2014 Renault UK Clio Cup champion Mike Bushell has described winning the tin-top series as “amazing” and a “great achievement” after emerging victorious from a tense final meeting of the season at Brands Hatch.
Bushell headed into the finale weekend at his home circuit with a 28 point lead at the top of the standings. After battling to a fourth place finish in the opening race of the weekend, he nearly saw his chances disappear on the opening lap of race two when he was forced to stop on track to avoid spinning cars in front.
The Team Pyro racer was able to continue unscathed though and when chief title rival Josh Cook span into the gravel two laps later, the title was Bushell’s, making him the latest addition to a roll call of champions that includes Tom Onslow-Cole, Dave Newsham and Jack Goff.
When TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk spoke to the new champion after the podium celebrations, he couldn’t contain his delight: “To win the Clio Cup is amazing, it’s the best series you can win in British motorsport outside Touring Cars.
“You only have to look at the big names that have progressed from the series, it’s an unreal feeling to win it.
“It’s been hard, the top ten in the championship are among the best tin-top drivers in the country, so to have won against these guys is such a great achievement for me.”
A ‘hard’ run to the title it certainly proved to be, with the first half of the season in particular being a rollercoaster affair for Bushell.
While he took six top four finishes in the opening seven races, including his first-ever Clio victory at Thruxton, those results didn’t come without their dramas.
A front row start at Donington Park quickly turned into a nasty collision with a wall on the run to the first corner, while a seemingly innocuous off in qualifying at Oulton Park ended with his Clio on its roof.
Those incidents, coupled with a generally tough meeting at Croft, meant Bushell headed into the five week summer break fourth in the standings, 34 points shy of Cook.
“It’s been a difficult year that’s for sure and there were times when I didn’t think I could have done it,” he reflected.
“I think I put myself under too much pressure at the beginning of the year, because I knew I was with the best team in the paddock, and I just tried to do a little too much and I had to bring myself back a little bit to go forwards.”
From Snetterton onwards, the momentum appeared to turn in Bushell’s favour as he gelled with the new-for-2014 fourth generation Clio racer.
While Cook won both races in Norfolk to extend his lead, Bushell showed his pace with a double pole position and double fastest lap, starting a run of five consecutive poles for the 25 year old.
That meant as Cook hit trouble, Bushell could capitalise with one win at Knockhill and a dominant double at Rockingham moving him into championship lead for the first time in his Clio career.
The rest is history, with third place in the final race at Brands making it nine podium finishes for the season, including four wins, as well as six pole positions and eight fastest laps.
“Rockingham was the moment I thought ‘I can win this’. I was getting some good wins towards the end of the year, some pole positions, and I think there was something with me and the car that just clicked,” explained the Tunbridge Wells-based racer.
“I’m one of the only drivers on the grid who left foot brakes, and I’ve got a strange technique with the throttle through the corners which just seems to suit me. I just never seemed to gel with the old car, but I think I got my head around this car at just the right time.
“To end the year with the most poles and the most fastest laps is a great way to take the championship.”
With three years of Clio racing under his belt now, many people will see a step up to the BTCC as the natural progression for Bushell in 2015, to join Clio Cup alumni like Newsham, Goff, Andrew Jordan and Aron Smith on the grid.
Bushell has competed at the top level before, making a one-off appearance at Knockhill in 2013 in an IP Tech Race Engineering Chevrolet Cruze, but wouldn’t be drawn on whether he thinks he’ll be there again next year, simply stating:
“We’ll see what the winter brings.”