Hand and Cook take final poles of season at damp Brands Hatch

Ash Hand (Nuneaton) stole some of the thunder from title rivals Mike Bushell (Tunbridge Wells) and Josh Cook (Bath) after lapping fastest during the final qualifying session of the Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup season at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit this morning, Saturday, 11th October.

Securing his first pole with a sensational last lap in damp-but-drying conditions, the SV Racing with KX driver posted a best time of 1m41.504 seconds (86.30mph) to just shade WDE Motorsport’s Paul Rivett (Banstead) by a mere 0.011 seconds for the top spot on the grid for today’s 17th round.

Championship protagonist Cook was third quickest for SV Racing with KX, importantly three places ahead of points leader Bushell, and there was even better news for Cook where second best times were concerned as he claimed the round 18 pole with VitalRacing with Team Pyro’s Bushell third.

“It’s good to be as close to the front as possible”, said Cook, “The annoying thing is, we had it all hooked up – me and Ash [Hand] – but we got held up by a backmarker on our second to last lap. It’s good to have Ash with me at the front and we know what the carnage could be like midfield so I’m glad we’re near the front for both. We don’t know what the conditions are going to be like though.”

Series leader Bushell, who carries a 28 point lead on ‘drop scores’ into round 17, reflected: “I know what we did wrong, when we swapped the tyres from wets to drys there was something we were meant to do with the car, then I made a mistake on my last lap as well. I need a combination of top five results in the two races really, so we’ll just have to see how we go.”

The session started with all of the competitors running on treaded wet-weather Dunlops with the track surface particularly slippery, albeit drying from the outset. It didn’t take long, though, for the first drivers to consider switching to slick tyres.

Westbourne Motorsport’s James Colburn (Worthing), still a title outsider going into this afternoon’s race, was the first to visit the pits after just a couple of minutes of the session and as the opening 10 minutes elapsed more and more of the front-runners followed suit.

Colburn and fellow championship contender Jordan Stilp (Potterspury) were the initial pace-setters on slicks and after bettering Bushell’s benchmark – set on wets – with half of the session remaining, the times began to tumble.

With just over six minutes of the session remaining, the top six read 20Ten Racing’s Stilp from Cook, Colburn, Bushell, WDE’s Charlie Ladell (Felixstowe) and Rivett but the session came to a brief halt when Simon Horrobin (Snodland) beached his SV Racing Clio at Clark Curve.

With the track getting increasingly dry, the final few minutes after the re-start were unsurprisingly frantic with Stilp, Cook and Masters Cup pace-setter Rivett all taking turns at the top of the timing screens. Then, on the final lap, Hand just managed to deny Rivett by the slimmest of margins.

“I think it ended up being about who was going to commit the most and I definitely committed, especially when I was sideways around Druids on my fastest lap!”, said an elated Hand, “It was really difficult, a hard session, and with a red flag with three or four laps to go I was down in 12th or something. We knew it was all going to be down to the last couple of laps though – I’m really pleased.”

Behind Hand and Rivett on the round 17 grid will be Cook and Colburn on row two, Alex Morgan (Reading) and Bushell on the third row and Stilp and SV Racing with KX driver Ant Whorton-Eales (Lichfield) on row four. The top 10 is completed by Ladell, who did hold pole position with just over 10 minutes left, and JamSport’s Dan Holland (Dagenham).

For round 18, which will take place on Sunday, Cook will start on pole position thanks to a second best lap time which was just 0.025 seconds faster than Colburn managed. Bushell will line-up in third position ahead of Stilp, Hand, Morgan, Rivett and Ladell with Holland and Whorton-Eales rounding out the top 10. There were 10 drivers with lap times disallowed due to track limits indiscretions.

Round 17 of the Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup will get underway at 16.15 this afternoon with round 18 set to follow on Sunday, 12th October, at 13.30 – the final race of the season will be screened live on ITV4 and ITV4 HD with the addition of online streaming at www.itv.com/btcc

The Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup is additionally supported by ELF, Performance Friction, WP Racing and official tyre supplier Dunlop.

Provisional 2014 Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup standings (after Rd16 – minus drop scores):
1st Mike Bushell, 366pts; 2nd Josh Cook, 338pts; 3rd Jordan Stilp, 319pts

Provisional 2014 Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup ‘Graduate Cup’ standings (after Rd16 – minus drop scores):
1st Josh Cook, 376pts; 2nd Jordan Stilp, 367pts; 3rd Ant Whorton-Eales, 362pts

Provisional 2014 Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup ‘Masters Cup’ standings (after Rd16 – minus drop scores):
1st Lee Pattison, 420pts; 2nd Paul Rivett, 417pts; 3rd Mark Howard, 318pts

Provisional 2014 Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup Team standings (after Rd16):
CHAMPIONS: SV Racing with KX, 812pts; 2nd Team Pyro, 632pts; 3rd Westbourne Motorsport, 541pts