The 2016 season is significant in UK Clio Cup history for it marks 25 years since the championship was first run in 1991 – in fact it was on this day a quarter of a century ago exactly that Renault officially launched its cheeky Clio model in Britain!
Following a highly memorable 2015 in which new BTCC star Ashley Sutton was crowned Champion, the focus now is on what lay ahead and certainly those heading to Brands Hatch this weekend look set to be in for a real treat from the UK Clio Cup.
Famed for its bumper-to-bumper action, not only has its grid grown considerably in size but it is also at its most colourful with an increasing number of teams turning out their cars in some truly dazzling colour schemes which will only add to the appeal for trackside fans and those watching the action live on ITV4.
Picking a winner is nigh on impossible. Three-time Champion Paul Rivett (Epsom Downs) is back with local Ashford-based WDE Motorsport and with 12 previous wins around the tight Brands Hatch Indy circuit being used this weekend is surely among the favourites for success – he also holds the track’s UK Clio Cup race lap record.
After a season in the BTCC another past Champion, Mike Bushell, returns with the same squad with which he won the crown in 2014, Team Pyro. Bushell, from Tunbridge Wells, is also a Brands local…
JamSport Racing’s Ant Whorton-Eales (Lichfield), a close third in last year’s title race, and Team Cooksport’s Lee Pattison (Scholes), a former championship runner-up, are two more drivers on the grid with UK Clio Cup race wins already to their name. Notably Whorton-Eales won Brands Indy’s opening round 12 months ago…
And then there is the rest of the grid, being touted as arguably the most competitive the UK Clio Cup has ever seen with ever more young career-minded drivers identifying it as the place to be if they want to be taken seriously by teams in touring cars.
In addition to Rivett, WDE’s line-up includes the spectacular Charles Ladell and newcomer Paul Plant (Copthorne) who is running under the joint Vanquish-WDE banner. At Pyro, Bushell is teamed with much talked-about BTCC squad Team BMR protégé Senna Proctor (Bridlington) and the very promising Josh Price (Redbourn), plus returnee David Dickenson (Wicklow).
BMR’s is not the only BTCC presence on the grid. Dove-tailing its successful touring car operation is Ciceley Motorsport with an exciting new three-car entry for Max Coates (Scorton), who had a brief taste of the BTCC in 2015, and equally promising youngsters Dan Zelos (Dereham) and Ollie Pidgley (Salisbury). Furthermore Cooksport – run by BTCC ace Josh Cook – is also three-strong with the rapid Rory Collingbourne (Newport, Gwent) and George Jackson (Bedford) joining Pattison in its stable.
Paul Streather (Hinckley) is undoubtedly a name to watch after coming close to spoiling things for would-be Champion Sutton with an outstanding debut performance in last year’s season finale. He is continuing for a full season with Finesse Motorsport…
After announcing a tie-up with BTCC squad Team HARD in the winter, JamSport not only has cars entered for Whorton-Eales but also Luke Kidsley (Northampton), who showed strongly in 2015’s Brands GP finale, and Graham Field (Southwell).
Do not be surprised if either Anton Spires (Buckingham) or Daniel Rowbottom (Kidderminster) – driving for new teams PP Motorsport and Team Ecomotive – spring a surprise on their debuts after impressing in pre-season testing. So, too, 20Ten duo Sam Watkins (Swansea) and Tom Butler (Derby) following solid outings in last year’s final two rounds.
The UK Clio Cup will first be on track at Brands Hatch this weekend with two timed practice sessions on Friday. On Saturday comes the first official qualifying session of the season which will decide the starting grid orders for rounds one and two (based on fastest and second-fastest times). Round one takes place later that day, at 4.25pm. Round two – being broadcast live on ITV4 as part of the channel’s wall-to-wall BTCC coverage – is on Sunday at 1.25pm.