A bumper field of aspiring touring car racers took to the Brands Hatch Circuit for the final pre-season testing for the AirAsia Renault Clio UK Cup yesterday. The 2012 season bursts into life for the first two rounds at the Kent circuit next weekend (31 March/1 April).
A healthy field of 23 drivers enjoyed the warm and sunny conditions at the media day and with the possibility of more championship contenders to come filling the grid 2012 is set to be yet another sensational, action-a-plenty year.
Defending champions Stancombe Vehicle Engineering, who clinched the title last season at the final round are set to do battle with rally graduate and new to circuitracing, Adam Gould (Bristol), who drove his Clio for the first time on the shorter Brands Hatch Indy layout making the move look seamless, ending the day an impressive fifteenth in the times.
Reigning three-time Champion Paul Rivett (Banstead) was present at the track coaching the newcomer but has yet to declare his plans for the year.
Middlesex based Scuderia Vittoria returns to the paddock for their second year running four cars with a strong chance of a six-car line-up for the season opener. Three of their fresh-faced newcomers are Scottish Mini and Legend converts Vic Covey (East Lothian), Finlay Crocker (West Lothian) and Ronnie Klos (MarketHarborough). All of which completed the day within the top ten.
Some familiar faces remain for 2012, including three of the five title challengers of last season. Debut winners James Colburn (Worthing), returns with Westbourne Motorsport, while Jack Goff (High Wycombe) remains with Team Pyro for a third consecutive season.
Jack provided an impressive display setting the second quickest time of the day and highest placed Rookie. Josh Files (Norwich) and Adam Bonham (Kibworth), both just off Jacks pace concluded the day third and fourth respectively. Swedish rookie Kim Andersson, who we first saw in the Finals Series at Rockingham during the winter, completes the Team Pyro team boosting their attacking field.
Brands Hatch local man, James Dixon (Maidstone), leaves the Total Control Racing team to drive for the Scuderia Vittoria team, led by Tom Ferrier and Danny Buxton. Dixon heads into his home event as one of the title favourites and impressed in testing topping the days’ timesheets.
“It’s great to be back in the car and to finish the day on top of the sheet,” he said. “There is a long way to go and still more to come. It will be a close season yet again and I’m looking forward to the first round.”
Dixon is joined on the grid by Nicolas Hamilton (Tewin) younger brother of 2008 Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton. After a promising debut season Nic, returns with TCR and showed his improved confidence concluding the day eighth in the day’s classifications.
Darren Wilson (Newark) is another driver returning to the series in 2012 with his 20Ten Racing team alongside Josh Cook (Bath) who is back in action and straight up to sixth position on the timesheets.
2012 has opened the door for a handful of fresh new faces. Westbourne Motorsport are fielding new boys Ant Whorton-Eales (Lichfield) and William Davison (Salisbury), who both partner James Colburn (Worthing).
Simon Belcher (Swindon) will also begin his first full season in the series with Handy Motorsport with Pyro. Having debuted in the Renault World Series at Silverstone last year, he will be piloting the black Karcher backed car this year.
Aside from the new faces, 2012 also brings in a number of new teams, Lithuanian Juta Racing, a name more familiar with the Porsche Carrera Cup have brought a two-car line-up with Lithuanian driver pairing, Tautvydas Barstys and IgnasGelzinis.
Another new team, but with two familiar names behind the wheel, are Finesse Motorsport. Jake Giddings (Wisbech) and Aaron Williamson (Holbeach) who have made the move to the Clio Cup for 2012 having competed in the Ginetta series last year. Eyes will be on Williamson in particular, as he impressed in his outing in the Final Series at Rockingham.
Rounding out the grid are self-titled entry team Mike Bushell (Tonbridge Wells), Silver Fox Racing with driver Mark Tilbury (Whitstable) and team-mate to Hamilton at TCR, Rob Smith (Telford).
The AirAsia Clio Cup UK will be in action twice during the Brands hatch weekend, with the opening 20 lap encounter due to start at 16.45 on Saturday, with the second race on Sunday afternoon at 15.00.
Clio Cup action will feature in the live ITV broadcast of the opening rounds of the new BTCC season, which will air on ITV4 and ITV4 HD from Sunday morning throughout the day and will also be available on www.itv.com.
In addition, the Sunday race will be available to view online through the Renault Sport website following the weekend’s action.
Test Times – Classification
1. James DIXON Scuderia Vittoria 52.055
2. Jack GOFF Team Pyro 52.098
3. Josh FILES Team Pyro 52.158
4. Adam BONHAM Team Pyro 52.171
5. James COLBURN Westbourne Motorsport 52.259
6. Josh COOK 20Ten Racing 52.394
7. Ant WHORTON-EALES Westbourne Motorsport 52.484
8. Nic HAMILTON Total Control Racing 52.496
9. Jake GIDDINGS Finesse Motorsport Ltd 52.519
10. Kim ANDERSSON Team Pyro 52.525
11. Rob SMITH Total Control Racing 52.526
12. Aaron WILLIAMSON Finesse Motorsport Ltd 52.573
13. William DAVISON Westbourne Motorsport 52.680
14. Mike BUSHELL Mike Bushell 52.784
15. Adam GOULD Stancombe Vehicle Engineering 52.921
16. Finlay CROCKER Scuderia Vittoria 52.979
17. Vic COVEY Scuderia Vittoria 52.987
18. Ronnie KLOS Scuderia Vittoria 53.015
19. Ignas GELZINIS Juta Racing 53.145
20. Darren WILSON 20Ten Racing 53.357
21. Mark TILBURY Silver Fox Racing 53.582
22. Tautvydas BARSTYS Juta Racing 54.556
23. Simon BELCHER Handy Motorsport with Pyro 55.148