2023 BTCC season review

01st November 2023
James Charman

The British Touring Car Championship has been the go-to for any motorsport fan looking for guaranteed action and a nail-biting title fight over the past decade. With a weekend format, points system and sporting regulations all geared to ensuring the championship is wide open right until the final laps, it’ll take something special and quite unprecedented for a driver to go into the final round with one hand on the trophy.


As it happens, something special is what fans of the BTCC were treated to across the ten-weekend, 30-race season in 2023. There had been glimpses of just how good the pairing of three-time champion Ashley Sutton and the NAPA Racing UK Ford Focus could be throughout the 2022 season, but it was in the second year of their partnership that things really came to life.

If you were to ask anyone in the BTCC paddock who they rated as the strongest drivers in the series, chances are the majority would put Sutton right at the top of their lists. However, up until now, all of his successes had been in rear-wheel-drive machinery, aside from a single victory in his debut year with Triple Eight Racing in an ageing MG6. His three championship triumphs came with the Subaru Levorg in 2017 before back-to-back crowns with the Infiniti Q50 in 2020 and 2021, both of which sent power to their rear axles.

His abilities in a rear-wheel-drive car are undeniable then, but could he do it in a front-wheel-drive car? No driver has been able to tame both in the 64-year history of the championship, so to do so would be quite a feat.


1. Enough drama for a single season at BTCC 2023’s Donington opener

Knowing how the story ends, it’s somewhat surprising that Sutton’s season started in a rather sedate way. A startline collision with the Laser Tools Racing BMW of Jake Hill saw Sutton crawling back to the pits on the opening lap of the year with suspension damage. It certainly wasn’t the start that NAPA Racing UK would have hoped for, having locked out the front row – taking its first of nine pole positions of the year in the process.

However, Dan Cammish brought a trophy home for the Ford squad, exorcising his demons from 12 months prior when he was parked up at Macleans with his Focus burning itself into oblivion. Hill narrowly held on to second after an intense fight with the Hyundai i30 of reigning champion Tom Ingram through the final chicane.

No one could have predicted what would come in race two, however. Under the watchful (and hidden) eyes of seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton, a sudden deluge threw the form book straight out of the window. Tom Chilton’s decision to fit wets at the end of the formation lap paid dividends and brought the Hyundai driver his first win since 2019. Other standout performances thanks to the weather included Adam Morgan and Sam Osborne, who filled the podium behind Chilton, while Nic Hamilton secured a career-best result of sixth – made even better by getting to celebrate with his older brother, who surprised him in the motorhome after the celebrations had died down.

It was race three where Sutton first showed signs of what was to come across the year. Starting from 15th, he worked his way up to third, coming home behind Ingram and Cammish, who secured his first double victory since the 2018 season finale with Honda. Sutton’s achievement was replicated by Hill, who followed him through from 16th up to fourth at the line.


2. Sutton takes charge

Hot off the heels of a storming recovery drive at Donington Park, Sutton went into the second round at Brands Hatch knowing that momentum is everything in the BTCC and he required a strong set of results to kick his championship charge into full gear. And he did so with aplomb.

A second place in race one, behind Team BMW’s Colin Turkington, was a good start, but it paled into comparison as to what came next. Over the next eight races, spanning three different circuits – tracks that couldn’t be more different to each other if they tried, no less – Sutton took an astonishing six wins. Double victories around the short Indy circuit at Brands Hatch, the 3-mile Snetterton 300 layout and the cauldron of speed at Thruxton showed that no matter where you put Sutton in his Ford, he was the one to beat.

Despite such immense form, you never had to look far to find either Ingram’s Excelr8 Hyundai or Hill’s BMW snapping at the Ford’s heels. It felt for a long time that wherever the Focus went, Ingram’s i30 would follow, but unfortunately, that’s all he could do. His frustrations at his inability to do anything but run around in the shadow of the Ford was plain to see whenever he spoke to ITV’s Louise Goodman in parc ferme.

A double victory for Hill at Oulton Park ensured his hat was well and truly thrown into the ring for a title shot at the halfway stage of the season, but with Sutton and Ingram following him across the line on both occasions, the gains he made on his rivals were minimal. The wins provided the BMW man with a confidence-boost after failing to visit the podium at all at Thruxton a fortnight before. In contrast, Sutton and Ingram were the only drivers to take at least one trophy home every single weekend, such was their dominance across the year.


3. Never in doubt from one of the best

As early as the championship’s return after its mid-point summer break there were whispers that this was Sutton’s year. Although Ingram was hanging on as best he could, it was evident that the NAPA Ford was just in a different league this year, and there seemed to be a genuine possibility that the title would be wrapped up even before the circus rolled back into Brands Hatch for the finale in October.

As it happened, it was almost wrapped up. A 45-point margin sat between Sutton and Ingram going into the season finale, and they were the only two drivers with a mathematical shot at the title. The last time there was a straight one-on-one fight for the title at the final round was back in 2014, when Colin Turkington dominated in the eBay Motors BMW 1-Series. On that occasion Turkington held a 50-point margin over BTCC legend Jason Plato and duly wrapped up his second title in the opening race of the day.

For 2023, all Sutton needed to do at Brands Hatch was finish ahead of Ingram in the opening race and a record-equalling fourth title would be his. Starting on pole position (his sixth of the year – a record), victory was never in doubt for the blue and yellow Ford, winning the title with a characteristically dominant performance. A second win in race two was enough to take his season total to 12, equalling a 26-year old record set by Alain Menu in the iconic Williams-Renault Laguna.

It was one of those seasons that makes you sit back and realise you’re witnessing one of the greatest to ever step into a British Touring Car. Sutton now joins Andy Rouse and Colin Turkington as a four-time champion, but has done so before his 30th birthday. Rouse and Turkington were 38 and 37 respectively when they reached that milestone, leaving the major question on everyone’s mind now being just how many can Sutton get – and can he be beaten?


4. Cook and One Motorsport dominate independents; Ford takes crown from BMW

While it’s very easy to focus on Ash Sutton’s displays across the year, his victory was just one (albeit the most important) of six trophies on offer at the end of the season. It’s no surprise that NAPA Racing UK enjoyed similar successes to their driver to wrap up the Teams’ Championship. On the rare occasion that Sutton wasn’t at the sharp end, it was highly likely that Dan Cammish or Dan Rowbottom would fill that spot instead. Cammish took three victories and a further three podiums on his way to sixth in the points standings, while Rowbottom finished seventh, having taken his first win since 2021 at Thruxton.

What was perhaps a bigger shock, though, was Ford pipping BMW to the post in the manufacturers title race. With Jake Hill scoring points for BMW alongside Turkington, the BMW squad were odds-on favourites to secure an eighth consecutive crown. It was the closest-fought championship of all trophies on offer in 2023, with the newly-renamed Alliance Racing (the squad behind NAPA Racing UK) taking the title for Ford, beating BMW by just four points.

In the Independents’ title hunt, there was never really any doubt as to who would come out on top. Favourite to retain his crown even before the season had begun, Josh Cook took 13 independent victories across the 30-race season, beating Aron Taylor-Smith in the Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Corsa by 88 points. Cook’s team, the Honda Civic squad of One Motorsport, narrowly came home ahead of Power Maxed Racing, to also become two-time Independents champions.

As for the Jack Sears Trophy – effectively the BTCC’s equivalent of Rookie of the Year but officially for those who have yet to score an overall podium – Power Maxed Racing’s Andrew Watson went home with the largest piece of silverware of the season. Watson made an impact right from the off, qualifying up the field at the opening round and turning plenty of heads in the process. While he could not maintain that pace throughout the year, whenever the rain came down you could expect to see him climbing up the order. Former Jack Sears Trophy winners include current BTCC front runners Rory Butcher, Josh Cook and Ash Sutton, so it’ll be interesting to see what future lies ahead for the former GT ace.

The 2023 BTCC season may not have been a classic in terms of a nail-biting title fight going right down to the wire, but it’ll live long in the memory purely because of the dominance on display from a future legend of the sport. Love him or loathe him, there’s no denying that Sutton is a generational talent, and we should all count ourselves lucky that we get to watch him in his prime.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

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