The 2020 British Touring Car Championship season has been the ideal narrative for Ash Sutton and Laser Tools Racing’s new Infiniti Q50.
One of the highly regarded talking points of this season has been the impressive performance of the new Infiniti Q50, and how Ash Sutton has mastered it to success so far in his first season for Laser Tools Racing.
He joined the team ahead of the 2020 season with the new Q50 saloon, replacing Laser Tools Racing’s outgoing Subaru Levorg GT estates.
Laser Tools Racing announced mid-2019 that they would switch from their usual lineup of Subarus and introduce the Infiniti Q50 saloon into the championship.
The team were on the back-foot for the latter stages of the 2019 season with the exception of achieving a podium finish at Silverstone.
They were keen to get back to the sharp end of the grid, and Sutton has managed to help them do so by not only winning races, but leading the championship standings ahead of the Croft race weekend.
Ash Sutton is no stranger at fighting for titles, as a 2017 champion for the Adrian Flux Subaru Racing team.
In what was his second year in the BTCC, he found himself fighting for the 2017 season title in the then-new Subaru Levorg GT.
His previous year at the MG RCIB Insurance Team was a tricky campaign, finishing 13th at the end of that season’s standings, with only one victory (and two podiums finishes) at Croft to show for his efforts.
He claimed five wins in the 2017 season, standing on the podium 15 times out of the 30 rounds held.
In the final race, he secured the title on 372 points after championship rival Colin Turkington retired, finishing on 350 points.
Turkington made the move to West Surrey Racing and their BMW lineup whilst Sutton took over his seat ahead of the 2017 season.
By the time Team BMW and Colin Turkington secured their second consecutive title, the Subaru itself needed to be replaced after their partnership with Team BMR concluded.
In theory, the saloon model-shape and rear-wheel drive package would be suitable for the circuits in the BTCC as they looked to challenge another dominant force that was West Surrey Racing (WSR) and their BMW 330i.
Realistically, the team would not be targeting the BMWs purely down to their need to understand their new package compared to West Surrey Racing’s established success with their BMW.
As the 2020 season progressed, it was clear that the Q50 was the ideal car to challenge them, especially in the hands of Ash Sutton.
At the end of the pre-season test day at Silverstone National, 17th March, Ash Sutton found himself finishing ninth in the order with a time of 1m06.968s
He sat just behind Matt Neal and ahead of Chris Smiley and Excelr8 Motorsport’s new Hyundai i30 Sportback N Performance.
This season faced a delayed start due to the COVID pandemic, and eventually kicked off at Donington Park.
Whilst it was business as usual to see four-time and reigning champion Colin Turkington take that first pole position of the season, Ash Sutton asserted his pace to set the Q50 on the third spot on the grid.
From that first race, Sutton showed the capability of his Infiniti as he fought for the lead with Turkington and Dan Cammish.
But he found himself off at Coppice on the third lap and while he recovered back onto the track, he finished 14th but was able to challenge Turkington and his BMW.
It only took Sutton until Race 3 of that weekend to find his groove and take an astonishing first win in the Infiniti.
As we have seen many times this season, Sutton followed his usual lead to climb up the order from eighth on the grid.
By the third lap (out of 17), he had got himself into sixth and hunted down the top trio to mix amongst them by lap six.
With a double overtake at Coppice on Ollie Jackson and Adam Morgan, and another on Josh Cook and Chris Smiley, he secured his first of four wins to come (so far as of Silverstone National).
He also claimed the fastest lap in all three races at his and the Q50’s team debut.
Out of the six venues that the 2020 BTCC calendar has attended so far, he has managed to stand on the podium at least once, apart from Thruxton.
His ability to get the Infiniti Q50 to climb up the field was an emerging trait that defined the duo of Sutton and his car.
Another successful weekend was his double victories at Knockhill, a circuit which suited the rear-wheel drive saloons to maneuver themselves up and down the steep inclines that the track had.
He qualified on pole ahead of Race 1 at the team’s home circuit.
Sutton managed to establish a strong lead until the safety car was deployed regarding other drama elsewhere in the field, thus igniting a tense battle where he defended off Colin Turkington’s BMW.
“The initial plan was just to break clear…the safety car closed that down (the gap)”, said Sutton.
“It was a case of getting a clean restart and then we managed that gap from that point onwards”, he consolidated at the time.
Of course, he managed to take a dominant victory in Race 2 after he started on pole with Turkington beside him.
Predictably, the Infiniti and BMW edged away in the early stages but that soon changed as Turkington was challenged by Ingram and the pack behind him.
Defending from the likes of Ingram and Cammish gave Sutton the perfect opportunity to utilise the car’s traction out of the tighter corners, like the hairpin, and hold onto the lead.
Even though Turkington closed down 0.6s behind him, and sat over three seconds ahead of Ingram, it would be no match for Sutton’s turn of pace.
A more recent highlight was his spectacular climb at the third Silverstone race, where he climbed from the back of the grid in 26th to second position.
On lap 17 in Race 2, Sutton had suffered a puncture which pushed him down the order to 26th.
After demonstrating his ability to climb up the order numerous times, a display of overtakes were expected as he would climb up the order at Silverstone National.
By the fourth lap, he made up nine places to get himself into 17th position.
In light of the red flag brought over the Rory Butcher crash, the race was restarted and Sutton got himself into seventh by three laps.
By the eighth lap, he had got into third in what was an intense fight at the front with Ollie Jackson and Tom Oliphant.
His comeback for the weekend was asserted to finish side-by-side with Oliphant and take second off him into the final lap; he held it to the end.
“I’ve now realised where our pace at Donington went, and it’s the weight (success ballast) in the car”, Sutton said after the race.
“Since then, we’ve had weight (ballast) in the car, and we’ve taken it out and we were back where we were at Donington, and the thing’s absolutely phenomenal – I can’t get over it.”
As he edged his way to a potential charge to victory, he also admitted how there were not enough laps to ‘have a go’ on Jackson.
After 18 rounds, he has finished consistently with only three finishes outside the top-10, and the 26th-placed finish at Silverstone being the anomaly of them all.
In 2019, he spent five times finishing outside the top-10 (after 18 rounds) with three of those outside the top-16.
This comparison further illustrates his confident return at fighting at the front of the races and even contending for the title, accompanied by his familiarity with the Q50.
In fact, he sits on 237 points in the drivers’ standings with nine rounds left on the calendar, four points more than the total earned during the 30 rounds of 2019.
Turkington sits closely behind as the BTCC heads to Croft on 233 points.
The Croft circuit has similar characteristics of Silverstone National; it is based at a former WW2 airfield, where there are no particular inclines or descents unlike at the season finale at Brands Hatch Indy.
This could potentially close the gap to the front-wheel drive, hatchback competitors but much can still change in nine rounds.
It is clear that Sutton quickly recognised the potential of his Infiniti, alike Turkington with his BMW that got him two consecutive titles.
For now, a momentum of points will be a priority for the top-six drivers in the standings as they look to hang on against the effects of the highest success ballasts awaiting for them into Race 1.