Inside the BTCC title decider – from the drivers set to contest it
This weekend the British Touring Car Championship descends on Brands Hatch for another blockbuster season finale, with four drivers still in contention for the coveted crown.
Reigning and three-time champion Ash Sutton leads the quartet, but just seven points blanket the NAPA Racing UK driver from his nearest rivals, ROKiT MB Motorsport’s Jake Hill and EXCELR8’s Tom Ingram, in the closest season finale for over a decade in the UK’s premier tin-top series.
Four-time series winner Colin Turkington is the other driver in the mix, 27 points adrift of Sutton. Remarkably, Turkington led the standings prior to Silverstone, but a frustrating trip to the ‘Home of British Motorsport’ saw him slip back to fourth.
The Northern Irishman has been the beneficiary of high drama on Finals Day in the past, and with 56 points on offer across the weekends three races, write the Team BMW ace off at your peril.
Here’s what to expect from the season finale – from the four drivers set to battle it out in front of a packed spectator crowd and millions more on ITV4.
Qualifying could hold the key…
With a packed grid featuring 28 of the nation’s finest touring car stars – and cars – set to battle it around the notoriously challenging, 2.4-mile Grand Prix layout, qualifying remains one of the most important sessions of the weekend.
As part of the BTCC’s introduction of hybrid power for 2022, drivers also have up to 15 seconds per lap in qualifying of additional boost to use, which could make all the difference for those in the thick of the title fight, with less than a tenth of a second often deciding the front few rows of the grid.
Crucially, as championship leader Sutton will get no hybrid power for his qualifying runs, with Hill, Ingram and Turkington set to receive 1.5, 3 and 4.5 seconds per lap, respectively. It’s something that Ingram in particular is mindful of.
“In that regard, it’s good, we’re in a strong place because Colin, of the four of us, will obviously have the most amount of hybrid performance, but he’s obviously a few points back,” explains Ingram.
“So, if you look at the closeness between Ash, Jake and myself, I’m in the strongest position. I’ve got a little bit more hybrid performance in qualifying. And of course, that first race, which is going to be quite critical, I think. I think it’s an important thing to consider because it’s going to play a factor.”
Sutton, however, is less concerned about the difference the hybrid deployment will make over the course of a lap, and believes nailing down a car setup will have a greater bearing on the weekend.
“If I’m honest, I’m not actually stressing too much about qualifying in the fact that I think the hybrid difference between myself, Jake, and Tom mainly isn’t too much of an issue,” responds Sutton.
“Colin maybe, on the other hand, has a little bit more on a lap, but I don’t see the hybrid difference between us being too much of a hindrance, if I’m honest. As long as we can dial the car in, so that’s what we’re going to be focusing on.”
History will be made, whoever emerges ahead
In true BTCC fashion, whichever of the quartet ends the weekend stood atop the Champion’s Podium will have inked their own chapter in the championship’s illustrious history.
Although the ‘outside bet’, another sting in the tale and a fifth title for Turkington would put him clear out front as the most successful drive of all time, in terms of championship successes.
He currently sits tied with Andy Rouse, a feat Sutton is looking to emulate with a fourth crown, but Turkington insists that would only spur him on to reach greater heights in 2023.
“The aim is to win the title, like it always is, because the feeling of extreme joy and satisfaction you get when you cross the line and know you’re the champion is indescribable,” smiles Turkington.
“That feeling starts to lessen by Monday morning because you’re already thinking about the next season. I’m at the point where another title won’t change my life; I’ll still go to the gym or answer my work emails the next day… I’ve said it before but the race I want to win the most is the next one.”
And for Hill and Ingram, victory would mean a first-ever championship for two of the fan favourites, after almost a decade working their way through the touring car ranks.
“I’m just really looking forward to it,” says Hill of the experience. “I was always a bit unsure about how I’d feel when I finally got into a position to properly fight for the championship. Actually, I feel really quite ready for it and very relaxed.”
“I’m looking forward to it. I think we’re in fairly good shape,” added Ingram. “I probably feel more relaxed going into this final than I probably have done for a good few years, actually.
“We’ve done the hard work so far to get to this point, and obviously getting ourselves into this position has been tough because it’s been a tough season, a close season.
“It’s been one that has been based, I think, solely upon being consistently fast, which is difficult. But I think we’re in a really good shape. So, I really do feel like we’ve got a great shot and I think it’s going to be exciting.”
Battle of the drivetrains
The BTCC’s much-publicised battle between front and rear-wheel-drive machinery could come into play this weekend, especially if the Great British weather takes a turn for the unpredictable.
That stands, perhaps, to benefit the experienced Sutton, a three-time champion in rear-wheel drive cars, but now driving the front-wheeled Ford Focus ST.
“I think you can rely on that quite a lot, if I’m honest,” says Sutton, when asked about whether his knowledge of both drivetrains gives him an advantage.
“There are certain times throughout the year that I’ve been able to utilise some of my experience and kind of planning what they’re potentially trying to do, and stop a move coming off the back of it or something like that.
“But I think a lot of drivers now up and down the grid know the pros and cons of both front wheel drive and rear wheel drive cars. And they’re able to cover most of those off now.”
Turkington, however, is feeling relaxed about both the forecast, and the chances of his West Surrey Racing-prepared BMW being among the front-runners at the Kent circuit.
“The BMW 3 Series is a very fast car around Brands Hatch GP,” he explains. “Maybe the results haven’t always reflected that because it’s usually the title decider and that means you race differently because you’re not necessarily aiming to win, but to minimise the risks and do enough to be champion. In 2019 I was on pole there in the wet and in 2020 it was the second round in August, and I had a cracking weekend. The long-range weather forecast looks pretty consistent, so I hope that’ll stay heading into Sunday.”
Will the harmony remain at WSR?
Although racing under two separate banners – ROKiT MB Motorsport and Team BMW respectively – Hill and Turkington are team-mates, with both drivers run out of the WSR stable.
The two have raced harmoniously together throughout 2022 to-date but, with the biggest prize of their touring car careers on the line, will friction start to creep in at Brands Hatch this weekend?
“We all agreed mutually that the gloves are off now,” confirms Hill. “We both have to fight for this championship. So there just cannot be any team orders there. So that bit is clear.
“The number one rule at WSR is ‘don’t hit your teammate’. So, I’m sure that if we are engaging with each other at all, especially in the first couple of races, then we’ve just got to stay out of each other’s doors and just crack on.
“But there are no rules of engagement as such, other than don’t hit each other.”
Turkington insists Hill’s form is a positive, and their working together is a key element of the team’s success in reaching this position.
“Things like car set-ups remain open,” explains Turkington. “That’s a rule at WSR and a good rule because it makes each of us stronger, and Stephen [Jelley] as well. You might keep some of your strategies to yourself, but you know your team-mates will do the same.
“There is a tension inside the camp when you know your team-mate is also one of your big rivals, but you can choose to let that bring negativity in or choose not to. We choose not to. Ultimately when you have strong team-mates pushing for the same thing as you, you push yourself harder and that’s a good thing.”
Where to watch the action unfold…
Viewers based in the UK can enjoy the usual wall-to-wall coverage of the BTCC from ITV Sport. Qualifying on Saturday afternoon is streamed live at itv.com/btcc, with a frenetic half-hour session due to start at 15:40.
Sunday features the usual triple-header of door-banging action, with lights out at 11:30, 14:30 and 17:15 to settle one of the greatest championship battles in recent memory, once and for all.