Reflections: why early season form guide is blowing 'budget mind games' out of water

Paul Rivett’s and Max Coates’s performances at Brands Hatch – which left them leading the standings arriving at Donington Park this weekend – were ‘living proof’ of how major success in the Renault UK Clio Cup is possible on a relatively modest budget…
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Rivett’s first proper taste of the new-for-2018 slick Michelin race tyre came in Saturday’s qualifying session at Brands after a glitch with his car had cut short his free practice on the Friday. His only running prior to that – in wet conditions – had been March’s Media Day test.

OK, Rivett is a three-time Champion but still he knew he was on the so-called back foot against yet another first rate Clio Cup entry list.

Fifth and sixth on the two grids – followed up by first and second in the two races – underlined his excellent race craft but were also further evidence of how swiftly a classy driver with a well-prepared team can be on the pace in a championship renowned for giving its competitors equal machinery…

Ditto Coates’s results: pole position and second fastest in qualifying; fifth in race one after challenging Rivett for the win; then victory in race two.

Coates has joined the crack Team Pyro squad but still he went into Brands Hatch without the pre-season mileage some of his team-mates had enjoyed. Arriving there his running had been limited to Media Day’s wet test and then a single day at the Kent venue in late March.

Coates said: “That says a lot for the nature of the championship… the technical support and scrutineering is very, very good which keeps the cars very evenly matched which is what it’s supposed to be. As a one-make series the parity between cars is second to none.

“Sure, some people choose to throw bigger sums of money at it just because they can but I’m now in my third season of Clio Cup racing and the level of success we have had has shown it’s not all about loads of testing miles.

“We’re at a semi-professional level of racing here and the inevitable mind games start and ‘spending more’ is a blind alley some people end up going down.

“My first season (2016) cost about £80,000 – I’d say if you have between £80,000-£100,000 then you are going to be in very decent shape and able to fight for podiums and wins.

“I’m not being blasé… £80k is a lot of money in anyone’s book, but when you put things into context –  the exposure, marketing value, the return – then people are suddenly more interested in investing.”

“Team fees vary but all the other figures are out there. It’s pretty transparent – championship registration is about £19,000, a season’s tyre bill is £15,000-£20,000, insurance is about £10k, fuel £3k and then you need approximately £5k to keep the car up to date and a contingency for accident damage.

“You might want to buy the car brand new (about £41,000 +VAT) and the beauty of that is they don’t depreciate much in value. Or you could hire one from a team for about £15k for the season. The alternative is to run one yourself which, with a bit of knowledge and some infrastructure, costs between £15,000 and £20,000.”

Rivett is in 100% agreement with Coates and, having raced in the championship since 2001 and played a team management/co-ordinator role along the way, is quick to dismiss any suggestion that money guarantees success.

“Some people from other series have been bandying some utterly ridiculous figures about,” he explained. “Sure, you can go and do a lot of testing for that but, in all my time in the Clio Cup, I’ve yet to see anyone do that and then turn up and win.

“I’m a firm believer that you learn a lot more in a race weekend than in three test days. You simply do not need to do endless testing and throw tyres at it. This is not that kind of championship and Renault has done a great job in keeping things in check for its teams and drivers in that respect.

“People might say ‘oh, Rivett, he’s bound to do well even without any testing’ but that is just nonsense. If you can drive and your team is well prepared then you will get on with it very quickly – look at Nathan Edwards who drove for WDE at Brands; next to no testing pre-season, on a really tight budget, and he’s almost in the top ten in race two.

“Or even Jade (Edwards) with MRM – a really late deal with a small team on the eve of the event, she’s been out of a car for six months and bang – she’s there inside the top ten.

“Two more of my team-mates, Lee (Pattison) and Dan (Zelos) also went to Brands with no real running and were on the pace all weekend.”

Rivett signs off with something of a shocking fact. “The reliability of these cars is off the scale and so is how competitive they remain even several years into their life.

“Here I am leading the championship with no real testing before Brands and with a car and engine that date back to late 2015. Go and find me another one-make series where you can do that…”