Cook conquers wet final round to secure first win of 2013

Renault UK Clio Cup front-runner Josh Cook (Bristol) overcame no fewer than three Safety Car periods at a rain-lashed Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit this afternoon, Sunday, 13th October, to sign-off the 2013 season with his first victory of the campaign during the final race of the year.

With continual rain and a very wet track surface making conditions challenging, it was no surprise to see several cars exploring the outer reaches of the circuit on the opening lap and JHR Developments racer Cook, who started in fifth position, profited.

Already moving into the top three after a fantastic start, Cook followed newly crowned champion Josh Files (Norwich) and pole-sitter James Colburn (Worthing) through Paddock Hill Bend and as the lead duo got out of shape two corners later, Cook sliced past into Surtees for the lead.

Building a slim advantage of 0.7 seconds by the start of lap three, the first Safety Car period was triggered following an excursion for Finlay Crocker (Bathgate) at the exit of Paddock Hill Bend which resulted in his Clio being stranded on the track.

Racing resumed on lap six with Cook leading MBR’s Mike Bushell (Tunbridge Wells), up from sixth at the start, and KX Racing with Scuderia Vittoria pairing Stefan Hodgetts (Redditch) and Ant Whorton-Eales (Lichfield) – the latter having put together an excellent first few laps from the fifth row.

Posting the fastest lap of the race on the sixth tour and then again on lap seven, Cook opened a one second lead over Bushell and the chasing pack but the action fell under caution once again on lap nine following a three-car incident at Druids.

As Luke Herbert (Chichester), Masters Cup class title contender Lee Pattison (Liversedge) and Ash Hand (Nuneaton) headed into the hairpin on lap eight, Hand made contact with the rear bumper of Pattison’s Clio which pushed the JHR car into Herbert’s SRC Recycling entry.

Hand was able to continue to an eventual top 10 finish, although he did receive post-race penalty points, but for Herbert and Pattison it was race over. For Pattison, it was a particularly disappointing outcome having fought back from a lap one excursion to scythe his way back into the Masters lead.

That wasn’t the end of the drama, though, and just as the race was about to resume on lap 11 Hodgetts’ Clio got slightly out of shape offline at Clark Curve and was tagged inadvertently by fourth placed Alex Morgan (Reading) – pitching Hodgetts into the barrier at the pit-lane entrance.

With no option other than to redeploy the Safety Car for a third time, the field circulated behind the Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC for a further lap before the chequered flag was shown at the end of the 12th tour.

Cook claimed the win, his fifth outright podium visit of the season, and also took the Graduate Cup victory in the process. In recognition of his efforts, added to his fifth place and fastest lap in round 15 on Saturday, 12th October, Cook was named the Driver of the Event.

“I knew the car had the pace, I knew we were quick and we’d shown good pace on Friday in the wet but today was a different day”, said Cook, “As soon as I managed to get into the lead it was head down, focus on what I was doing, but I had to keep an eye on [Mike] Bushell.

“I just had to maintain the gap, the Safety Cars then made that really difficult but the car was great and it all worked out. We’ve been raising money for the British Heart Foundation this weekend so we couldn’t have hoped for a better result – it’s great to end the season on such a high.”

Bushell finished in second place ahead of Whorton-Eales, their third and fourth podium finishes of the year respectively, while Morgan headed home team-mate Files and in doing so made sure of the Vice-Champion’s position in the overall standings to secure a championship one-two for Team Pyro.

Although the Safety Car interventions did impact the flow of the race, the action in between was fierce. Finesse Motorsport’s Jake Giddings (Wisbech) came through it all to round out the top six with Westbourne Motorsport’s pole-starter Colburn bundled down to seventh in the end.

Speaking on his deserved return to the podium, second placed Bushell commented: “It’s a shame I couldn’t have gone one better, if we hadn’t had so many Safety Cars I think I could have kept the heat in the tyres a bit more and maybe challenged [Josh] Cook. I’ve had a terrible year. It started so well with pole here on the Indy track at the start of the season so to end it on the podium is great.”

Third placed Whorton-Eales added: “It was a fantastic race, especially coming from ninth on the grid in conditions like we had where you can’t see anything down the straight apart from the two lights on the car in front. To slowly pick them off one by one and finish third is a great result. I’d love to be back on this package again next year in the new turbo Clio, I’d love to have a go in the new car.”

With the main championship title, the team trophy and the Graduate Cup class title all decided yesterday, only the Masters Cup battle needed to be resolved in round 16 and Pattison’s demise on lap eight gift-wrapped the class crown for 2012 winner Simon Belcher (Swindon).

Eventually finishing the race third in the Masters, behind Scuderia Vittoria’s Ronnie Klos (Market Harborough), Handy Motorsport with Pyro driver Belcher sealed the title by 31 points in the end from Pattison – having been only six points ahead going into the encounter.

“We made this hard work over the last couple of rounds”, said Belcher, “Yesterday I got absolutely beaten-up, I went away a little bit despondent but came back to the track today just planning to stay with the others in the Masters and keep it sensible. We were all together and then about halfway through, I saw [Lee] Pattison in the gravel and knew we’d done it – it’s fantastic to retain the title.”

After an unbelievably turbulent weekend on his return to the Renault UK Clio Cup, Martin Byford (Colchester) put a hefty qualifying accident and an unfortunate retirement from race one firmly behind him with an excellent performance from the back of the grid.

Starting in 24th and last place, the / Stancombe Vehicle Engineering driver – running as a replacement for the injured Paul Rivett (Banstead) – sliced his way through the order impressively to an eventual finish of 13th overall and a clear win in the Masters Cup.

“It hasn’t gone quite how I wanted it to, but to end the weekend with a strong race is good”, said the 2007 Renault UK Clio Cup Champion, “I knew it was in at the deep end, I relished the idea of being back and it was my own mistake in qualifying which put me at the back of the grid.

“Then, coming back through the field yesterday, I got turned round by someone and it was a big hit. Today’s race was all about trying to stay out of trouble, I knew we had pace in the wet but the lack of visibility did make things difficult. If I’d got it right in quali, I’m sure we could have been top six.”

Renault UK Clio Cup is sponsored by with support from ELF, NGK Spark Plugs, WP Racing and official tyre supplier Dunlop.

Provisional 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup Driver Standings:
CHAMPION: Josh Files, 384pts; 2nd Alex Morgan, 330pts; 3rd Paul Rivett, 304pts

Provisional 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup WP Racing Clio Cup Team Trophy Standings:
CHAMPIONS: Team Pyro, 742pts; 2nd Scuderia Vittoria, 627pts; 3rd JHR Developments, 508pts

Provisional 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup ‘Graduate Cup’ Standings:
CHAMPION: Josh Files, 430pts; 2nd James Colburn, 372pts; 3rd Josh Cook, 354pts

Provisional 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup ‘Masters Cup’ Standings:
CHAMPION: Simon Belcher, 376pts; 2nd Lee Pattison, 345pts; 3rd Graham Field, 345pts