Given the dominance of the West Surrey Racing-run Team BMW 330i M Sport saloons in last season’s British Touring Car Championship, it was hard to see how any operation could hold a candle to title holder Colin Turkington in 2020.
With five meetings already in this year’s book, the major threat to the Northern Irishman has come from an unexpected quarter: the Laser Tools Racing Infiniti Q50, particularly in the hands of Ash Sutton. At the time of writing, before Thruxton, Sutton had taken four wins, compared with Turkington’s two, and was just 10 points behind the series leader.
There have been many raised eyebrows at the Laser Tools Racing Infiniti programme. Those mostly stem from Infiniti’s previous challenge in the BTCC, which ended in embarrassment.
If there was an example of how not to run a BTCC team, it was surely the 2015 campaign from Pro Motorsport and its Q50 saloons. The squad was backed by the Support Our Paras initiative and was crewed by injured servicemen. There was no problem with that part of the deal, but the underpinnings behind the team weren’t solid. Infiniti got behind the programme initially but walked away after just three rounds. Pro Motorsport struggled on to the end of the year, then mothballed the project.
But now the name of the brand is back on the grid, and Sutton looks to be a major threat to the most coveted trophy in UK motorsport.
The 26-year-old has a strong history in rear-wheel-drive BTCC machines. After spending his maiden season in 2016 in an ageing MG 6 GT, he was in the right place to capitalise on BMR Racing’s building of a rear-driven Subaru Levorg GT. He took the controls and powered the estate-shaped 2.0-litre turbocharged car to overall glory in only his second season at the top level.
His prowess behind the wheel is undoubted, as is his affinity with rear-wheel-drive machines. His alliance with Laser Tools Racing for 2020 might have been a marriage of convenience, but it was one that suited all parties. It has led him to the point where, after the opening meeting of 2020 at Donington Park, he declared the Q50 as the greatest BTCC car he had yet driven.
“Getting in the car is like putting on a pair of trousers that fit perfectly for me,” he says. “The car does just what I want it to.”
Sutton was part of the plan to refresh the Infiniti effort and was in at the ground floor. “I would go to the workshop, help with the body panels, spanner, do everything,” he says. “I wanted to know the car from the ground up, and that’s what I’ve got.
“This simply is the best touring car I’ve ever driven, because it does exactly what I want. When I say best, I mean it reacts the way I want, and that’s in the wet or dry. I have full confidence in it, and that’s down to the engineering brains behind it and the momentum we have behind us. I have no doubt we will succeed.”
The seeds of the modern-day Infiniti campaign can be traced back to that disastrous 2015 attack, although underpinning it is a very fresh approach and machine.