Pole position qualifier Alex Morgan (Reading) delivered a superb lights-to-flag victory at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit this afternoon, Saturday, 29th March, to take an early championship lead in the Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup.
Having annexed top of the grid starting slots for both of the weekend’s races at the 1.2-mile Kent track during this morning’s qualifying session, the SV Racing driver continued his tremendous start to 2014 with a richly deserved success. The victory also meant Morgan makes a little piece of Clio Cup history as the first race winner on UK soil in the new, turbo-powered fourth generation car.
“To start the 2014 season with a win is unbelievable”, said the points leader, “When it all came down to it, I managed to do the job in qualifying to get pole position for both races – I’ve always been told that’s the hard bit. With the grid being so close, you’ve got to get a clean getaway and if you lead at turn one you can control the race after that.
“We had a strict plan not to over-drive the car to start with and we know the new Clio generates a large tow, so even if you’re two or three tenths faster than someone they can gain it back on the straight. We managed to pull a gap later on in the race and it all worked out well. All in all, I couldn’t have wished for a better start.”
Although ultimately taking the chequered flag 4.6 seconds clear of Team Pyro’s Rob Smith (Telford), the victory was by no means a formality. Smith was a constant thorn in Morgan’s side until just after mid-distance when an unfortunate slow puncture meant the Pyro driver’s challenge faded, having been within just a few tenths of a second of the leader up to that point.
Lining-up fourth on the grid, a career best qualifying performance, Smith made an outstanding start and managed to surge into second place around the outside of team-mate Mike Bushell (Tunbridge Wells) at Paddock Hill Bend with a fantastic move.
Even though battling with a troublesome right-front tyre late on, Smith managed to maintain second place to secure his maiden podium in the Renault UK Clio Cup as well as his first ever Graduate Cup class victory.
“I’m over the moon, can’t believe it, I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season”, said Smith on his second place finish, “I got an amazing start to the race, got the car hooked-up and just thought I’d hang it out around the outside and it seemed to work.
“I was keeping pace with Alex [Morgan] really well and thought I might have been able to pull a bit of a move on him later on, but at half distance I ran a bit wider than normal at Graham Hill Bend and at Surtees the car wouldn’t turn in which must have been the puncture. If I can get another good launch tomorrow we should be fighting for the podium again, and maybe even a win.”
The tussle for the final podium slot turned into a six car battle as the race wore on but, despite immense pressure, SV Racing’s Josh Cook (Bath) managed to make his Clio impossibly wide to begin the year with some incredibly hard-earned silverware.
Although Bushell held third at the exit of Paddock Hill Bend after being passed by Smith, his Clio got slightly out of shape and the delay enabled Cook – up from sixth on the grid – to slice past into the top three. As Bushell got his car pointing back in the right direction, WDE Motorsport’s Paul Rivett (Banstead) had to lift off the throttle to avoid a heavy collision which resulted in a costly spin.
Fortunately able to recover to the track without damage, the three-time champion lost too much time to be able to make an impression on the upper order. He did, though, work his way back into 11th position and, most pleasingly for Rivett, confirmed his pace with the fastest lap of the race.
Behind Cook and Bushell at the chequered flag, JHR Developments’ Lee Pattison (Scholes) – the Masters Cup class winner – Westbourne Motorsport’s James Colburn (Worthing), 20 Ten Racing’s Jordan Stilp (Potterspury) and Westbourne’s Devon Modell (Maidstone) were nose to tail. SV Racing duo Ash Hand (Nuneaton) and Ant Whorton-Eales (Lichfield) rounded out the top 10.
“I’ve had easier races”, said third placed Cook, “We had a problem in qualifying, I was third quickest in the first sector but then losing three and a half tenths at Surtees. We got the car back to where we wanted it for the race but at the start I got a knock, which bent the axle I think, so I was fighting a losing battle the whole way round. I managed to keep Bushell behind but my tyres were shot!”
Round two of the 2014 Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup, which Alex Morgan will start from pole position, will take place at 15.30 tomorrow, Sunday, 30th March, and will be screened live on Freeview, digital satellite and cable channels ITV4 and ITV4 HD. Online streaming will be carried 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.