Ash Sutton declared that the British Touring Car Championship’s new hybrid system has “met if not bettered my expectations” as the reigning champion topped the final pre-season test before beginning his title defence.
The three-time champion has gone from his rear-wheel-drive Laser Tools Infiniti Q50, in which he claimed back-to-back titles, and switched to a front-wheel-drive Motorbase Ford Focus for the new era, as he bids to equal the record of four titles jointly held by BTCC legend Andy Rouse and current rival Colin Turkington.
That bid has got off to a strong start despite the teams having a limited amount of running with Cosworth’s spec hybrid system, which represents the start of a new era for the series. Sutton followed tests at Croft and Donington Park by setting the pace as the teams gathered at Thruxton this week, ahead of the first round at Donington on 23/24 April.
“So far, I even said it to [BTCC boss Alan Gow], I’m pleasantly surprised,” Sutton told Autocar. “The hybrid has met if not bettered my expectations. It’s good leaving the pitlane on electric power only. We only had a small teething issue at the very beginning but, touch wood, no issues. Once out on track, you get a nice little push from the hybrid.”
Sutton set a best time of 1min 15.607sec at Thruxton, which dipped well below the existing lap record – 1min 16.206s, set by Tom Ingram in 2020. Jake Hill, who has also switched teams this year and now races a WSR-prepared BMW 330e M Sport, was fastest in the morning session at the Hampshire circuit.
Sutton says he is looking forward to sampling how the hybrid will affect the racing this year. The system offers a power boost to drivers of up to a peak 50bhp and has replaced the old weight-based success ballast formula as a means of performance equalisation: the more successful a driver is, the less amount of hybrid boost per lap they have on tap.