The 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship kept fans guessing, but it would be a popular new name that appeared on the Drivers’ Championship trophy in October.
You couldn’t script it. The fight again went down to a dramatic title decider, pitting experienced Colin Turkington against young sensation Ashley Sutton at Brands Hatch GP circuit.
The former knew how to construct success from previous nail-biting finales, but luck deserted him on this occasion as Sutton surged to a maiden BTCC crown in just his and Subaru’s second season.
It appeared a task too far in the early meetings, however.
Team BMR ended 2016 in style having turned an initially rotten campaign into one of regular success and silverware. 2017 started in familiar fashion however, as Jason Plato‘s 12th place was the best the Subaru squad could muster at the Brands Hatch opener.
It was a charge to third and the first of two podium visits that followed at Donington which turned Sutton’s season around. “After where we were, to go from stone last to the front in qualifying, then from the back and to the front again was nice to see”, he said.
A gear was shifted for Sutton personally, the former Renault UK Clio Cup champion having already gained an upper hand on experienced team-mate, Jason Plato. In fact, Sutton’s alarming pace was enough to see him finish 226 points clear of Plato (12th) by the season’s conclusion, claiming six wins compared to his team-mate’s one.
The season would be a highly unpredictable one, producing 13 winners from the 30 outings in 2017. It also produced new winners in Aiden Moffat (Mercedes) and James Cole (Subaru), while Handy Motorsport and Laser Tools Racing picked up their first triumphs as teams.
Tom Ingram also made larger strides towards becoming BTCC champion himself, finishing an impressive third overall and clinching the Independents’ Championship.
Narrow margins cost Turkington title
It was Ingram who started off best of all with pole position and victory in the season opener at Brands Hatch’s Indy circuit, embroiled in a battle with reigning champion Gordon Shedden that would last all season in their unintended duel to be best of the front-wheel drive competitors.
Rear-wheel drive would ultimately prevail, Turkington and Sutton emerging as the two most consistent contenders.
Consistency within that battle was ultimately what cost Turkington the title, ironically. Contact metres into the season at Brands Hatch with Matt Neal left both recovering points, Turkington reaching the podium in race three with one of his trademark charges.
Turkington would only fail to score on four more occasions compared to Sutton’s three, both trading the podium positions throughout the season. Turkington’s four wins at Donington, Thruxton, Croft and Brands Hatch GP would be two less than Sutton’s six, while 13 podiums were also just two short of Sutton’s 15.
More than often, Sutton and Subaru hooked up a strong package to battle the now works BMW effort of the experienced West Surrey Racing, Turkington having been reunited with his former title-clinching outfit.
Their battle heated up at Oulton Park when Sutton’s Levorg GT rounded Turkington at Lodge spectacularly, Turkington’s fourth weekend in Cheshire destroyed by an electrical problem. Three podiums at Croft suddenly moved Sutton into title contention having started so slowly, a further two wins at Snetterton briefly putting him ahead.
Turkington kept rebounding from the canvas every time, his podium treble at Knockhill giving both an edge on their title opposition. Another win shifted the advantage to Sutton at Rockingham on a strong weekend for Subaru in Corby, but a chaotic weekend at Silverstone left Turkington 10 points adrift after two incidents in race three restricted him to just 22nd.
The scene was set, but Turkington immediately entered the final meeting with problems. The BMW 125i suffered technical problems throughout Saturday, leaving him a lowly 17th on the grid compared to Sutton in third. 15th place reiterated the troubles the following day in race one, Sutton looking poised for glory.
Then came a moment of vintage Turkington.
The lighter BMW came alive. Moffat grimly defended his lead with maximum ballast after a second win of the season earlier in the day, Turkington carving through his opposition one by one. He soon emerged on Sutton’s bumper, easing by with a need to get the the front. Amazingly – with a nudge on Moffat’s bumper – it would be Turkington’s race from 15th on the grid, taking the title to the wire after Sutton slumped to 12th.
Fans would be denied a tense finale however, a dejected but gracious Turkington eliminated after contact ahead of him inadvertently sent Mat Jackson‘s Ford into the BMW’s rear corner. Suspension damaged, the Northern Irishman retired and Sutton could finally celebrate as a worthy BTCC champion in just his second season.
“I couldn’t believe it, I had to double check a couple of times to make absolute certain and even then, it didn’t really sink in and to top it off I got another podium position”, said Sutton.
“I was proud of my Race Two drive; my best race for a long time, and I felt we had real momentum at that point” added Turkington. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.”
Shedden goes down with a fight
It was not always a two-horse race however.
Reigning champion Shedden kept the pair honest and headed both for much of the season thanks to his consistency, despite not always having the best package at Honda.
The Scot collected three wins and eight podiums at often crucial times during the year, although a controversial exclusion cost him a fourth at Donington after his Civic Type-R failed the ride height checks post-race three. A disastrous visit at Rockingham would end Shedden’s title challenge, narrowly missing out on third to Toyota’s Ingram.
The latter’s professional display brought four wins of his own, deserving of the Independents’ title that followed.“At the end of the day, we’re just a little team running out of a chicken shed and I have genuinely never seen so much passion and commitment to win as these boys show” , said Ingram.
“We couldn’t have asked for very much more – to have done what we have done with the budget and resources at our disposal is mind-blowing.”
Turkington often also had challenge from team-mate Rob Collard, who enjoyed arguably his best season to date. Gone seemed his perennial BTCC bad luck charm – until the visit to Rockingham finally bit. A race three retirement was his first of the season, triggering the curse as he would not score another point – albeit in unfortunate circumstances.
Collard was among a huge Silverstone shunt as his car spun backwards into the path of the Volkswagen CC of Will Burns, leaving both hospitalised. Collard would be forced to withdraw from the final round on medical grounds, cementing his fifth in the championship.
Victories also came the way of Jack Goff, Matt Neal, Jackson, Andrew Jordan, Austin, Plato, Moffat and Cole during the season, many enjoying their best seasons to date.
Ups and downs
Goff in particular relished his switch to Eurotech Racing.
Consistently a front-runner, victory finally came his way at Silverstone and set him on the way to a fine sixth in the championship, banishing the demons of his bad luck at WSR.
Young Scot Moffat also emerged as a BTCC race winner, his Donington and Brands Hatch triumphs the highlights in an otherwise mixed season for Mercedes.
It would not be a season to savour for one of the sport’s biggest influences, however. Double champion Plato expressed he could not find a balance in his Levorg for much of the season, but it did not stop him from adding pole number 50 and win number 96 of his career at Knockhill.
12th in the championship left him downbeat, but you be rest assured that a fighting Plato will emerge looking to creep up to that potential 100th BTCC win in 2018.
Luke Davenport and Jeff Smith had their seasons prematurely ended by injuries sustained in a horrific qualifying shunt at Croft. The atmosphere in North Yorkshire was sombre, Davenport put into an induced coma while Smith suffered serious shoulder and chest injuries.
Thankfully, both continue to recover from that Saturday – Davenport even conducting his first test with Motorbase in November since the accident.
Proctor is pick of the rookies
Davenport was one of eight BTCC rookies in 2017, but one soon appeared to be in a class of his own.
Senna Proctor scooped Jack Sears Trophy honours with the much-improved Power Maxed Racing, but his performances during the season were often on a par with experience returnee team-mate, Tom Chilton.
PMR’s switch to Vauxhall Astra machinery paid off handsomely, Chilton’s Silverstone stand-in Rob Huff almost victorious.
Ant Whorton-Eales equally matched AmDTuning team-mate Ollie Jackson for much of the season, while Team HARD enjoyed a strong year with updated machinery.
Jake Hill and Mike Epps often produced giant-killing top-10 performances with an older Volkswagen CC at their disposal, 15 visits to the top 10 between them. Epps rounded out the season in style for Tony Gilham‘s squad, sealing a fifth place finish in the season finale.
BMW return to the top
Team BMW would be rewarded with the Manufacturers’ Championship in their first works tilt since 1996.
2013 champion Jordan joined Turkington and Collard at the BMW outfit and instantly felt more at home, although bad luck limited his title challenge despite three wins at Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and Rockingham.
The Teams’ Championship also went WSR’s way ahead of a plucky Team Dynamics, while it was Speedworks Motorsport smiling after clinching the Indy Teams’ title with Ingram.
Alfa Romeo return to the championship in 2018, Handy Motorsport the squad to partner with the Italian brand.
Final Drivers’ Championship Standings:
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