The British Touring Car Championship has become well known for title fights that go down to the wire. It happens year after year after year. It’s no shock, then, that the 2022 edition is heading down the same path, with four drivers in contention for the BTCC drivers’ championship trophy ahead of this weekend’s season finale.
What’s different this year is just how close it all is – three of the four contenders go into the now traditional curtain closer at Brands Hatch with just seven points separating them. It’s not been that close heading into the season finale since 2011.
Ash Sutton, Jake Hill, Tom Ingram and Colin Turkington are all in with a shot at being named British Touring Car Champion for 2022. Two of the four names in that hat have yet to be engraved on the trophy, while Turkington is aiming to become the first five-time winner, so there is a very strong possibility that history could well be written before our very eyes. Let’s take a closer look at the contenders.
Ashley Sutton – NAPA Racing UK – Ford Focus
345 points – 3 wins
It was a slow start to 2022 by the lofty standards of the triple champion, having to relearn the nuances of front-wheel drive following five seasons in rear-propelled cars. Despite a smattering of podiums throughout the first half of the year, Sutton had to wait until the series went north of the border to claim his first win, coming in the 17th race of the 30-race season. But he has gone on to make a further two trips to the top step of the podium en route to the sharp end of the points table.
Consistency has been the key for Sutton. Of the 27 races already in the book, he has finished 26 – coming home in the top nine on all but one occasion. The NAPA Racing UK squad is now a force to be reckoned with at the top of the field and both team and driver should go into the final weekend of the season full of confidence.
Such confidence will be backed up by Sutton’s recent performances around the Brands Hatch Grand Prix layout. The three-time champion has scored an average of 37.6 points in his last five race meetings at the 2.4-mile Kentish circuit, and you have to go back to his debut year in 2016 to see a weekend where he came away with points in single figures.
Sutton goes into the weekend with the lowest amount of hybrid boost available to him for both qualifying and race one, and it’s been in qualifying where the lack of boost has been most felt. You just have to look at Colin Turkington’s weekend at Silverstone (which we’ll get on to shortly) to see how much a poor qualifying can impact your race day. With all that in mind, though, Sutton will know that he is in the best possible position to become only the fourth person to win three consecutive titles, and the first since Andy Rouse in 1985.
Jake Hill – ROKiT MB Motorsport – BMW 330e M Sport
340 points – 3 wins
Jake Hill has been threatening to top the BTCC grid for a couple of years now, and was hotly tipped to be a title contender in 2022 when he joined up with the hugely successful West Surrey Racing. Anyone who questioned whether Hill would be able to transfer his previous performances across to rear-wheel-drive machinery need only watch his performances at our own Motor Circuit, firstly in a Nissan Skyline at the SpeedWeek Shootout and then his thrilling battle with Sam Hancock in the Gerry Marshall Trophy at the 79th Members Meeting.
Hill more than lived up to the hype by taking pole position for the opening BTCC round of the year – the only session where everyone was on equal standing with regards to hybrid power. Having secured bragging rights by pipping team-mate Colin Turkington to top spot in a session where the top two rows were separated by less than one tenth of a second, Hill set about starting his season in the strongest way possible. Strong would also be the best way to describe how he fought Turkington around the first lap, showing that WSR were more than happy to let their drivers fight for supremacy.
Unfortunately for Hill, despite coming home third on the road for that opening race, a ride height failure saw him excluded from the result and sent him to the back of the grid for race two. He recovered to ninth at the flag before eventually taking victory in race three.
From then, Hill has had a steady season, visiting the top step on a further two occasions, and finishing second no fewer than eight times. You can ask what might have been had his car not been excluded from the opening round of the year, but coming off a strong weekend at Silverstone just five points behind Sutton and heading to a circuit that historically has favoured rear-wheel-drive machinery, things could certainly be worse for the 28-year-old.
Tom Ingram – Bristol Street Motors with Excelr8 TradePriceCars.com – Hyundai i30 Fastback N Performance
338 points – 4 wins
Heading into his sixth consecutive season finale with a shot at the title, Tom Ingram will be hoping that he can finally go that one step further and receive the trophy from series head honcho Alan Gow on Sunday evening. He has the most wins of any driver still in the title hunt this weekend (one behind Josh Cook’s five), sits just seven points behind leader Sutton and will be champing at the bit to overthrow his rivals.
His season started in excellent fashion, with a win in the opening race of the year and finishing no lower than fifth in the first two meetings, and he has been there or thereabouts ever since. Like Sutton, Ingram has only finished outside of the points twice all season, and has historically performed well around the Grand Prix loop at Brands Hatch. Only once in the past five years has he left Brands Hatch with fewer than 22 points, although he is yet to win a race around the full layout at the former British and European Grand Prix venue.
After six years of sitting at the sharp end of the BTCC field, it is very much reaching that point where you feel the perennial groomsman deserves his time at the altar. Whether this year is going to be the one remains to be seen, and it’s going to take a lot to overhaul both Hill and Sutton, despite the relatively small points gap.
Colin Turkington – Team BMW – BMW 330e M Sport
318 points – 3 wins
Going into the penultimate round at Silverstone, you would have been forgiven for thinking that everything was falling into place for Colin Turkington to become the first ever five-time champion in Britain’s premier motorsport series. Then something happened that he did not intend. Qualifying down in tenth thanks to a lack of hybrid power, he got caught up in the melee for positions in race one, ending the race non-classified and damned himself to a weekend of turmoil. A haul of only seven points from the three races meant his six-point lead going into Silverstone turn into a 27-point deficit by Sunday afternoon.
Until then, Turkington was beginning to look like he was almost cruising to a fifth title. Only one non-finish and one more outside the top ten had made it seem like the Northern Irishman was almost unbeatable. The difficult weekend in Northamptonshire is put into perspective when you realise it was the only meeting this season where he hasn’t come away with at least one trophy. Three wins, four runner-up spots and four further trips to the bottom step of the podium have been spread evenly across the year, picking up points on a regular basis.
Looking at Turkington’s performances over the past few years at Brands Hatch won’t make for comfortable reading for his fans, either. While there have been hugely lucrative visits to the Grand Prix loop, such as in 2016 and 2020 where he took 48 and 49 points respectively, three of his last five visits have included either non-scores or retirements. With such a deficit to turn around, Turkington knows he needs everything to fall in his favour, including struggles for his rivals. While you can never count anything out in the BTCC, it’ll take a brave man to put money on Turkington’s name being carved on to the trophy for a fifth time.
King Cook to be crowned at Brands Hatch
While his charge for the overall top spot may have fallen by the wayside, Josh Cook will go into the season finale knowing he’ll be taking home a trophy nonetheless. His strong performances, which have included notching up a season-high of five wins, have seen him pull out an unassailable lead in the Independents’ championship standings.
With no bonus points up for grabs, only 60 remain on the table for the final race of the year, putting into perspective how dominant Cook’s season has been in the Indy standings, racking up a 92-point lead across the first 27 races. Adam Morgan sits in second place, and while he could still mathematically be overthrown by Bobby Thompson, the realistic chances of a 39-point swing seem remote.
Handful of secondary titles still up for grabs
The main focus for the majority of fans and pundits alike may well be on the extremely close battle for the drivers’ championship, but for Team BMW and NAPA Racing UK there’s still very much a fight for both manufacturers’ and teams’ crowns to be settled. As it stands, both teams have advantage in one of the tables – if that seems confusing, remember that while Jake Hill is able to score points for BMW in the manufacturers’ table, he doesn’t score points for Team BMW in the teams’ table, as he races under the ROKiT MB Motorsport banner instead.
There are 111 points still on offer to both squads in both championships going into the season finale, and BMW will be confident its 73-point lead over Ford should be enough to take home a seventh consecutive manufacturers’ crown. NAPA Racing UK, however, currently sits 42 points ahead of Team BMW with three races to go, and means that Motorbase Performance, the BTCC stalwarts behind the blue and yellow Fords, is on the verge of its first ever championship victory after 17 years of trying. The closest it has come before was back in 2016 when Andrew Jordan and Matt Jackson gave the team third in the team’s standings.
Things are much closer in the Independent team’s standings, with BTC Racing only 25 points clear of Adam Morgan’s Ciceley Motorsport squad. BTC Racing will be hoping to cash in on Jason Plato’s potential swansong appearance in the championship to secure an Independents’ double, but both Morgan and team-mate George Gamble have shown signs of raw pace all year, and could throw a spanner in the works on the final weekend.
Finally, Team HARD’s Bobby Thompson needs to only avoid losing nine points to Gamble in the final race of the year to be crowned the winner of the Jack Sears Trophy for 2022. With a 49-point lead, it’s going to take a minor miracle for George Gamble to overthrow Thompson come Sunday evening.
End of the line for series legend – or is it?
Away from points, trophies and champagne, the BTCC should be preparing to say goodbye to arguably the biggest star it has ever created this weekend. Jason Plato’s touring car story started way back in 1997, with his doorstepping of Frank Williams (whose Williams squad ran the Renault Lagunas at the time) going down in BTCC folklore. An instant hit in the championship, Plato has been a near constant in the 25 years that have followed, with only a brief hiatus in 2002 and 2003 while he tried his hand at the Rockingham-based ASCAR series with a view to branching out Stateside.
With 656 race starts under his belt, it seems that elusive century of wins is now all but out of reach. Although still technically achievable, it would require the two-time champion to win all three races this weekend. From 1997 to 2015, you could never count Plato out when it came to the title, finishing no lower than fifth in the standings in that time – in fact, from 2006 onwards, he was never lower than third by the end of the season.
Sadly, from 2016 onwards he’s never quite reached the quality anyone in the paddock knows he possesses, and his last victory came back in the final round of the 2019 season. While his name may not have been at the top of the charts for a few years now, there’s no denying that the name Plato is still synonymous with the BTCC.
We said ‘should’, however, because if you believe the latest media stories, it seems that Jason might be considering not hanging up his helmet as planned. While he hasn’t had the results, he’s really enjoyed both the Honda Civic Type-R and working with BTC Racing in 2022, and feels he still has more to give.
If he does decide to step away? Well, it won’t quite be as jarring as when Valentino Rossi left the MotoGP paddock, and while the Suttons, Ingrams, Hills, Cooks et al are doing a stellar job of carrying on the mantle, it will certainly be an emotional moment when Plato pulls in on Sunday evening for a 659th and likely final time.
Images couresy of Motorsport Images.