The 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup is shaping up to be one of the most competitive seasons the championship has ever seen, with a grid of over twenty cars featuring over a dozen potential race-winners.
This year’s champion will go down in the history books as the final driver to win the title in the third-generation Clio, which will be replaced by the new turbocharged fourth-gen car next year. The champion’s prize fund will include a BTCC test with Motorbase Performance.
Front-running outfit Scuderia Vittoria lead the entry list with a mammoth seven-car squad, led by 2007 Clio Cup runner-up Stefan Hodgetts. The 31 year old took four wins in an impressive part-campaign last year, meaning he’s now secured race wins in the series in four of the last six seasons (2010 and 2011 aside).
The former BTCC racer may finally get the chance to secure the coveted championship title this season, though once again he may not complete the full championship, with a deal to compete in the GT4 class of the British GT Championship leading to two weekend clashes in his diary.
Hodgetts will be joined in the Scuderia Vittoria line-up by two more KX-backed racers, second year driver Ant Whorton-Eales and series newcomer Jake Hill.
Both are potential title contenders, with Whorton-Eales taking a pair of podiums in the first full season in the series last year, while Hill joins the championship with race-winning experience in Ginetta Juniors and both classes of the Ginetta GT Supercup.
They’ll be joined by the One- Call Insurance-backed duo of Ronnie Klos and Finlay Crocker, who will once again be in the mix for the Masters Cup honours in their second season, while also looking to make an impact on the overall podium.
Alongside Hill, the team will also be running two more Clio Cup rookies who will be looking to shine. Josh Wakefield joins Hill in making the move into the Clio’s from the Ginetta GT Supercup, while former karting champion Devon Modell will make his car-racing debut after a few years away from the sport.
Reigning champions Team Pyro once again bring a strong line-up into the series with a five-pronged attack. Josh Files will be their best bet for regaining the championship, with the third year driver hoping to secure some long-awaited race wins and challenge for the title, alongside a campaign in the new Eurocup Renault Clio series.
Alongside the overall driver’s championship, Pyro are also looking to regain the Masters Cup honours this season, with Simon Belcher returning to defend his crown. The former Legends racer will once again run under a joint-effort from Pyro and his own team Handy Motorsport.
The team will also be running a trio of series newcomers, Alex Morgan, James Nutbrown and Ash Hand. Morgan and Nutbrown join with single-seater experience, the former having competed in Formula Renault across the UK and Europe before taking a break from the sport in 2008, the latter joining from the InterSteps championship. Hand meanwhile will make his car-racing debut after a successful karting career, with all three aiming to make an impact on the series.
Returning to the series after a season away are JHR Developments, the 2010 series runners up being led by reigning Rookie Cup champion Josh Cook. The Bristonian has his eyes firmly on the overall title this year, having taken two wins on his way to fifth in the overall standings in 2012.
Category stalwarts Westbourne Motorsport will be bringing an expanded four-car squad into the series this year, once again led by the experienced James Colburn. The 20 year old cannot be counted out of the title picture, as although he didn’t have the best 2012 campaign, he produced a title challenge in 2011, something he’ll be looking to replicate this year.
Joining him at the team full-time is Mike Bushell, with the second year driver being a dark horse for a title challenge, having been a regular top ten finisher, with one podium finish, last season, having run as a privateer for much of the year before joining Westbourne for the final few races.
Alongside them, Malta-born Jacques Mizzi will be making his UK race debut with the team, while Jordan Stilp joins the series as the reigning Ma5da MX5 Cup vice-champion.
Total Control Racing are another of the big-name teams competing in the series again this year, with the team led by second year driver Rob Smith. The 20 year old broke into the top ten a few times last season and he will be hoping to push forwards in 2013.
Also returning to the series for a second year is Aaron Williamson, who took a podium on the opening weekend last season before leaving five weekends in to go on and make his BTCC debut. The 2011 Ginetta G50 Cup runner-up will compete this time round with his own team, Team AWR.
Joining Smith and Williamson as second year drivers are Jake Giddings, Ignas Gelzinis and Tautvydas Barstys. Giddings returns with FML looking to build on a best finish of eighth last season, while Lithuanian duo Gelzinis and Barstys are back with the Juta Racing, Gelzinis in particular being one to watch after securing a top ten championship finish last season.
Completing the grid for the season opener is Graham Field, who will be running with 20Ten Racing having made his debut with the team in the final rounds of 2012.
With at least a dozen potential race-winners and rumours circulating about a potential return for reigning champion Paul Rivett, the 2013 Clio Cup is shaping up to be absolute classic, and is sure to provide a suitable send-off for the current generation Clio racer.
The season kicks off at Brands Hatch next weekend, 30/31 March, with the series taking in eight weekends and sixteen races, finishing back in Kent on 12/13 October.
*The Checkered Flag will be providing in-depth coverage of the Renault UK Clio Cup throughout 2013, including race reports from every round, driver interviews, features and more.*
All photos: Jakob Ebrey Photography