BTCC season finale 2023 | 6 talking points

09th October 2023
James Charman

Ashley Sutton is now a four-time British Touring Car champion, equalling a record held by two legends of the sport. While his crowning was never really in doubt, Sutton still needed to deliver around the Brands Hatch Grand Prix loop under glorious autumnal skies in the Kent countryside.


Ash Sutton gets the job done

It was going to take a brave person to bet against Ash Sutton and his NAPA Racing UK Ford Focus going into the season finale at Brands Hatch this weekend. After another dominant display in qualifying, Sutton put himself in prime position to get his fourth title sewn up at the first opportunity. Lining up on pole, the championship leader decided to bolt the softer compound of Goodyear tyre onto his car for the opening encounter while the driver to his left on the front row – the Toyota Corolla of Rory Butcher – opted for a set of mediums. Title rival Tom Ingram, starting from third, also went for soft tyres and immediately latched himself onto the rear bumper of the Ford.

The most obvious evidence that Sutton was in full attack mode was the fact that he used his only lap of hybrid boost on lap two. Throughout the season, those at the front have often held on to their hybrid laps until the last possible moment, sometimes not using them at all, but on this occasion, Sutton was desperate to make a break – and also take the fastest lap (and subsequent bonus point) in the process. The tactic worked, and even a pair of safety car periods for incidents further down the field could not damage Sutton’s hold on the race lead.


Rounding the Grand Prix loop for the final time in race one, the outburst of emotion was clear to see as Sutton became a four-time champion, joining on-track rival Colin Turkington and star of the 1980s, at a time when the BTCC was known as the British Saloon Car Championship, Andy Rouse. It also marked the first time since Alain Menu’s 2000 title that a Ford took top honours.

With everything wrapped up in race one, the pressure was off a couple of hours later in race two, and Sutton once again controlled the race from start to finish, followed home again by Ingram. It was Sutton’s 12th win of the season, equalling the record set by Menu in 1997, his first title-winning season with the Williams-Renault team.


Elbows out for season finale

What happens if you put 27 BTCC drivers in a race knowing there’s six months to wait for the next one? Damaged touring cars, of course. With all of the championships decided, it was mostly a fight for pride, and everyone wanted to one-up their counterparts on track. Jade Edwards, a driver who’s had her fair share of bad luck across the season, suffered one of the worst incidents, when George Gamble totally misjudged his braking going into Druids and just skidded his way into her right rear quarter panel.

The weekend wasn’t solely made up of jobs for the driving standards advisor, however, with Jake Hill pulling off one of the moves of the season when he dived past both Josh Cook and team-mate Stephen Jelley at Sheene Corner for the lead, and eventual win. Yes, there was a little bit of grass cutting involved but it’s the last race of the year, it was an impressive move, let him have it (and they did)! In a season where track limits have been a sore subject right from the off, it was a breath of fresh air to see some common sense being applied for a change.


2024 BTCC Calendar

16th May 2023


More records for Sutton

Before Sunday had even begun, Sutton had already started to place his name in record books, with a strong qualifying performance that matched James Thompson’s 23-year-old record of most pole positions in a single season in the modern era. Insisting that qualifying on pole wasn’t actually part of his plan, Sutton said after the session that the only reason he went for pole was because the car was, effectively, too good not to. Securing the bonus point for pole position meant that Sutton’s lead over Ingram extended to 46 points ahead of race one, meaning Ingram would need to hustle his Hyundai into a position to outscore the Ford by three points to keep his title hopes alive.

Sutton qualifying on pole was a return to form for the NAPA Racing UK squad after its 100 per cent record of top spot on Saturday was ended by Mikey Doble at Silverstone. As a result the Ford outfit has to settle for ‘just’ nine out of ten pole positions this year, in what has been one of the most dominant displays of single lap speed in recent memory.


Andrew Watson takes Jack Sears honours

Going into the final round, Power Maxed Racing’s Andrew Watson was in prime position to take the Jack Sears Trophy for drivers yet to score an outright podium result in the championship. Watson held an 18-point lead over closest rival, and team-mate, Mikey Doble while NAPA Racing UK’s Sam Osborne, Team HARD’s Dexter Patterson and Excelr8’s Ronan Pearson were also mathematically in contention. Realistically, though, it was a Vauxhall Astra duel for title honours – harking back to the legendary fights between Jason Plato and Yvan Muller at the turn of the millennium.

Watson has been one of the most impressive rookies this year, particularly when the rain came down. However it was a beautiful day at Brands Hatch and Watson lined up 13th on the grid, while Doble qualified ninth, with the rest of the chasing Jack Sears competitors filling positions lower down the order. Watson was unable to work his way up the field, and began to drop down the order from the start, while Doble managed to move up to eighth and held that position for the majority of the planned 15-lap sprint. Doing all he could to try and overhaul his team-mate, it all came crashing down for Doble on lap 12, spearing off into the barriers at Stirlings and all but handing the title to the other side of his garage. A safe, if slightly pedestrian drive from Watson was enough to secure the crown at the end of race two, joining the list of champions that includes a certain A. Sutton.


Motorbase Performance rebrands as Alliance Racing

Little did we know when we were watching Ash Sutton’s dramatic drive from the back at Silverstone two weeks ago that it would be a swansong performance for Motorbase Performance. Ahead of the Brands Hatch season finale, the team, which has been a part of the BTCC paddock since 2006, announced a rebrand to Alliance Racing with immediate effect. Although now known as NAPA Racing UK, to see the Motorbase name, the child of legendary BTCC team boss David Bartrum, leave the grid is a real shame.

Some of the top names in the history of the championship have stepped into a Motorbase-prepared car, including champions such as Andrew Jordan, Fabrizio Giovanardi and James Thompson. The team was sold by Bartrum in 2021 and Pete Osborne (father of current driver Sam) assumed control of the team. The following year a major partnership was announced with American auto parts brand NAPA, and the rest, as they say, is history.

It was a strong start for Alliance Racing, sealing not only a Drivers’ crown, but a Teams’ title and also the Manufacturers’ title. The latter was arguably the most significant for the Ford outfit, as it marked the first time since 2015 that West Surrey Racing hadn’t earned the trophy for BMW, and they did so by the tiny margin of just four points – the closest margin of all six that were fought over 2023.


Who can beat Sutton and NAPA in 2024?

It’s always the first question on anyone’s mind after a season of such dominance: Who can beat them? At a glance, it’s hard to come up with anyone who could pose a genuine threat after this year. Yes, Tom Ingram ran him relatively close, but the title was never really in doubt from about the halfway stage this year. There’s always the possibility of luck not running in the Ford’s favour next year, though, this is the BTCC after all. You never know who’s going to end up in the gravel next!

Jake Hill is another driver who just needs the luck to fall his way to be able to put together a title charge. Hill was the second winningest driver in 2023, with his five wins helping him secure third in the standings for the second successive season. On the other side of the West Surrey garage, is the sun finally setting on Colin Turkington’s time as a genuine title challenger? The four-time champion did take four wins across the season, but somehow he just never really seemed to be a realistic threat.


Challengers from within the same stable could shake the apple cart in future – Dan Cammish has speed, there’s no doubt about it, but he just seems to be unable to piece together a full season. It comes to that four-letter word again: luck. But, perhaps it's a sign of what it takes to be a champion in this series – an ability to drive around bad luck.

Sutton did something special this year, and there’s a chance we’ll never see another season quite like this again. One thing’s for sure, while there will certainly be those that want to see a closer run challenge towards the end of the year, we should all count ourselves lucky that we’ve been able to watch one of the greatest of all time at the very top of their game.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • BTCC

  • Ash Sutton

  • Brands Hatch

  • Race

  • Modern

  • btcc-2020-champion-ash-sutton-final-brands-hatch-indy-jep-mi-main-goodwood-16112020.jpg


    Ash Sutton wins 2020 BTCC championship at Brands Hatch

  • btcc-2021-brands-hatch-indy-tom-oliphant-mi-jep-main-goodwood-28062021.jpg


    Five things we learned from the BTCC at Brands Hatch

  • btcc-season-finale-brands-hatch-preview-mi-goodwood-main.jpg


    Sutton vs. Ingram: Who will be crowned BTCC champion?