Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship rookie Ashley Sutton hit the ground running during the official Media Day test at Donington Park, the Triple Eight driver targeting Jack Sears Trophy success.
The reigning Renault UK Clio Cup champion showed a rapid turn of pace and commitment on his maiden outing in the Triple Eight Race Engineering MG6 GT, challenging for the top spot having previously only tested a Motorbase Performance Ford Focus ST.
Sutton in fact topped the session for over an hour, before succumbing to a late surge in the dying minutes from triple BTCC champion, Matt Neal.
Regardless of the outcome, Sutton’s day in Leicester was focused on gaining experience behind the wheel, outpacing his team-mate Josh Cook of whom he bids to emulate as top rookie for 2016.
“Everything’s going well”, Sutton told The Checkered Flag after a fine opening outing. “We’re already getting to grips with the car and the team.
“Don’t get me wrong; first day in the car, there’s always more to come from it. But no, it’s been good. To have been top of the times for such a long period as well was just great.”
Sutton also felt at home with the MG6 GT to quash criticisms aimed at the car last season after Triple Eight recorded just one victory, adding that Media Day was very much a learning day for all parties involved at the squad.
“The car feels fine, the team did everything I required and I hopefully did everything that was required from me, so I can’t complain one bit!” he said. “We shook down the car [Tuesday] morning, then it was straight into it.
“I think today was just really to go out and get a good feel for the car and see how the team works. Then we can get a feel of actually what I’m like as a driver, see what the car is capable of and dial it in.”
The stepping stone for the youngster was a superlative 2015 Renault UK Clio Cup title triumph, emerging victorious by just five points thanks to six wins along the way. The change in scenery was eye-opening for Sutton on Tuesday at Donington Park, describing the BTCC machines as a very different kettle of fish.
“It’s a different animal”, Sutton admitted when comparing the two. “You’ve got one down here and another up here! Other end of the scale.
“It’s double the power and they’re not much heavier – we’re talking only a few hundred kilos – but when you put that into context with the size of the tyre and even sitting in the car, it feels like you’re in a pod.
“Everything’s new to me. I’m still getting used to the gear lever instead of paddles, so it’s just about getting comfortable and peaceful in there working out what does what.”
The ultimate goals discussed by the MG man were very clear, with Jack Sears Trophy success highest on Sutton’s list as he aims to inherit the trophy from his own team-mate, Cook.
“We’ve said that we want to keep that trophy in house, where Josh can pass it down to me now”, quipped Sutton. “We’ll see what happens.”
Rookie honours are just the start of Sutton’s further intentions however, adding: “That’s my main aim. But I want to be going for podiums and race wins towards the end of the season and finishing across the line first.
“When we won the [Clio Cup] championship, we wanted to make that step up. We’ve been working away hard at it, so we’ve known for a couple of months about it. It’s been hard biting the bullet and keeping your word!”