Automotive Championship free observe session of the season is nearing its finish. The rhythm of rasping BTCC automobiles bombing downhill by way of the Craner Curves to the {Old} Hairpin is changing into virtually hypnotic. Immediately, a blue-and-yellow projectile comes into view, carrying what should be unattainable pace into the right-hander on the backside of the hill. There’s no approach it could make it by way of…

It does. Comfortably. Ash Sutton and his newly massively developed Motorbase Efficiency-run Ford Focus ST finish that session practically half a second away from the opposition. The progress of what’s, let’s not overlook, a front-wheel-drive machine carrying a base weight of 1340kg has been extraordinary. So too is the three-time champion behind the wheel. At this level, Autosport concludes that Sutton will, in 2023, declare his fourth BTCC crown earlier than the groups even rock up on the Manufacturers Hatch season finale in October, changing into the primary man in collection historical past to have gained titles with entrance rear-wheel-drive weapons.

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Properly, generally we are able to get issues mistaken! Owing partly to his ill-advised first-lap incidents at Oulton Park and Croft, Sutton has a ‘mere’ 42-point benefit over reigning (outgoing?) champion Tom Ingram heading to Silverstone for this weekend’s penultimate spherical. He wants to depart the Northamptonshire venue with a 67-point buffer and, with Ingram’s commendable penchant for harvesting sturdy outcomes (“pointsy”, as the person himself would impishly proclaim), that’s unlikely, although not unattainable.

In fact, Sutton didn’t declare pole that weekend at Donington; as an alternative it was team-mate Dan Rowbottom, even when the bearded Midlander’s lap to prime the second section of qualifying wasn’t fairly as fast as Sutton’s Q1 customary. Subsequent outing, within the moist at Manufacturers Hatch, it was one other Ford on pole within the palms of Dan Cammish. From the remaining six race weekends, Sutton has topped qualifying in 5 of them, the exception being Croft, the place Cammish was excellent.

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In order that’s eight poles out of eight for the Motorbase Fords. It’s led to calls in some quarters for the Focus to be slowed down – this can be a performance-balancing formulation, in any case. Some inside West Surrey Racing, whose lead drivers Jake Hill and Colin Turkington presently lie third and fourth within the factors of their BMW 330e M Sports activities, level out that once they launched the 3-Collection in 2019, such was the early-season tempo of Turkington and Andrew Jordan that they’d the enhance turned down. Certainly, subsequently, the identical ought to occur with the Fords.

But it’s not so simple as that. The winter growth of the Fords (and their Mountune-built engines) saved the automobiles fastidiously throughout the parameters set by the technical group of BTCC organiser TOCA. And when you take a look at the 2023 common ‘supertimes’, the place every driver’s quickest lap of the weekend is calculated as a proportion of the general quickest, it paints an fascinating image.

Sutton, naturally, is supreme, with a mean of 100.021% over the eight weekends. Then we get Excelr8 Motorsport Hyundai star Ingram on 100.397 and Hill on 100.398 – virtually inseparable. Josh {Cook} is on 100.528 along with his One Motorsport Honda Civic, with Turkington on 100.569. So we’ve 4 completely different fashions of automotive within the prime 5, and the one duplicate is… the BMW.

Sutton has scored 9 wins to this point this season and appears odds-on to say a fourth title

Picture by: JEP

Cammish is on 100.786, behind Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Corolla racer Ricky Collard (100.751), with Rowbottom subsequent on 100.819. Such was Cammish’s tempo in his Workforce Dynamics days that you’d have anticipated him to have a greater common in that group’s Honda. Rowbottom, who successfully changed Cammish at Dynamics, would doubtless have fared equally with that group. So does that imply that the Motorbase Focus is just nearly as good as, if not worse than, the Dynamics Honda?

In fact, it doesn’t, however such is the very particular expertise of Sutton – a driver who two-time BTCC champion Alain Menu hails as simply nearly as good as any of the superstars from the Tremendous Touring period – that he can frequently take a machine to extremes which can be inaccessible to others. And it’s obvious that, for presumably the primary time in his BTCC profession, he isn’t combating a automotive drawback.

Automotive benefit? Probably. Driver benefit? Definitely

Even when you go into median averages to minimise the consequences of outliers (for instance, Turkington’s Oulton Park qualifying exclusion and Cammish’s crash in qualifying at Knockhill), it impacts issues solely barely. Sutton leads right here on an ideal 100.000 to the 100.382 of Ingram. Turkington strikes as much as head Hill and {Cook} (the one non-Motorbase driver to have a weekend quickest lap, along with his free observe effort at Croft), all within the 100.4s. Cammish strikes forward of Collard, however solely onto 100.644 – nonetheless behind his anticipated Dynamics determine from 2018-20.

it by group and producer, WSR and BMW (Hill has been quickest of the group 4 instances, Turkington on three events and Stephen Jelley as soon as) transfer forward of Excelr8 and Hyundai (for whom Ingram has performed all of the heavy lifting and has been quickest each time, ditto {Cook} with the One Honda equipe): 100.303 to 100.382. But we hear theories that the rear-wheel-drive BMW is now solely the third quickest automotive within the collection.

In fact, you may twist statistics to inform any story you need, however the black-and-white numbers give a touch as to how TOCA might have been treading in murky waters by ‘turning down’ the Fords. Slowing Sutton by virtually 0.4% to present parity with Ingram and the BMWs may make the title race nearer, nevertheless it might have dropped Cammish and Rowbottom into Energy Maxed Vauxhall/Exhausting Cupra territory, and Sam Osborne into the underside six on the grid. None of them would deserve that. As an alternative, it’s higher to applaud the exceptional Sutton. Automotive benefit? Probably. Driver benefit? Definitely.

Sutton leads the way at Donington, just as he has for the majority of the season

Sutton leads the best way at Donington, simply as he has for almost all of the season

Picture by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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