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Three-way Graduates Cup title showdown highlights grid’s young talent

The Renault UK Clio Cup’s Graduates Cup title will come down to a tantalising three-way fight in Brands Hatch’s final rounds this weekend – a reminder that this year’s championship has attracted more up and coming young talent than ever before…
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Nathan Harrison, James Dorlin, Jack McCarthy – one of these will win the crown and add their name to a trophy alongside such as current British Touring Car stars Ashley Sutton and Josh Cook…

Team Pyro’s Harrison holds the upper hand – he has a 14-point advantage over Westbourne Motorsport’s Dorlin.

Bear in mind though that gap had been 31 points prior to the two most recent rounds at Silverstone where Dorlin took a pair of maximum scores – one of them with an outright win.

McCarthy, also with Pyro, is the outsider on his home circuit. He will arrive at Brands Hatch (where he starred on his debut in the spring) third in the table some 40 points adrift of leader Harrison. It means he needs the cards to fall in his favour in race one on Saturday if he’s still to have a chance in Sunday’s final round in which there will only be 32 still available…

A quick glance shows that Dorlin would steal it if he were to achieve two more maximums at Brands Hatch and Harrison took a pair of thirds in class (they would tie on points but the Westbourne driver would edge it on number of Graduates Cup wins during the season – he has seven compared to his Pyro rivals’ four each).

The Graduates Cup – for drivers aged under 23 (as of 1 April) and in their first UK Clio Cup season and which runs to its own points-scoring system – has unearthed some truly outstanding talent in 2017. More so in fact than in any single season before…

That is borne out not only by the intense ending to this year’s Graduates Cup title fight but by some terrific performances elsewhere.

Bradley Burns and fellow 16-year-old newcomer Zak Fulk have  taken to the category like ducks to water since joining the grid with Pyro at Rockingham where both were quickly on the front-running pace.

At Silverstone, Burns shone in particular with a stand-out drive from 17th to tenth in perilously wet conditions in race one before going on to set a new UK Clio Cup lap record around the Northants venue’s National circuit in race two. For much of it he ran as part of an eight-car train fighting for the lead…

Each could prove to be a real thorn in the sides of ‘title trio’ Harrison, Dorlin and McCarthy this weekend as could another of the championship’s emerging young stars Aaron Thompson.

First time out with Ciceley Motorsport, the 18-year-old will be eager to end his season on a high and show that a fourth in qualifying at Oulton Park and top ten results outright at both Croft and Snetterton were no flukes…

Also interesting is the cross-section of categories that the 11 drivers in all to have competed in the Graduates Cup in 2017 have previously contested, these ranging from Ford Fiesta Juniors, Ginetta Juniors, international karting, Michelin Clio Cup Series, MINI Challenge, Mini Miglia and production and modified saloon cars.

Further underlining the Graduates Cup’s competitiveness, at some stage during the season all 11 have managed at least one podium result in the class…