Top ten season review: No.2 Mike Bushell – so near, yet so far

People will forever point to the very last race of 2016’s Renault UK Clio Cup and say: “That’s where Mike Bushell lost the title.” But the former Champion disagrees and points to a number of other moments during the season from which he still takes great personal pride…
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After a spell in British Touring Cars, Bushell was back with Team Pyro – his title-winning squad from 2014 – and, before the games had even begun, was being touted by some as a certainty for the crown.

What nobody predicted perhaps was the intense level of rivalry that would unfold with Ant Whorton-Eales. Nor that it would take Bushell five races to achieve his first pole position or first podium result of the year.

That came at Thruxton where he’d out-qualifiy the rest by the almost impossible margin of a second for both races. Third and second places in the races, then, were something of a disappointment.

“Maybe there was a bit of complacency that I’d be quick out of the blocks,” he recalls. “I was driving what I was given and I drive differently to Ashley Sutton and Ash Hand. We were only lacking a few tenths of a second per lap but in this game that makes all the difference. When we figured out which way to go we turned it around were on pole position for just about every race after that!

“Thruxton… it looked finally like the first win was going to happen in race two. Four and a half seconds in the lead with just a few laps to go and I get given a five second penalty for track limits. I could not believe it – I wasn’t driving any differently to how I’d driven in qualifying. It was as unlucky as it gets in my book.”

It wouldn’t be the only time Bushell would cross the line first on the road only to be relegated to second in the result – on each occasion behind Whorton-Eales.

“Silverstone... I followed Ant all the way but it is so hard to pass around there on that lay-out. But I still decided to go for it. It was a pushy move and it got me past but when we crossed the line I knew it would probably get looked at. It was annoying but I won’t go into it here…”

By that stage of the season it was clear, barring disasters, that it would either be Bushell or Whorton-Eales who would be Champion in 2016. Bushell had by now managed three wins – at Oulton Park when there was a skirmish between him and Whorton-Eales; at Snetterton where he utterly decimated the opposition; and at Rockingham where he soaked up hairdryer-like pressure from an ever-present Paul Rivett.

He was also very much the king of qualifying and would end the season with a staggering 12 pole positions. Nobody else got more than two. To underline just how dominant the Kent racer became in qualifying, consider that the first of his poles did not come until round five, at Thruxton. In other words, his 12 poles were achieved inside 14 races (rounds five to 18)...

Bushell continues: “You’d probably say a few points here and a few points there in the first two meetings at Brands Hatch Indy and Donington Park and the two wins that were taken away from me… that might have tipped the balance between Ant and I.

“But if I was to pick one moment I’d say the first of the two races on finals weekend on the Brands Hatch GP circuit; not the second.

“I made an error all on my own and span off behind the safety car. I have never done that before in my life and it was a shame the safety car had actually come out as, up until that point, I’d started closing on Ant and Paul (Rivett) in front at two seconds per lap! It was very unfortunate and you do think what could have been…”

Ultimately though Bushell feels his decision to step back from the BTCC and return to his UK Clio Cup roots was fully vindicated.

“I believe it was a great move to come back into the UK Clio Cup,” he says. “It wasn’t financially possible for me to continue in touring cars plus, in Clios, it is very level. There’s a bit of set-up work involved, as there should be, but there are less variables to contend with so it comes down more to the driver I feel.

“To be quick in a single-make series as good as this… I find that more satisfying. It’s what I needed coming back from tourers. And to be honest I love driving the things – when I shook Ciceley’s new car down at the end of 2015 it just felt so good.

“It’s disappointing not to come away with another title but you can look back to a lot of very good drivers who’ve missed out on the title in the past. My single lap pace in qualifying was also pretty enviable for the others and, when I look back to when I first started in 2012, I’d have given anything just to be half as successful as this…”