In reality, however, there's a very strong possibility that it could all be over before lunchtime on Sunday. With 67 points left on the table and 45 points separating Sutton from reigning champion Tom Ingram, all Sutton needs to do is finish ahead of Ingram to regain the trophy.
Who could win the BTCC this weekend?
BTCC fans have been spoiled over recent years when it comes to title deciders, with multiple drivers often heading to Brands Hatch with a shot at lifting the trophy under the setting Kent sun. This year, though, only one driver can stand in the way of Ash Sutton’s fourth triumph. Let’s have a look at the two duking it out for honours this weekend.
NAPA Racing UK Ford Focus – 398 points (10 wins)
It’s been a very long time since someone has dominated a BTCC season in the way that Ash Sutton has this year. Only perhaps Colin Turkington’s 2014 campaign can come close to the way that Sutton has controlled the field in 2023.
The start of the season did not match the remaining eight rounds, though. A difficult opening meeting at Donington Park saw Sutton not only fail to finish, but fail to make it to the first corner. Contact with the BMW of Jake Hill meant that the Ford was on the sidelines on the run up to Redgate, and having made the wrong tyre choice in race two – the first of many topsy-turvy rain-affected races this season – Sutton lined up for race three with just one point to his name.
It was from then on that the #116 Ford Focus has looked unstoppable. Ending the opening round with a podium, Sutton went on to win ten of the next 24 races, with Oulton Park the only round where he didn’t visit the top step at any stage. Wherever Sutton starts a race, there’s a feeling that he can still win it, as was evidenced at the most recent round at Silverstone, where he won race two despite starting from 23rd on the grid.
Don’t expect a tame drive from the three-time champion this weekend, however. Despite only needing to finish ahead of Ingram to take the crown, Sutton is one of those drivers who will keep fighting if there’s a sniff of a win, even if he could win the championship from sixth place. Plus, a double this weekend will see him equal Alain Menu’s 26-year record for the most wins in a single season, should he need any more motivation…
Bristol Street Motors with Excelr8 Hyundai i30 Fastback N Performance – 353 points (2 wins)
It's fair to say that Tom Ingram hasn't had the easiest of title defences. Not because his Hyundai hasn’t been fast, but because the NAPA Ford has been that much better than everyone else. Time and time again Ingram has had to just sit back and watch as Sutton has driven away from the field, and has even explained in post-race interviews how difficult it can be following a car you just know you can’t beat.
You have to go back to the 2016 season to find a year where Ingram hadn’t already visited the top step on at least three occasions by the season finale, but on the flip side, he’s already achieved more podium results in 2023 than any other season in his ten-year BTCC career. Those 13 visits (six seconds and seven thirds) are the reason Ingram remains the only one mathematically in with a shot at overthrowing the mighty Sutton.
Alongside the 20 points on offer for a win, bonus points are awarded for leading a lap, setting the fastest lap and for taking pole position in Saturday's qualifying session. As a result, Ingram needs to ensure he outscores Sutton by at least two points in race one to remain in contention.
It’ll need to be one of the biggest ‘pointsy’ weekends, as he likes to call them, of his career if he is to retain his crown. He’ll still have to have his wits about him, though, because poor results could see Jake Hill steal second from him in the final furlong.
What other titles are up for grabs?
All of the headlines may be taken up by the duel for the Drivers’ Championship, but that is only one of six trophies that will be handed out on Sunday evening. Two have already been decided, with Josh Cook retaining his Independent Drivers’ Championship at Silverstone thanks to his 88-point margin over Aron Taylor-Smith, and NAPA Racing UK boasting an unassailable margin of 111 points over Team BMW in the Teams’ Championship.
Manufacturers’ Title - Ford aiming to end 23-year wait
Things are much closer in the Manufacturers’ standings, however, with BMW holding a 19-point lead over Motorbase Performance/Ford with 111 still left on the table. Hyundai is mathematically capable of winning the championship if BMW and Ford both fail to score a single point. Should Ford be able to overhaul the BMWs it’ll end the Bavarian constructor’s seven-year stranglehold It’ll also mark the first triumph for the Blue Oval since 2000, the final year of the Super Touring era, when Ford was said to have spent around £10million on its BTCC efforts.
The Manufacturers’ table, when put side-by-side with the Teams’ Championship, can often look a little confusing, but this is where Jake Hill makes all the difference. While Hill regularly scores Manufacturers points for BMW in his West Surrey-run 330e M Sport, any points he earns goes to Laser Tools Racing with MB Motorsport, rather than Team BMW. Laser Tools Racing currently sit sixth in the Teams’ standings, not bad for a solo effort.
Independent Teams’ Championship - One Motorsport looking to wrap up double
While Josh Cook may have wrapped up the Independent Drivers’ title already, he’ll still have to work hard to ensure that his One Motorsport squad retains its crown in the Independent Teams’ standings. The Honda Civic squad won the title last year under its previous guise as BTC Racing, narrowly beating Adam Morgan’s Ciceley Motorsport in its swansong year.
Despite enjoying an immense run of form in the middle of the year, taking 180 points from a possible 180 across the Thruxton, Oulton Park and Croft rounds, only 27 points sit between the One Motorsport Civics and the advancing Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astras. All nine of the races since Croft have been won by either One Motorsport or Power Maxed Racing, with the latter taking six against the championship leaders’ three. Equally, with the form of all three of the Astra drivers improving with each round, they’re not going to be making it easy for the Hondas.
Points are awarded in the Independent Teams’ Championship for the highest placed Independent driver, so a total of 60 points are on offer across the weekend. With only five Independent teams on the grid, that means a minimum of 33 points can be scored (with fifth place offering 11 points), so if Power Maxed Racing is to win its first title, it’ll need to win all three races and hope dramas befall One Motorsport at every turn.
Jack Sears Trophy going to the wire
While it’s going to be a long shot for Power Maxed Racing to take the Independent Teams’ trophy on Sunday evening, it’s highly likely that one of its drivers will be going home with the Jack Sears Trophy.
Held for those who have yet to score an outright podium finish prior to the 2023 season, the Jack Sears Trophy has seen a number of future BTCC stars take the crown, with Ash Sutton, Dan Cammish, Josh Cook and Rory Butcher all previous winners. This year Andrew Watson and Mikey Doble – both driving for Power Maxed Racing – are separated by 18 points with 60 left on the table. NAPA Racing UK’s Sam Osborne has an outside chance, sitting 32 points behind Watson, while Ronan Pearson (Excelr8 Hyundai i30) and Dexter Patterson (Team HARD Cupra Leon) are mathematically in contention, sitting 45 and 51 points back respectively.
Watson, who has been hugely impressive across the year, particularly when the heavens have opened, will need to win this year as his podium visits at Knockhill and Silverstone render him ineligible for future seasons. The only other Jack Sears Trophy contender in 2023 to score a debut podium is Sam Osborne, who finished third in the wet-weather madness at the Donington Park season-opener.
Whatever happens this weekend, it’s sure to be filled with the drama and excitement the BTCC has become known for, and with the weather gods currently suggesting it’ll be warm and sunny, it should all be decided on the track and not a case of gambling on treaded tyres or not. One way or another, it’s set to be a classic. This time next week we’ll either have seen a record-equalling fourth title from Ash Sutton, or witnessed one of the most dramatic finales in the history of the sport.