With a new season comes a new chapter in the history of the Renault UK Clio Cup, as out goes the third-generation Clio racer, a loyal servant for the last seven years, to be replaced by the new turbo-charged 220bhp fourth-generation model.
While there may be a new car this year, there’s a number of familiar faces coming back to drive them, including six race-winners from 2013 who will be aiming to make history as the first champion of the new generation.
Leading the entry with a formidable line up of series returnees is SV Racing, formerly Scuderia Vittoria, who house KX Akademy quartet Alex Morgan, Ash Hand, Josh Cook and Ant Whorton-Eales, the first two joining the team from Team Pyro, Cook from JHR Developments.
Morgan in particular was one of the stars of last season, bursting onto the scene to win on his debut weekend with Pyro. Ten further top five finishes helped him to second in the final standings, and he’s arguably the pre-season title favourite this year.
Whorton-Eales enters his second season on the KX scheme hoping to join him in challenging for the title after carding his maiden win at Rockingham last year, while 2012 Graduate class champion Cook holds similar aspirations after a frustrating 2013 that ended on a high by winning the final round.
Hand meanwhile is a dark horse for a title push after being a regular top six finisher in his first campaign, a year capped off by a maiden podium finish at Rockingham in September.
While SV have the stand-out driver line-up for the new season, for any of them to win the title, they will have to overcome 2002, 2004 and 2011 Clio Cup champion Paul Rivett.
The 35 year old will line-up in a driver/team manager position with series newcomers WDE Motorsport targeting an unprecedented fourth title after a heart-breaking end to 2013, when an injury on the eve of the finale weekend abruptly ended his championship chances.
It won’t just be SV and Rivett in the mix though, and one thing we’ve learnt in recent times is that in the Clio Cup, the team to beat is reigning champions Team Pyro, who led the way in the third-generation years with five titles in the last six years, including Josh Files’ success last season.
They head into the new campaign with the benefit of a year’s experience with the new Clio under their belts too, having also led Files to last season’s Eurocup Clio title in the fourth-generation car.
Hoping to capitalise on all their experience for a title push are two third-year Clio competitors, team newcomers Mike Bushell and Rob Smith. Bushell joins the team after a mixed 2013, in which he took three podium finishes whilst changing teams twice, while Smith is hoping for an upturn in fortunes after taking just a single top six finish last time out.
Experienced Clio campaigner James Colburn meanwhile is back for his sixth successive campaign in the series with Westbourne Motorsport. After winning on the first and last weekends of 2013, he’s aiming for more regular successes and a first title challenge since 2011 this time out.
Joining Colburn at Westbourne is second year driver Devon Modell, who makes a late switch to the team after initially signing up with SV Racing. He took his maiden car-racing win in the end of season Clio Series ‘Autumn Cup’ event, and now wants to challenge for wins in the main championship.
Like Modell, another second year contender who could spring a surprise or two is Jordan Stilp. After a positive first season, the 19 year old is hoping for regular podium finishes this year at 20Ten Racing, where he’s joined by series newcomer Craig Milner, the former motorcycle racer hoping to challenge for Masters Cup honours this year.
To win the class title though he’ll not only have to overcome Rivett, who is eligible for the class for the first time, but also category regular Lee Pattison. The JHR Developments driver only missed out on the class title last season after being the innocent victim of contact in the final race, and returns with both the Masters Cup and the overall title in his sights.
Also hoping to be in the Masters Cup battle is former Renault champion Mark Howard. The 1993 Renault 5 ELF Turbo UK champion enters the championship with DRM Motorsport Solutions with recent experience in Radicals and the VW Cup under his belt.
While there may not be the quantity on the grid that series organisers hoped for with the new car, with thirteen drivers confirmed at the time of writing, there’s certainly the quality there to ensure the 2014 Renault UK Clio Cup, backed by new title sponsor Courier Connections, is going to be a truly fascinating, ultra-competitive spectacle.
The season commences at Brands Hatch this weekend, 29/30 March, with pre-event testing on Friday following by the first qualifying session of the season on Saturday at 11:20. Round One will follow later in the day at 16:25 with Round Two to be televised live on ITV4 on Sunday at 15:30.
The series will follow the British Touring Car Championship for all ten rounds this year, the first time since 2010 it will run over twenty rounds, returning to Brands Hatch for its final rounds in October.