James Colburn and Alex Morgan shared the spoils on the opening weekend of the 2013 Renault UK Clio Cup at a bitterly cold Brands Hatch.
Colburn returned to the top step of the podium for the first time in eleven months with victory in the opening race, before series debutant Morgan produced a flawless drive to take the win in the live televised encounter.
It was Colburn’s Westbourne Motorsport outfit who had got the upper hand in a close qualifying session, with Colburn and his team-mate Mike Bushell sharing the poles, the latter at the front for the opening race.
A slow start for the pole-sitter saw him drop to third, with Colburn leading briefly before Josh Cook stormed past at Surtees, though the action was soon halted with the introduction of the safety car, after a start-line accident that included Simon Belcher, Ronnie Klos, Tautvydas Barstys and Josh Wakefield.
From the restart, the front three started to edge away, with Cook leading over half of the race until a slide at Graham Hill Bend, caused by his foot getting caught under his brake pedal, allowed Colburn to seize the advantage.
The 21 year old led the remainder of the race to secure his fourth career Clio Cup win at the scene of his first in 2011, with Cook fending off Bushell to take second place for series returnees JHR Developments.
“It went really well, a great first win of the season,” a delighted Colburn told TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk. “We got a great start off the line into the lead, but everyone knew going into Graham Hill for the first time that we were going to be sideways and I did, so Josh [Cook] got the run on me. Luckily later on he did the same thing, so I got it back and pulled away, so we’re happy.”
Behind them, an eight car battle had developed for fourth. Fighting his way through the field from twelfth on the grid to hold the spot for the majority of the race was Stefan Hodgetts, however after already receiving a 5 second penalty for the offence, continued exceeding of the track limits cost him a drive through penalty, which he went on to serve on the final lap causing another penalty of 7 seconds, leaving him eighteenth.
Benefitting from his misdemeanours to take fourth on his Clio debut was Morgan, with 2012 vice-champion Paul Rivett taking a battling sixth ahead of Ant Whorton-Eales, Jake Giddings and Aaron Williamson, with Ash Hand completing the top ten ahead of his experienced Pyro team-mate Josh Files.
The drama in the second race started before the lights had gone out, with an unfortunate spin for Cook on the run round to the grid seeing his race end in the barriers on the Cooper Straight.
After his car was cleared up, the race began, with elevated grid at Brands once again catching out the pole-sitter, with Colburn slipping to second behind Morgan. Once again the safety car was introduced at the end of the opening lap though, after Bushell and Klos made trips into the Paddock Hill gravel, the latter unable to recover after contact from Hand.
When racing resumed, Morgan led off, with Colburn losing further ground to Rivett, while behind, Files made it past Whorton-Eales for fourth.
The race quickly developed into two four-car battles, one for first and one for fifth, the latter seeing Whorton-Eales heading Rob Smith, Hodgetts and Giddings. While both trains ran nose-to-tail throughout the race, there would prove to be no more changes of position.
This was in part down to a fantastic display from Morgan, the Clio Cup rookie holding off three-times series champion Rivett to secure victory on his first race meeting for four years. Colburn capped off a superb weekend with a second podium in third, with Files making up for a frustrating opening race in fourth.
“I couldn’t have asked for much more on my debut,” said a delighted Morgan. “After getting the lead into the first bend, I just plucked away, treated it like qualifying, and kept pushing and pushing. Rivett did fill my mirrors every lap, that did make it quite difficult, but luckily I didn’t put a foot wrong to give him a chance to get past.”
Behind Whorton-Eales, Smith, Hodgetts and Giddings, Bushell produced a strong recovery drive after his excursion into the gravel to take ninth, with Jordan Stilp rounding out the top ten.
In the Masters Cup meanwhile, Finlay Crocker took a pair of class wins, with Colburn securing both Graduate Class victories.
Colburn’s double podium gives the experienced Clio campaigner the early championship lead with 57 points, three ahead of Morgan, with Rivett completing the top three a further six points back.