BTCC Oulton Park 2023 | 5 talking points

19th June 2023

At a circuit not often known for its overtaking opportunities, the BTCC provided an enthralling weekend of racing at Oulton Park for one last dash before the summer break. The worst of the rain held off, despite threats of a Donington Park repeat and a mad rain-related encounter and the championship closed out the first half of the season in fine style.


1. Jake Hill off the mark

Considering Jake Hill went into the 2023 season as one of the favourites for the championship, few would have expected that his first win of the year would come after 13 races. Having visited the podium on three occasions in the first four meetings of the year, Hill went to Oulton Park in fourth place in the points standings but was already 53 points behind the dominant Ash Sutton.

Starting alongside the NAPA Racing Ford Focus in the day's opening race, Hill used the BMW’s superior launch to propel himself to the lead off the line. After a physical battle for the lead in the first two laps, Hill managed to keep Sutton at bay, and from then on it was plain sailing for the Laser Tools Racing by MB Motorsport. As has been par for the course across the 2023 season, race two was more of the same and even a safety car period couldn’t stop Hill’s charge and he stormed to his first-ever BTCC double.

Starting from seventh in race three, Hill was riding a wave of confidence, and by the time the safety car was deployed – halfway round the first lap – he was already sitting in third. Making the most of his teammates battling at the resumption of green flag racing, Hill moved up to second and started hounding Colin Turkington for the win and an historic triple victory. Sadly for Hill, it wasn’t to be, despite putting pressure on the four-time champion enough to force a mammoth lock-up into the Knickerbrook chicane. Despite that, Turkington held on to take a well-deserved win and Hill enjoyed a near-perfect weekend of two wins and a second place.


2. Turkington proves he’s still got it

Questions may have started to be asked regarding Colin Turkington’s title-winning future, not least by this writer, but his day at Oulton Park proved that there’s very much still that fire when he gets behind the wheel. A disqualification from qualifying, due to having ‘failed to comply with post-session scrutineering checks regarding fuel’, forced Turkington to start from 27th – absolute last – on the grid for race one. 

A stellar drive from the four-time champion saw Turkington rise from 27th on the grid to ninth at the line, not only salvaging points but setting himself up for yet more points in races two and three. It could have been a better result for Turkington, but ironically it was trying to pass his teammates that held up his progress. Coming across Stephen Jelley and Adam Morgan as they were attempting to pass the Team HARD Cupra Leon of Aron Taylor-Smith, it seemed like an apparent tactical choice for the two to allow Turkington through to extend his points haul for the day. Eventually, Morgan and Turkington passed the Cupra, but by the time he’d got through, Morgan was too far ahead for Turkington to reel him in and he would have to settle for ninth at the line.

Another strong drive in race two saw Turkington work his way up to the leading trio, and looked like he was going to make his way past Ingram as the race drew to a close. Turkington’s favoured move throughout the day was to take a wider line through Lodge to get a run-up Deer Leap and across the start line and complete the pass on the inside of Old Hall. Attempting this against Ingram ended his charge, though, as the Hyundai driver parked his car on the apex of Lodge, breaking the bonnet pin on the BMW and compromising the Irishman’s view. With a five-second gap back to Josh Cook’s Honda, Turkington just coasted home and consolidated his fourth-placed result. 

Starting from fourth in the final race, Turkington leapt to the front of the field, holding off challenges from both Adam Morgan and Jake Hill in similar machinery to secure a perfect back-to-the-front day and secure his 65th career victory. It was the perfect result for West Surrey Racing, as Jake Hill and Adam Morgan followed Turkington home, completing a BMW 1-2-3, the ideal way to end a WSR clean sweep at Oulton Park.


3. Sutton can’t shake Ingram, then gets greedy

It makes a change to not be talking about Ash Sutton totally dominating proceedings. Before driving into the pit wall in race three (more on that later), Ash Sutton continued his championship charge by following the BMW of Jake Hill home in the opening two races. While Sutton’s modus operandi over the last two months has been to lead from the front, the mature head showed by banking points and not getting drawn into any big fights with Hill, save for some door handle bashing on lap two of race one.

Sutton admitted in his post-race interviews that he knew there was no point risking non-scores by racing hard with someone over 50 points behind him in the title race. Despite losing ground on Hill over the first two races, Sutton continued to eke out his margin on the chasing pack and put himself ever closer to a fourth championship victory.

The gap, though, is still a relatively small margin thanks to Tom Ingram clinging on to the shirt tails of Sutton every step of the way. Both Sutton and Ingram know that the BTCC is a long season and while all the signs are pointing towards a fourth title for Sutton, we are only at the halfway stage and 15 races are yet to be run before anything is certain in the points table.

As previously mentioned, one of the major strengths of Sutton’s season thus far has been his maturity, knowing when to charge and when to sit back and bank big points. Unfortunately, that seemed to disappear off the grid in race three. Trying to jump as many positions as possible, Sutton dived for the inside, despite Tom Ingram closing the door as rapidly as the Ford’s start. The squeeze caused suspension damage for the Ford as it made contact with the pit wall, ending Sutton’s race before he’d even reached the first timing sector.

Onboard cameras from Sutton showed that the gap that he was going for never really existed, and it was clear that Ingram was coming across to block. The incident was almost a carbon copy of the one that occurred between Sutton and Hill in the first race of the season, for which Hill was penalised, but there was to be no such ruling on this occasion. Sutton’s urge to get to the front resulting in his early retirement was exactly what Tom Ingram was waiting for, and by finishing fourth the reigning champion managed to slice the gap at the top of the table to just six points.


4. Is the BTCC losing its unpredictability?

One of the major draws of the BTCC over the years has been how competitive the series is and the fact that any one of the top third of the grid could realistically come away with a victory in any of the three races a day. This season, however, that seems to have fallen by the wayside. If you were to look at the results of races one and two at the last three events – Snetterton, Thruxton and last weekend’s Oulton Park – the podium results have been identical, and the Donington opener is only not in this list thanks to the mad rain-affected race two. Of course, race three usually offers some variations, but that’s entirely down to the reverse grid draw simply doing its job.

The bigger problem lies in races one and two. Not only have the last three examples of these been identical, but the 18 podium positions in those six races have been shared by just four drivers: Ash Sutton, Tom Ingram, Jake Hill and Colin Turkington. Now, some purists may say that it’s a good thing that the cream is rising to the top. For some of the more casual fans however – arguably the more important ones – it may start to turn them off if results start to become too predictable. 

No, it’s not quite Max Verstappen/Red Bull levels of dominance as seen in Formula 1, but it’s a long way away from the shake-ups we became used to seeing in the success ballast era. This isn’t another “what’s the point of the hybrid system” question (although these results certainly aren’t helping its cause at all), but you have to wonder what effect “samey” results will have on the popularity of the series as a whole, particularly with it enjoying airtime on ITV1 this weekend as opposed to its usual ITV4 home.


5. Sutton takes narrow lead into Summer Break; BMW leapfrogs Ford

Despite Sutton’s retirement in race three, he still holds the lead in the drivers’ standings, but the margin has suffered significantly as a result. Sutton’s lead was 19 points after 14 races, but now with 15 in the bag it has dropped to just six, with Jake Hill jumping up to third a further 20 points back.

With a trio of victories under its belt, BMW not only enjoyed a perfect day at Oulton Park but came away with the championship lead, leapfrogging the Motorbase Fords and heading into the half-time break with a lead of 22 points over the NAPA squad.

In the peripheral points tables, NAPA Racing UK has still maintained its lead in the Teams’ standings, leading Team BMW by 51 points. Josh Cook holds a 60-point lead over team-mate Aiden Moffat in the Independent Trophy standings, while their team One Motorsport sits 35 points ahead of the Power Maxed Racing Vauxhalls in the Independent Teams’ table. Finally, Dexter Patterson leads Mikey Doble by 8 points in the Jack Sears Trophy standings.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images

  • BTCC 2023

  • Oulton Park

  • Ash Sutton

  • Jake Hill

  • Colin Turkington

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