Josh Cook leads the way ten races into the eighteen round 2014 Renault UK Clio Cup season, the SV Racing with KX racer holding a fifteen point lead at the head of a six man championship fight.
The first season for the UK series with the fourth-generation turbocharged racers has been a mixed affair so far, with the characteristic superb, action-packed Clio racing retained with the new cars, albeit unfortunately with only a small grid of thirteen or fourteen cars.
The fourth-generation era of the championship started particularly well for the SV Racing team, with double wins on the opening two weekends at Brands Hatch and Donington Park for Alex Morgan and Cook respectively, the second meeting seeing the team card a special one-two-three-four finish.
While the SV team may have dominated early proceedings, it’s been all change in the last three outings with the other teams in the paddock rising to the challenge, with Team Pyro, Westbourne Motorsport and 20Ten Racing scoring race wins.
That resurgence is reflected in the championship standings, with only one SV/KX driver in the top four on the leaderboard, but fortunately for them that is the championship leader Cook.
Despite a fairly late move into the KX Akademy ahead of his third season in the category, Cook has put together a consistent and mature title challenge so far. Keeping his nose out of the usual Clio trouble, the Bristolian built a gap at the front with seven podium finishes in the first eight races.
Within those was a third win of the season at Oulton Park on top of his Donington double, and while he did suffer a first retirement of the season at Croft last time out, he’ll be confident of following in the footsteps of the last three Clio champions, all of whom led at this stage of proceedings.
Cook’s closest challenger in the points is now Westbourne’s James Colburn. After a relatively slow start to the campaign as he overcame some teething problems with his new Clio, the experienced Clio racer is now the in-form driver in the series with four podiums in the last five races.
That run has included a win apiece at Thruxton and Oulton Park, his sixth and seventh career Clio victories, and the 21 year old will now be aiming to draw on his experience from a close-fought title battle in 2011, in which he finished just nine points shy of becoming champion.
Leading the challenge for reigning champions Team Pyro meanwhile is Mike Bushell, with their pursuit of a sixth title in seven years starting well as the 25 year old finished in the top four in six of the first seven races.
With a dramatic startline crash at Donington and a slow roll during Oulton qualifying, it’s been far from plain sailing for Bushell though, but with a long-awaited first Clio win under his belt from Thruxton, he’ll be confident of regaining his early form and maintaining his title challenge.
The surprise package in the title picture meanwhile is Jordan Stilp. The second year driver took just one top five finish in the first eight races, however he thrust himself right into contention with a stunning double victory last time out at Croft.
The Yorkshire circuit is one that Stilp has built a reputation for being a specialist around, and those wins have moved him thirty points behind Cook. The jury is out though as to whether he can maintain his challenge over the final four meetings.
While his rivals have been making forward progress, early leader Morgan lost his momentum with on-going car troubles plaguing his progress, his Brands success feeling like a distant memory after a tough few outings.
Battling, damage limitation performances have kept him in the hunt though, including a hard-fought podium finish at Donington Park, but the 2013 vice-champion knows that he’ll need to return to the top step of the podium soon to start closing his 36 point deficit to Cook.
The final two SV/KX entrants, Ant Whorton-Eales and Ash Hand, have had differing campaigns. Both have three podium finishes to their name, but while Whorton-Eales has finished every race to keep himself in title contention, a torrid Oulton meeting for Hand has moved him out of touch.
For two of the championship’s most experienced racers, Paul Rivett and Lee Pattison, the season hasn’t brought the results they’d have hoped for. They both lie at the bottom of the championship top eight, while Pattison currently holds a 39 point lead over Rivett in the Masters Cup standings.
In his new team manager/driver role with WDE Motorsport, Rivett has found himself with new challenges this year. Whilst he’s posted a pair of second place finishes, the three-time Clio champion will be disappointed not to be in contention for a historic fourth crown.
Pattison meanwhile had a tough start to the year with JHR Developments, leading to a move to Pyro before Thruxton. He was rewarded with two podium finishes in his first three races with the team, but the 39 year old will hope to be consistently closer to the front of the pack in the remaining races.
Pattison’s Pyro team-mate Rob Smith has had a tough season meanwhile. It started well with a podium in the opening race, but it’s gone downhill from there and a huge Oulton Park testing accident has caused him to take a break from the series.
Behind them, Westbourne’s Devon Modell has consistently finished in the top ten, but is still to break into the top five this season, Charlie Ladell has made a solid start to his Clio career after joining WDE from Oulton Park onwards, while Mark Howard and Craig Milner have enjoyed their own duels at the back of the field.
Whille the grid hasn’t been the biggest so far this year, the quality is certainly there with ten different podium finishers so far, and the final eight races will be must watch affairs as the six-way championship battle reaches its conclusion.
Provisional 2014 Renault UK Clio Cup Standings (After Rd.10 of 18):
|1||Josh Cook||SV Racing with KX||237|
|2||James Colburn||Westbourne Motorsport||222||-15|
|3||Jordan Stilp||20Ten Racing||207||-30|
|4||Mike Bushell||Team Pyro||203||-34|
|5||Alex Morgan||SV Racing with KX||201||-36|
|6||Ant Whorton-Eales||SV Racing with KX||192||-45|
|7||Lee Pattison||Team Pyro||172||-65|
|8||Paul Rivett||WDE Motorsport||158||-79|
|9||Ash Hand||SV Racing with KX||148||-89|
|10||Devon Modell||Westbourne Motorsport||128||-109|
|11||Rob Smith||Team Pyro||94||-143|
|12||Mark Howard||20Ten Racing||78||-159|
|13||Craig Milner||20Ten Racing||73||-164|
|14||Charlie Ladell||WDE Motorsport||52||-185|