‘How do we stop Ash Hand?’
That’ll be the question in the minds of Hand’s Renault UK Clio Cup title rivals as they prepare to head to Rockingham this weekend for the seventh of nine meetings in the 2015 season.
Hand has well and truly been the man to beat over the last four months in the tin-top series, with the Team Pyro ace taking seven wins in the last ten races as part of a run of ten podium finishes in the twelve races so far this season – alongside seven pole positions and five fastest laps.
Despite that continued success, Hand only finally took the championship lead last time out after a dominant double win at Knockhill, and extending his nineteen point advantage will be his target this weekend at a circuit he’s finished on the podium at in each of the last two seasons.
The former points leader was Ant Whorton-Eales, but a change of team to new outfit Maximum Motorsport prior to the trip to Scotland led to a subdued meeting as he adapted to his new surroundings. He’ll be confident of fighting back at Rockingham though, having won in Corby back in 2013.
Another former winner on the Rockingham oval is Paul Rivett, who took a double success in 2012 and also picked up a podium finish twelve months ago. Rivett has finished on the podium at least once in each of the last five meetings, a run he needs to extend to maintain his title challenge.
Ashley Sutton also stood on the Rockingham podium last year with a pair of second places in Formula Ford GB, and he’ll be confident of doing so again this season to continue his current run of four consecutive podium finishes that has closed him on to the championship top two.
Behind the title contenders, there is a close fought duel for fifth place in the standings between Jack Mitchell and Charlie Ladell. Both drivers changed teams prior to Knockhill, to 20Ten Racing and WDE Motorsport respectively, and are capable of being podium contenders this weekend.
Team Cooksport duo Rory Collingbourne and George Jackson have top six breakthroughs in their sights having been regular top ten finishes throughout the campaign – with Jackson in particular sure to be spurred on by becoming a father for the first time last week.
Dan Holland enjoyed his best points haul of the season so far last time out as part of a strong recent run for the JamSport team, however he will be missing from action at Rockingham, with his car to be driven by the team’s driver coach Luke Kidsley, who will make his Clio Cup debut.
Both Kidsley and team-mate Tom Grundy will be hoping to compete for the top six around the Rockingham banking, as will another debutant in karting graduate Josh Price, the 16 year old having high hopes on his car-racing debut with Team Pyro.
Mark Howard heads into the weekend with a realistic shot of wrapping up the Masters Cup title with two rounds to spare, with his only competition coming from Graham Field, while Rory Green will be hoping to return to the top ten for the first time since the opening round of the season.
In five of last six seasons, the Rockingham meeting has seen one driver win both races, with three of those going on to win the title that year – meaning the Corby outing is renowned to be a pivotal one in the destination of the Clio Cup title, and it’s sure to be the same again this weekend as the top four drivers battle it out for supremacy.
Full championship standings ahead of the weekend can be found here.