Once more the UK Clio Cup will feature as the stand-out supporting category to the bill-topping Dunlop British Touring Car Championship at an event which annually attracts a trackside crowd of tens of thousands of people.
Indeed, swift access to the venue near Tarporley via the M6, M62, M56 and A55 motorways, panoramic views of the action on a circuit that invites close racing, free access for under-13s and a carnival-like camping culture makes Oulton's BTCC weekend one of British motor sport’s biggest fixtures of the year.
And with such a close fight at the front there is little wonder Oulton’s races are among the most eagerly anticipated of the UK Clio Cup season. Race one which follows qualifying is on the Saturday (4.00pm) with race two – being broadcast live by ITV4 – on Sunday (1.25pm).
The opening six rounds of 2016 have produced four different winners: Finesse Motorsport’s Paul Streather (Hinckley); Team Cooksport’s Lee Pattison (Scholes); JamSport’s Ant Whorton-Eales (Lichfield) and WDE Motorsport’s Paul Rivett (Epsom Downs). However it could have been five had Team Pyro’s Mike Bushell (Tunbridge Wells), winner on the road at Thruxton, not paid the price for exceeding track limits.
Bushell’s penalty gifted Whorton-Eales a second victory at the Hampshire circuit and in fact ‘AWE’ has now won three times so far this season, yet finds himself back in fourth in the standings – so wide open is the championship proving this year.
Arriving at Oulton the order is three-time Champion Rivett, 2014 title-winner Bushell (still without a win), local favourite Pattison, Whorton-Eales and Streather. Just 27 points cover this five with a possible maximum of 68 on offer from Oulton’s two races, rounds seven and eight of 18. Notably the next three up – Ciceley Motorsport’s Max Coates (Scorton), Pyro’s Josh Price (Redbourn) and WDE’s Charles Ladell (Bury St Edmunds) – are also within striking range of the lead in Cheshire…
Ciceley (an off-shoot of the Lancs team’s BTCC operation) and Coates have stunned in their debut UK Clio Cup season. Price and Ladell are on confidence highs after career-first podiums at Thruxton and Donington Park respectively. Price is also pushing Coates hard at the top of the Graduates Cup for young drivers in their first full season in the championship.
Look, too, to the fierce battle raging in the teams’ championship in which Pyro (thanks to Bushell’s and Price’s combined scores at Thruxton) holds a slender lead over WDE, Cooksport and co. as it looks to defend its title from 2015.
Newcomers PP Motorsport and Anton Spires (Buckingham) are another team-driver ‘combo’ worth watching at Oulton after stunning with sixth and fifth-place results last time out at Thruxton.
Finesse’s Ecomotive-backed Daniel Rowbottom (Kidderminster) – on pole at Brands Hatch for his UK Clio Cup debut – is surely due similar results as are a host of other names. Look no further than Pyro’s David Dickenson (Wicklow) and BMR-backed team-mate Senna Proctor (Driffield), Ciceley’s Dan Zelos (Dereham) and Ollie Pidgley (Salisbury), Cooksport’s George Jackson (Bedford) and Rory Collingbourne (Newport, Gwent), JamSport’s Luke Kidsley (Northampton) and 20Ten’s Sam Watkins (Swansea).
Finesse has confirmed that, following his Thruxton return, 2014 British GT4 champion Jake Giddings (Wisbech) will again be in its third car. After missing Thruxton due to exams, Rory Green (Hildenborough) re-appears with the WDE squad while JamSport’s ever-enthusiastic Graham Field (Southwell) completes the 21-car entry at a circuit where in 2015 he achieved his first win in the Masters Cup class for older drivers.