Mike Bushell has taken the Renault UK Clio Cup championship lead for the first time ever after taking a dominant third victory of the season in the opening race of the weekend at Rockingham.
As Bushell converted a fifth consecutive pole position into a lights-to-flag victory, erstwhile points leader Josh Cook lost his advantage after opening lap contact with James Colburn dropped him to the back of the field.
Bushell’s only real challenge for the lead came off the line, as fellow front-row starter Ant Whorton-Eales drew alongside on the approach to Deene Hairpin for the first time. His challenge around the outside proved unsuccessful though, a slide wide dropping him down the order.
Jordan Stilp was promoted to second after a superb start launched him up from fifth on the grid and he briefly kept on Bushell’s tail. The leader soon broke away though and went on to take victory by 4.144 seconds, with Stilp a lonely second.
“Me and Ant came off the line neck and neck and stayed like that through the first corner,” Bushell told TCF. “He braked later and I thought I’d lost the lead but he ran wide and left a gap for me, Jordan pushed me round and gave me the momentum to take the lead.
“Once I’d got my rears up to temperature and got into my groove, I could pull away, though I’m quite surprised to be that far ahead, it’s really good.”
Having a similarly quiet race was the final podium finisher Ash Hand. Emerging from the opening corner shuffle in the podium spot, the SV Racing ace quickly forged a gap to the field behind and ran on his own for the remainder en-route to his fifth podium finish of the campaign.
The battle for fourth brought the majority of the race’s action. Alex Morgan held the spot early on as Paul Rivett and Whorton-Eales squabbled behind, with the latter losing ground when shuffled wide at Pif Paf on lap six after the duo ran side-by-side through the first few corners.
Rivett dived past Morgan at Deene a lap later and went on to take his WDE Motorsport Clio to fourth overall and the Masters Cup victory, with Morgan left to settle for fifth ahead of Colburn and Whorton-Eales.
For Cook, the race proved to be quite a disaster. Starting back in twelfth courtesy of a ten place grid penalty carried over from Knockhill, he had started well and got up to eighth through the first half of the opening lap.
Unfortunately for Cook though, a challenge for seventh on Colburn into Brook chicane at the end of the lap ended with Cook being pushed wide across the grass, dropping him well off the back of the pack.
Cook could only fight back to tenth at the end with damaged steering, behind impressive debutant Craig Holland and Lee Pattison, meaning the 23 point swing to Bushell secures the latter the points lead by 7.
*Update: Post-race, Colburn was handed a five second penalty for the contact, demoting him to tenth behind Cook in the final results.
Charlie Ladell and Devon Modell were next up ahead of series newcomer Simon Horrobin and Mark Howard.