Last season, the Renault UK Clio Cup produced a thrilling title duel between Mike Bushell and Josh Cook that wasn’t decided until the final race of the year, and judging by the first half of this season, we’re looking set for another intriguing, down to the wire championship fight this time around.
Just fifty points separate championship leader Ant Whorton-Eales, Ash Hand, Ashley Sutton and Paul Rivett at the head of the standings with eight races to go, and any one of the four could emerge as the champion come October at Brands Hatch.
The second season with the fourth-generation Clio race cars has produced some of the most exciting and action-packed racing in the championship’s recent history, with Whorton-Eales emerging from the opening ten races with a slender five point championship lead.
Wrestling the opening race win from Sutton at the last corner at Brands Hatch set the tone for a fighting campaign so far for the SV Racing ace, who doubled his win tally next time out at Donington Park as part of a run of five consecutive podium finishes to start the campaign.
At both Thruxton and Croft Whorton-Eales bounced back from tough qualifying sessions to take impressive podium finishes, whilst in-between he enjoyed fierce battles with Hand at Oulton Park en-route to a pair of second places that’s help him just maintain his points lead.
Hand has firmly established himself as Whorton-Eales’ closest challenger though courtesy of a stunning run of five race wins in the last eight races, including a sensational weekend at Thruxton where he took a clean sweep of the pole positions, race wins and fastest laps.
The third year contender has only finished off the podium twice so far this season, but one of those was due to a retirement at Donington that has stopped him from taking the points lead away from Whorton-Eales at the moment.
Hand’s Team Pyro team-mate Sutton has been a revelation in his maiden Clio season meanwhile, the Formula Ford convert following his near miss at Brands Hatch with a maiden win at Donington and a pair of second place finishes at Thruxton.
While he endured a tough outing at Oulton Park, Sutton bounced back with a stunning eight second win at Croft to put himself right in the mix to become the first ‘rookie’ Clio champion since Jonathan Fildes in 2003, while he also leads the way in the Graduate Cup standings.
On the other end of the Clio experience spectrum is Rivett, who’s challenge for a fourth title is gaining momentum with a first win of the season at Oulton Park and then a first pole position last time out at Croft.
With a reduction off his duties managing the WDE Motorsport team allowing him to fully focus on his racing this season, Rivett has finished in the top five in each of the last eight races, with podium finishes in half of those helping him keep on the tail of the championship leaders.
One driver who hoped to have been in title contention at this stage was Jordan Stilp, but it’s been a below par season for the 20Ten Racing man who had made a late charge for the honours last season.
Unfortunately for Stilp despite podium visits at Brands and Oulton, some tough outings including a nightmare visit to Croft, the scene of a dominant double win last year, have left him sixth in the standings and nearly 100 points shy of the lead.
Snatching the top five position from him last time out was SV’s Jack Mitchell, who has enjoyed an impressive start to Clio life. A maiden podium finish at Donington is one of a half dozen top six finishes so far that currently place him as Sutton’s closest challenger in the Graduate Cup.
Close behind in the Graduate points though is Charlie Ladell, who took seven top six finishes in the first ten races with Team Cooksport, but has elected to move back to WDE Motorsport for the rest of the season as he chases a maiden podium finish.
Ladell leaves behind Rory Collingbourne and George Jackson in the Cooksport camp, with both being regular top ten finishers so far, while fellow young charger Brett Smith has shown himself as a podium contender with Pyro with four top six finishes, despite missing the Thruxton weekend.
Jackson had started the season at JamSport Racing, with his exit coming after a tough opening spell for the outfit. Fortunes are changing for the team though, with Dan Holland showing front-running potential with top three grid starts at Thruxton, while Tom Grundy broke into the top ten at Croft last time out.
In the Masters Cup, there was early success for Ben Seyfried and Paul Knapp with SV and Cooksport respectively, however with neither able to remain on the grid as the season progressed it’s been left to Mark Howard to assume a comfortable class lead.
Switching from 20Ten to Pyro prior to Thruxton, Howard won both races that weekend – courtesy of being the only class competitor present – and took one more at Oulton to build a 48 point lead over Graham Field, who took his maiden class win at Oulton.
One of the big headlines before the season began was the entry of Freddie Hunt, son of 1976 F1 world champion James, with new outfit Team BKR. Sadly his budget only stretched for the first two meetings though, and after experienced Clio ace James Colburn filled the seat at Thruxton, the team have been absent since.
Jon Maybin competed at Thruxton and Oulton with Cooksport, starring on his debut with a pair of sixth place finishes, while the grid was bolstered last time out at Croft by a second Clio outings for Paul Donkin and Peter Felix, the latter taking both Masters wins.
With a four way championship battle in the pipeline, and a group of drivers behind looking to break into the spotlight, we’re set for an enthralling remainder of the 2015 Clio Cup season, which returns to action at Knockhill on 22/23 August.
Full championship standings after the opening ten races can be found here.