Renault UK Clio Cup: 25 years of drama, unpredictability and star quality

Today officially marks 25 years since the first race was held for Renault UK’s Clio Cup motor racing championship.
  • anniversary-05.jpg
  • 172.jpg
  • Start.jpg (4)

The race took place at Leicestershire’s Donington Park circuit on 21 April 1991 – a Sunday that year. Its grid consisted of 25 race-tuned Clio 1.8 16Vs. Steve Waudby, driving for the Harlow Motorsport team, led all the way from pole position to win the race ahead of Mark Fish Vehicle Engineers’ Mark Fish and Automech Racing’s John Wadsworth.

To put into context how long ago 21 April 1991 feels, also on the grid was WHAM! pop star Andrew Ridgeley – he qualified 17th fastest but failed to complete the race. That same day at Donington, David Coulthard won the British Formula 3 Championship race for Paul Stewart Racing and Jason Plato took victory in the Formula Renault Euroseries round for Manor Motorsport. In the world of Formula 1, Ayrton Senna was already on his way to a third drivers’ title having won the season’s opening two grands prix in the USA and Brazil…

At the time the UK Clio Cup became the latest in a series of popular one-make saloon car racing championships used by Renault to promote its road-going models in Britain (in the Seventies it had been 5 TLs/TSs and in the Eighties the 5GT Turbo). Initially it ran until 1995 but was then ‘rested’ in favour of Renault’s open-topped Sport Spider sportscar which raced from 1996-99. By 2000, however, the Clio Cup was back with a capacity 32-car grid for the Clio Renaultsport 172 model. Other models to have been used since include the Clio Renaultsport 182, 197, 200 and, currently, the 220 Trophy.

For the past 16 years it has enjoyed an almost permanent home alongside the British Touring Car Championship and last weekend’s two races at Donington – in front of a giant trackside crowd and shown live on ITV4 – were typical of the excitement, drama and unpredictability that the UK Clio Cup has become famous for over the past quarter of a century.

Jeremy Townsend, Communications Director, Renault UK, enthuses: “Renault’s single-model racing categories were always a big hit with competitors and motor sport enthusiasts in the Seventies and Eighties but perhaps not even Renault believed just how popular the Clio would be. The fact it has stood the test of time over a quarter of a century and produced so many great racing talents speaks volumes for the quality and the following of the product. It has been an immensely successful marketing tool for Renault in terms of public image and we very much look ahead to the next exciting chapter in the UK Clio Cup’s history.”

Tim Jackson, Renault UK’s former PR Director and in charge of the manufacturer’s motor sport programmes in the Nineties (and now a non-executive director of the MSA), recalls: “The Clio was introduced as a road car into the UK in Spring 1991 and, as we found with the Laguna when we started racing that in the BTCC in 1994, it did a great deal of good in terms of potential interest and sales. Unfortunately there wasn’t a high performance Clio available at launch – the only high-performance cars were the ones in the UK Clio Cup, although people could clearly see what potential was.

“I remember it was the only championship which has received a round of applause from the crowd when the cars were still on the grid. We did have a hard act to follow in the 5GT Turbo which had packed grids already, but Clios took one-make racing to a different level.”

BTCC Series Director Alan Gow also has fond memories of the UK Clio Cup. He comments: “Renault’s impact on the British motor sport scene with its Clio model was highly significant. Suddenly the whole face of one-make saloon car racing changed and moved up to another level – a level which Renault Sport has perhaps like no other manufacturer been able to maintain for 25 years.

“Plus of course the Clio’s looks and the manner in which the championship was both presented and positioned alongside the BTCC also contributed greatly to Renault’s profile and popularity in the UK – suddenly huge numbers of public were buying Clios and it’s remained the same ever since.

“The UK Clio Cup also ranks right up there as one of the stand-out championships when it comes to producing the star drivers of the future in not just touring cars but also GT and sportscar competition. Look no further than Donington Park last weekend when its reigning champion Ashley Sutton qualified on pole position for only his second event in the BTCC with Josh Cook and Mat Jackson, both also out of the UK Clio Cup, lining up right behind him in second and third. It was a fitting tribute to what has always been and continues to be a real jewel in British motor sport’s crown.”

For ITV’s BTCC presenter David Addison, that event in April 1991 marked his first motor racing meeting as a commentator – he was handling the podium interviews. He says: “It was immediately clear this was going to be a very serious championship – the entry list was full of proper drivers and very well presented cars and to do well you were going to have to be a top talent. With that sort of calibre the racing was always going to be very spectacular too and so it proved – just as every one-make Renault championship has been since. It’s also fair to say there is an argument that Renault, a French manufacturer, has done more for motor sport in Britain than any British manufacturer.”

Renault Sport’s UK Motorsport Championship manager Will Fewkes adds: “Right now, without a doubt, the Renault UK Clio Cup is the best manufacturer-supported racing category in the land in terms of levels of professionalism, competition and following among the public. Renault really hit on something very special with the Clio in 1991, didn’t they?”

Meanwhile we’ll leave the last word with North Yorkshireman Steve Waudby, winner of that inaugural race at Donington and who today is still connected with the championship as a specialist in Sadev transmissions via his company SWR Motorsport.

Beginning with that win at Donington in 1991, he comments: “It was an easy win… or so I thought. I was miles ahead but in the final stages I started to suffer with a loss of engine power. I had to nurse it home to the line…

“I’d come from the 5GT Turbo and had loved that car so was perhaps a bit sceptical of the Clio but immediately it walked the walk and talked the talk. It was a great looking car with nice lines and which filled the arches and you really had to lean on it to wring the most from it. It also posed a challenge on the engineering front for teams and drivers which I believe to be important.

“It’s something that all other later models of the Clio have demanded, plus they have always looked fantastic cars. The current one based on the 220 Trophy has a very powerful engine and, coupled with a paddle shift sequential gearbox, it takes some beating… although the fundamentals behind Renault’s one-make racing philosophy of training and producing the best future talent remains.”

The 2016 Renault UK Clio Cup is already four rounds into its 18-round calendar following events with the BTCC at Brands Hatch and Donington Park. Next up is the fastest circuit of the season – Thruxton in Hampshire on Sat 7/Sun 8 May.