BTCC Thruxton, double bubble for Josh Cook & victory in the rain for Ash Sutton in BTCC curtain raiser.

Thruxton pit lane, Credit: BTCC.

After an eventful off season, with plenty of changes up and down the grid, the 2021 BTCC season kicks off on the high speed sweeps of Thruxton. Qualifying on the high speed venue was a tricky affair with rain falling for the duration, a handful of people switched to slicks at the end of qualifying but to noneavail. 2020 BTCC champion Ashley Sutton clinched pole position for the opening race of the season in the difficult conditions.

The 2021 season burst back into life in race 1, pole sitter Ash Sutton made a strong start and briefly opened up a gap heading into the complex as those around him struggled on cold tyres. Sutton’s advantage was short lived as Colin Turkington outbraked himself, nudging Sutton into a spin, plunging him down to the back of the grid. Drama unfolded just a couple of corners later as series returnee Gordon Shedden tangled with the Ford of Ollie Jackson, Shedden spun and was promptly collected by Chris Smiley’s Hyundai, putting both cars into the barriers with significant damage; Game over in race 1 for Shedden & Smiley.

Josh Cook led from the restart from Tom Ingram & Jake Hill, Cook coming under real pressure from Ingram. Ash Sutton on the restart began his fightback after being spun on the opening lap, duking it out with Carl Boardley & the surrounding cars. Jason Plato on his return to the BTCC after a year out had climbed up into 6th and was pushing Rory Butcher hard for 5th, although Dan Cammish, making a one off appearance for BTC Racing was right on the back of Plato’s Vauxhall Astra.

Dan Cammish meanwhile managed to overtake both Plato & Butcher exiting Seagrave corner, both Plato & Butcher slowing each other down as they squabbled for 6th position. At the head of the pack, Josh Cook had eked out an advantage over Tom Ingram’s Hyundai i30N, Jake Hill & Colin Turkington duked it out for 3rd place with nothing to choose between Hill’s Focus ST & Turkington’s rear wheel drive BMW 330. Stephen Jelley endured a miserable first race for the West Surrey Racing BMW team, pulling into the pits and retiring with a transmission problem.

Josh Cook scored victory in the opening race of the Thruxton weekend along with the fastest lap after an imperious drive. Tom Ingram  finished second while Jake Hill finished third in his first race in the new Ford Focus ST. Dan Cammish finished in fourth & Rory Butcher. There were questions on whether Turkington would pick up a penalty for race 2 after spinning Ash Sutton on the opening lap, to which he was dropped from fourth to 10th by lilt of a 17 second penalty.

Josh Cook, Credit: BTCC.

Josh Cook lined up on pole for race 2 with Tom Ingram alongside. Cook would now carry 75kg of ballast for winning a race, the maximum ballast amount increasing for the 2021 season from the 2020 maximum of 60kg.

Cook sprinted away from pole, but behind mayhem unfolded, Andy Neate harpooned Glyn Geddie’s Cupra Leon into turn 1, spinning the Scot into Jade Edwards. The 3 cars, locked together careered into the barriers at turn 1, Geddie’s car climbed up and over Neate’s Ford Focus, rolling over several times and being comprehensively destroyed in the process. Jade’s Honda Civic was badly damaged as well, Jade on the outside and collected by Neate’s Ford Focus. The race was red flagged to clear the cars and to fix the barriers, luckily all the drivers involved were unhurt and were assessed by the TOCA medical team and given a clean bill of health, small mercies after what was a massive incident. The cause of the incident appeared to be an issue with the brakes on Neate’s car, leading to a complete lack of braking ability into turn 1.

The race restart saw a reduction in the race length down from 16 to 12 laps due to the red flag period. Josh Cook started the race from pole position once again making a good getaway, but it was Tom Ingram who briefly jumped into the lead and was jumped by Dan Cammish’s Honda. Rory Butcher came to grief on lap 1, spinning off at high speed and colliding with the barrier’s. Butcher’s Toyota was looking very second hand with severe damage from the resulting impact, luckily Butcher was unhurt. 

Ash Sutton pitted under the safety car with suspected engine problems, while Tom Chilton had a rotten time, retiring with a fuel pump failure in the BMW 330.

The race got back underway on lap 6 with 3 laps added on, Cook continued to lead with the effervescent Dan Cammish in 2nd & Jake Hill in tow in 3rd. Dan Rowbottom in a light Honda Civic began moving up the field, taking advantage of his rivals who were heavy with ballast. 

Tom Ingram dropped down the order to 6th with a resurgent Colin Turkington attacking Ingram’s Hyundai. Dan Rowbottom finally managed to sprint past Jason Plato into 4th after performing a perfect cutback maneuver out of the final chicane, the resultant time loss for Plato had allowed Ingram, Turkginton, Moffatt & Oliphant to close up.

Ash Sutton managed to fight his way up from the back again into 9th place, Adam Morgan & Gordon Shedden came to grief, spinning Morgan off at the final chicane on the last lap.

It was another victory for Josh Cook & it was a 1-2 for BTC Racing as guest driver Dan Cammish finished in 2nd & Jake Hill took another 3rd place finish. Daniel Rowbottom shut the critics up after taking a 4th place finish from Jason Plato in 5th.

Josh Cook, Credit: BTCC.

The traditional reverse grid draw would see Stephen Jelley starting from pole position for the final race of the day from Thruxton.

Following a red flag in the Formula 4 race, the schedule was swapped around, with the final BTCC race starting a little earlier than planned, but the Thruxton rain began to fall with teams scrambling to fit wet tyres as it looked like the rain would be set to stay for the duration of race 3. BTC Racing meanwhile had been able to fix Jade Edwards Honda Civic after accruing significant damage in race 2, a monumental effort by the BTC Racing boys & girls. Speedworks had pulled a blinder as well to fix Rory Butcher’s badly damaged Toyota Corolla GR in time for race 3, Butcher would have no choice but to start from the pit lane. A handful of teams meanwhile opted to run on slick tyres, the hope being that the rain would stop and the track conditions would come back to the slick shod cars.

Stephen Jelley thundered away on the start, immediately gapping the chasing pack, but as the field made their way around the lap, the back end of the the circuit seeing much more rain than the rest of the circuit. Ash Sutton caught up very quickly to Jelley’s BMW & made the move out of Seagrave & Tom Oliphant followed Sutton through to drop Jelley down to third. Despite the best efforts of the BTC Racing team, Jade Edwards was back in the pits at the end of lap 1, the Honda still suffering from the race 2 issue. Tom Ingram had a stop go penalty going into race 3, which he served on lap 3, plunging him down the order. Josh Cook also picked up a stop go penalty, plunging the race 1 & 2 winner down the order. Jason Plato was on the move, closing in and pressuring Aiden Moffatt for 4th position.

The rain had begun to subside by lap 6, handing the advantage back to the slick shod cars. Aiden Moffatt’s valiant defence of 4th place faded away as he pulled off the track, the Infiniti crying enough with a loss of power. Jake Hill was the man on the move, on slick tyres and with all the cars ahead of him on wets on a drying track saw Hill jump 5 places in just one lap. Hill managed to snap up the top 3 and jump into the lead with a significant pace advantage over those ahead of him, but moments after grabbing the lead, the rain began to fall once again.

Ash Sutton meanwhile began to close back up to the slick shod cars at the head of the field as the rain intensified, the pendulum swinging back to the cars on wet tyres, lending a pace advantage of almost a second a lap over the cars running on slicks. Hill & Sutton duked it out for the lead on lap 13 & 14, Sutton on wet’s & Hill on slick’s, but the battle was short lived as Sutton pulled clear on the wetter parts of the track. Rory Butcher & Carl Boardley ended their races unceremoniously, colliding with each other in the complex, the incident started by Rick Parfitt spinning Boardley & the close following Butcher collecting a recovering Boardley.

Ash Sutton claimed a strong victory, Jason Plato finished 2nd, denying Jake Hill in 3rd on the line while Gordon Shedden salvaged his weekend taking a 4th place finish with Dan Lloyd rounding out the top 5. Following a stewards review at the close of the Thruxton race weekend of the incident on opening lap of race 2, Andy Neate, who had caused the monster crash involving himself, Glyn Geddie & Jade Edwards intially believed there was a mechanical issue with his Ford Focus ST which caused the aforementioned incident. The stewards found that Neate was, to quote Ian Watson, clerk of the course “Driving in a manner incompatible with general safety or departing from the standard of a reasonably competent driver, as there is no evidence of mechanical failure with the car from the data that was obtained after the race.” Such a serious incident and transgression drew the ire of the stewards, which saw Neate served with 3 penalty points on his race licence & a £2000 fine.

Ash Sutton, Credit: BTCC.

The next round of the championship takes place on June 12th-13th on the flat lands of Snetterton, after the first round of the championship, Jake Hill holds a narrow championship lead over Josh Cook & Jason Plato. Until next time, stay safe.

Race 1 results:

  1. Josh Cook
  2. Tom Ingram
  3. Jake Hill
  4. Dan Cammish
  5. Rory Butcher

Race 2 results:

  1. Josh Cook
  2. Dan Cammish
  3. Jake Hill
  4. Daniel Rowbottom
  5. Jason Plato

Race 3 results:

  1. Ash Sutton
  2. Jason Plato
  3. Jake Hill
  4. Gordon Shedden
  5. Dan Lloyd

Championship standings:

  1. Jake Hill – 46 points
  2. Josh Cook – 45 points
  3. Jason Plato – 38 points
  4. Ashley Sutton – 36 points
  5. Dan Cammish – 30 points
  6. Tom Ingram – 27 points
  7. Colin Turkington – 25 points
  8. Daniel Rowbottom – 22 points
  9. Tom Oliphant – 16 points
  10. Jack Goff – 15 points
Credit: BTCC.

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