Hand has won the last three races in a row and was fastest in yesterday’s Clio Cup test session at Oulton Park ahead of this weekend’s two rounds.
He came out on top of two nail-biting scraps for the win with Sutton at Thruxton where they actively worked together to stay ahead of the rest in qualifying and both races. But, as Sutton also admitted earlier in the week, all that is now set to change.
“The data room door is shut now!” said Hand. “Ashley and I still share data but our technical de-briefs in the team transporter are kept separate to one another. It has got that point. Before we would be in together – now we’re trying to work really hard on our own individual championships.
“It gets to the point where you don’t want to work with each other any more. We won’t be working together in qualifying here – we’ve had that discussion now. It is hard fighting someone you like but as soon as you go onto that track it’s like you don’t know each other.
“We’re still pals and I’m sure we will be at the end of the season. But I’m sure we’ll be touching doors or wing mirrors at some point and be unhappy with each other at some point. That’s how the championship works. So long as we respect each other off the circuit as well we’ll get through that.
“Our team boss Mark Hunt really understands that we’re both here to win and how competitive it is between us. We know it will get tough as the points get closer.”
Hand’s hat-trick of wins have pulled him back into contention for the lead of the championship after a retirement at Donington Park had looked to have cost him dear. Going into Oulton’s two races he is third overall, 24 points behind leader Whorton-Eales after taking 21 out of the SV Racing driver at Thruxton. Team-mate Sutton, second in the standings, is just 11 points ahead of him…
“I’ve come to Oulton feeling confident,” added Hand. “I’ve done a lot of pre-work and prepared well with Andy Priaulx to put me in a good place so I can come here and win (three-times World Touring Car champ and current BTCC star Priaulx coaches Hand).
“I’m trying not to get too drawn into thinking about titles yet. I’m more concentrating on my own skills set – making sure I am fast at each circuit and making sure that is fastest enough to qualify P1 and lead every race. I know if I can do that I can pull away at the front and score big points.”
Hand knows, however, it is not just about him and Sutton and fully expects others to have a say in the title outcome sooner rather than later.
He continued: “Fair play first of all to Whorton-Eales – he is doing really well. He got the lead at the first race and has stayed there. Even at Thruxton he had bad grid positions but came through to get good points. He’s consistent and mentally focused. But so are (Jordan) Stilp and (Paul) Rivett and you know there are others who will come into it as their confidence grows.
“I don’t mind if more drivers do get involved and split us up a bit – even if that makes it harder it also means there’s a chance to take bigger points out of your main rivals. You just need to make sure it’s you who’s ahead in those situations. Plus it makes it more interesting for the championship and the fans and TV viewers as well.”