BTCC at Snetterton 2023 | 8 Talking Points

22nd May 2023
James Charman

The British Touring Car Championship rolled into Norfolk for its third meeting in six weeks, descending on Snetterton, the longest circuit on the calendar. Throw in some new tyre rules and a slightly topsy-turvy grid, and there was plenty to get stuck into across rounds seven, eight and nine of the 2023 season.


Sutton makes hay while the sun shines

Very few can argue with the theory that Ash Sutton is one of the most talented drivers on the grid, as was evidenced by his ability in past seasons to drag both the Subaru Levorg and Infiniti Q50 to the sharp end of the grid where his team-mates couldn’t. Now with arguably the strongest car in the entire paddock underneath him in the shape of the NAPA Racing UK Ford Focus, the Sutton-Ford pairing looks close to unbeatable.

Starting from pole position after a qualifying session where he never looked like he’d qualify anywhere else, Sutton leapt off the line in race one, leaving reigning champion Tom Ingram in his wake. Ingram had an awful start and dropped from second down to sixth after just two corners. Despite running the hardest of the three Goodyear tyre options in race one while four of the next five were soft-shod, Sutton gapped the field in the opening laps, pulling out two seconds in the first lap alone. The softer tyres picked up pace after a third of the race was in the books, but it would ultimately be too little, too late. A last lap charge from Jake Hill put Sutton under pressure, but the Laser Tools-backed BMW could not find a way past the Focus.


If you were looking for faults in Sutton’s drive in race two, you’d be looking for a very long time. Getting a better start when compared to the rear-wheel-drive BMW of Jake Hill, Sutton put in a characteristic masterclass at the head of the field. Managing the gap at around four seconds for the majority of the race and not once coming close to being challenged for the lead as he took a fourth consecutive victory.

The reversed-grid draw saw Sutton starting from 6th on the grid as he eyed up a first triple victory since Jason Plato at the Brands Hatch GP circuit in 2009. While Sutton was unable to go down in the history books as a triple-winner, settling for fourth in race three after team-mate Dan Cammish’s exclusion (more on that later), Sutton now goes to Thruxton with a six-point lead over reigning champion Tom Ingram. More importantly, Sutton goes into the remainder of the season with pundits and fans alike suggesting that, unless he’s hit with bad luck for the rest of the year, he will be picking up his fourth BTCC trophy at Brands Hatch in October.


Changing of the guard at West Surrey Racing?

Colin Turkington has been ever present at the top of the standings since his return to the BMW squad in 2017, in fact, his fourth placed finish last season was the first time since the 2017 season that he’d finished outside the top two. Was that result a sign of the tide going out on Turkington’s time as the man to beat in a BMW?

Despite going into the Snetterton weekend as the top West Surrey Racing entrant, it was clear in race one that the pace truly lay in the one car not in works BMW livery – that of Laser Tools Racing’s Jake Hill. Hill hounded Turkington throughout the opening encounter, before finally finding a way through three laps from the end. However, desperate to keep Hill behind, Turkington drifted to the right which forced Hill to put two wheels on the grass. The two banged doors through the next sequence of corners.


Starting alongside Sutton in race two, Hill was unable to get the jump on Sutton and the Ford streaked off into the distance. Pursued by team-mate Turkington for the entire race, the BMWs ran line astern for the full 12-lap distance, keeping yet another NAPA Ford at bay, this time driven by Dan Rowbottom. Turkington would get the better of Hill in the final race of the day, but could only settle for second in the inter-team battle, finishing behind Stephen Jelley. The four BMWs were tripping over each other in the final race, with West Surrey Racing opting to run the same tyre strategy on all four of its cars – which was construed by many watching to be a mistake.

The general feeling now seems to be that a BMW with Laser Tools logos on it is a much more threatening sight in the rear-view mirror than those with the works colours and you’d probably get more favourable odds backing Hill for a first crown than you would Turkington becoming the first ever five-time champion.


Despite only having one lap of hybrid power throughout the 12-lap race, Cammish carved his way through the field, making nine places on the opening lap alone. As you’d expect, his progress slowed as he reached the sharp end of the field, but 11th at the line certainly limited the damage whilst putting himself in position for a relatively strong points haul across the remaining two races.

At least that was the plan. What wasn’t in the script for the #27 was the excellent defending from Aron Taylor-Smith, who made his Team HARD Cupra Leon as wide as possible in the fight for 11th. By the time Cammish worked his way past on lap seven, any chance of a decent result had flown out the window.

With Sutton pulling number six out of the reversed-grid pot, any hope of a saving his weekend was lost, meaning Cammish had to work his way up from 11th on the grid for the final race of the day. And work his way up he did, putting in a stellar performance that any driver would be proud of, narrowly missing out on victory by fractions of a second. Unfortunately it was all for naught, as Cammish’s Focus failed its ride height check upon entering the parc ferme, and was thrown out of the results. As a result, and thanks to team-mate Ash Sutton’s double victory, the Yorkshireman has gone from a five-point lead in the standings to third place and 17 points back from his NAPA Racing UK team-mate.


Tom Ingram finally off the mark

Reigning champion Tom Ingram’s season so far has been one of those that quietly goes under the radar. The Excelr8 Motorsport driver had racked up four trips to the podium in the opening two meetings, split evenly between the second and third steps, but had failed to make it to the top in the six races so far. That consistency meant Ingram went into Snetterton second in the standings, five points behind Dan Cammish and a further five ahead of Ash Sutton.

Suffering from a bug that was really taking it out of him across the Norfolk weekend, Ingram wrestled the car to the front row, but was unable to capitalise from the start, plummeting four positions by the second corner of the opening race, despite running the softest of the three tyre options. The High Wycombe-based driver would eventually finish fourth, before dropping down to seventh in race two, having opted to run the harder compound in the middle race – the only driver to do so.

By running the medium compound in the final race of the day, Ingram had a grip advantage on the rest of the field. Despite missing out on reversed-grid pole by just one position, Ingram stormed to the front of the field, and was hounding the leader by just the second lap of the race. Dan Rowbottom was unable to hold back the charging Hyundai, ending the Ford squad’s push for a perfect weekend. Rowbottom would eventually drop down the field, but inherited third after Dan Cammish’s disqualification. Prior to his exclusion, Cammish’s chase of Ingram went right down to the wire, and had the race been run to its full 12-lap distance (a lap had been removed to recover a stricken Toyota on the formation lap), chances are Ingram would have finished second on the road. Instead, Ingram held on for a popular, well-earned and long overdue first win of the year.


Are the Fords unbeatable?

That may seem like a stupid question, considering the third race was won by Tom Ingram in a Hyundai and Tom Chilton and Colin Turkington have also won in their Hyundai and BMW respectively. The BTCC is a series where a team taking a clean sweep of 30 victories is pretty much impossible, but the fact remains that if you put Sutton or Cammish anywhere near the front of the field, a win for the blue and yellow Fords seems almost inevitable.

Conversations are already starting on social media comment sections that the Fords are simply “too good”, but if there’s one championship that prides itself on its ability to ensure a level playing field, it’s the BTCC. Tim Harvey made a typically passionate statement on commentary in an attempt to quash any rumours that the Ford was too fast, pointing out that Sutton never made it into the top ten when looking at speed trap figures.

Motorbase Performance, the team behind the NAPA Racing UK squad, has been competing in the British championship with the Focus (in its various shapes) since 2011, so it’s no surprise it knows how to get the best out of the family hatchback. When you throw in the budget provided by a headline sponsor such as NAPA – and that budget is evidenced by its Sutton and Cammish dream team – you’d expect nothing less than a team not only fighting for, but leading every championship it’s eligible for.


Josh Cook gains momentum ahead of Thruxton

So far in 2023, Josh Cook has had one of those seasons that just doesn’t seem to want to get started. Up until Snetterton there hadn’t been any major dramas other than just being a bit lacklustre. Looking to get his season underway around the 2.9-mile Snetterton 300 circuit, Cook qualified seventh but, running the hard tyre in the opening race, had to settle for eighth at the line.

Mechanical dramas looked like they were going to ruin Cook’s race two before it had even started. While the One Motorsport mechanics were able to fix whatever malady had fallen upon the Honda Civic Type R, they had been on the grid working on the car too late, meaning Cook would have to complete a drive through penalty. However, Cook made it barely two corners in the race before a puncture took him out of contention completely.


Starting from down in 26th place for the final race of the day, Cook was left to run the soft tyre, and the performance advantage was clear to see. Driving like a man possessed, Cook battled his way through the field, passing a hugely impressive 20 cars to salvage sixth at the line.

With nine rounds now in the bag, Cook sits ninth, some 76 points behind Ash Sutton at the head of the field. In contrast, by this point last season the Honda driver was leading the points standings having just taken a pair of victories around his favoured Thruxton. The Hampshire circuit is the next stop on the BTCC calendar in two weeks’ time, and while Cook may be the ‘King of Thruxton’, it’s going to take a lot for him to stop his close friend Ash Sutton from taking that crown away from him.

Despite a disappointing start to the season by Cook’s own lofty standards, he retains his lead in the Independents’ standings by a single point over Team HARD’s Bobby Thompson. The same can’t be said for his team-mates, however, with neither Aiden Moffat or Will Powell yet to get to grips with the Honda Civic Type R, meaning the roles are reversed in the Independent Team’s standings as Team HARD takes a one-point lead over One Motorsport to Thruxton.


Triple tyre strategy throws up dramas

It’s been well documented since its inception last season that the hybrid boost system has yet to have the impact on race results that success ballast had previously provided. In a bid to increase the variety of finishing orders, Snetterton was the venue for the first appearance of the medium compound tyre. While most circuits simply require the teams to choose a single race to run the softer option tyre, Snetterton (and Croft later in the year) requires the use of a hard, medium and soft compound across the three races.

The tactical nature of these choices was evident from the off, as evidenced by Dan Cammish looking to salvage his weekend after a qualifying disaster by running the softest, and in theory fastest, compound in the very first race of the day. The plan worked as he fought his way up the field, and it was fairly easy to tell in performance terms who was running which tyre – in stark contrast to the hybrid boost, which is easy to forget even exists once a race gets going.

We have to wait until the series heads north to Croft after the summer break to be able to see the medium tyre back again, but based on the effects it played this weekend, here’s hoping it becomes a more regular feature from 2024 onwards.


Sam Osborne takes control of the Jack Sears Trophy

When we said that NAPA Racing UK was leading every championship it was eligible for, chances are you probably thought we meant the Drivers’, Teams’ and Manufacturers’ standings. But there is actually a fourth on that list that you may have forgotten. Sam Osborne, the only driver in the Ford quartet eligible for Jack Sears Trophy honours, extended his lead over Dexter Patterson at the head of the championship for those yet to score an overall podium result to eight points.

Osborne has taken four of the nine Jack Sears wins so far in 2023, with the remaining five split between Dexter Patterson, who sits second in the standings, and a pair of wins each for Ronan Pearson and Andrew Watson, who occupy third and fifth in the table respectively. Watson, who was the breakout star at the season opening Donington Park, is yet to live up to the standard he set for himself, and has somewhat slipped into obscurity since.

The BTCC will return in just another two weeks as the first half of the season continues to come thick and fast, moving from the longest circuit of the year at Snetterton to the fastest track in the country. Known as the stomping ground of Josh Cook, the Honda man will be leading the charge as the rest of the field try their hardest to stop the momentum of NAPA Racing UK and Ash Sutton.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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