Harder, better, faster, stronger... 2017 Renault UK Clio Cup season preview

Having already revealed its biggest entry list for an opening round in five years, the Renault UK Clio Cup is now just over a week away from the start of its 2017 season at Kent’s famous Brands Hatch circuit (Sat 1/Sun 2 April) and many are predicting it could turn out to be the best yet...
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Twenty four entries have been received to date for the new season – they include six drivers to have already won races in the championship, two of them former Champions. Twelve drivers in total are new to the category. At least 15 have won races or titles in other highly competitive forms of motorsport.

There are also two changes to the UK Clio Cup’s sporting regulations for 2017 which may add further to the drama and unpredictability and make life that little bit harder for the drivers. These are a switch to faster, more durable Michelin tyres and a new points system meaning results from all 18 races will now count (the ‘two-dropped-scores’ rule having been abandoned).

It all adds up to yet more irresistible viewing on ITV4 – the free-to-air channel will be showing live coverage of Sunday’s action along with the opening rounds of the British Touring Car Championship – plus plenty of excitement trackside among an anticipated 40,000-strong crowd.

A number of locals will be seeking glory in the season’s opening two rounds around Brands Hatch’s short, undulating Indy circuit which offers spectators one of the best views of the bumper-to-bumper action all season…

At a glance: the teams & drivers
Ashford based WDE Motorsport threw an early first punch by topping the recent official pre-season Media Day test – new signings Lee Pattison and Paul Streather first and third fastest overall after a hard day’s running at the Rockingham circuit in Northamptonshire. Notably Pattison and Streather were the winners of last year’s opening rounds on the Brands Indy configuration.

The team also has triple Champion Paul Rivett plus Dan Zelos in its line-up. Rivett has won an unrivalled 12 times around Brands Indy and is also the circuit’s race lap record holder…

Mike Bushell is hoping for a change of luck at his home track. While it was at Brands that he clinched the crown in 2014 he has never won a race there and last October, in the season finale, he suffered the heartbreak of losing out on a second title to eventual Champion Ant Whorton-Eales when the pair controversially clashed along the circuit’s Cooper Straight.

Bushell leads the Team Pyro attack, joined by Ollie Pidgley, 16-year-old European karting sensation Jack McCarthy and two more young newcomers, Kyle Hornby and Cameron Roberts.

Ciceley Motorsport, among the top teams in the BTCC, is entering its second season in the UK Clio Cup with Max Coates – an excellent third outright for the Lancashire concern in his debut season in 2016 – sure to be a title contender. Team-mates Luke Reade, Sam Osborne and Jade Edwards are contesting the UK Clio Cup for the first time – Edwards, who recently featured on ITV’s Drive programme as instructor to comedian Johnny Vegas, is the daughter and grand-daughter of former one-make Renault racing champions Jim Edwards Jnr and Jim Edwards Snr.

JamSport Racing, which won 2016’s title with Whorton-Eales, has drafted in exciting newcomers Nathan Harrison, Aaron Thompson and Lucas Orrock to uphold honour as well as keen enthusiast Graham Field.

The driver who split Messrs Pattison and Streather in pre-season testing is another potential star in the making, James Dorlin – he lines up for Westbourne Motorsport, with which he won last year’s Michelin Clio Cup Series. Myles Collins could prove equally rapid while London-based Italian Ambrogio Perfetti and Swiss Oscar Rovelli also join the West Sussex outfit.

Westbourne will be heavily involved as well with the single-car PP Motorsport entry for James Colburn  who is expected to be right in among the leading contenders – he was championship runner-up in 2011.

Daniel Rowbottom and Shayne Deegan should also be towards the front with their small but effective DRM and SDR Motorsport outfits respectively. Each has done plenty of winning in other categories and Rowbottom, remarkably, qualified on pole position for his UK Clio Cup debut at Brands Hatch Indy 12 months ago…

When to watch
The UK Clio Cup drivers will first be on track at Brands Hatch on the Friday (31 March) for two timed test sessions – this will enable them to fine-tune their cars to the circuit’s characteristics. Then on Saturday it’s the first qualifying session of the new season (11.25am-11.55am) followed by the opening race of 2017 (20 laps at 4.25pm). Race two (round two) is on the Sunday (again 20 laps, at 1.20pm).

It falls right in among all the bill-topping BTCC action and is therefore being shown live on ITV4 which is covering the event non-stop from 10.15am-6.15pm that day (the racing will also be live-streamed on itv.com).