After missing the trip to Knockhill earlier this month, the Renault UK Clio Cup is back after a four week break with less than twenty points separating Mike Bushell and Ant Whorton-Eales at the top of the standings heading into the final six races of the season.
2014 champion Bushell heads into this weekend’s double-header at Rockingham with a superb run of recent results under his belt, having taken seven podium finishes and seven pole positions in the last eight races with reigning champions Team Pyro.
Whilst Bushell has the edge in qualifying and consistency, when it comes to raw race pace it’s Whorton-Eales who has led the way, with the JamSport Racing ace impressively taking six race-victories across the season compared to Bushell’s two.
Rockingham holds great memories for Bushell after playing a pivotal role in his 2014 title success as a commanding double victory put him into the points lead for the first time – whilst Whorton-Eales has a good record at the circuit too with a superb win in 2013 and another success last season.
Another driver with a strong history at the Speedway is triple champion Paul Rivett, who has a 50% podium record at the circuit in recent seasons, with his four visits to the rostrum in the last four years including a pair of wins in 2012.
Rivett heads into the weekend knowing that any chance of taking an unprecedented fourth title relies upon a huge points haul at Rockingham, having seen some tough recent races lose him ground despite six podium finishes over the season so far.
Benefitting from Rivett’s misfortune to move into a clear third in the points meanwhile is Max Coates, who has been on a fantastic run of form with six consecutive top five finishes including four podium finishes – results that have put him 53 points off Bushell with 204 left to fight for.
The Ciceley Motorsport ace also holds a healthy 72 point lead atop the Graduate Cup standings courtesy of nine class wins in the twelve races so far, with his main competition coming from Pyro pairing Senna Proctor and Josh Price.
Those two and Charlie Ladell are almost inseparable as they battle over seventh in the main championship meanwhile, with just six points splitting them as it stands – Ladell leading them despite having less podium finishes to his name than his adversaries.
Ladell’s sole top three so far came back at Oulton Park, while Proctor has a pair of thirds from Oulton Park and Snetterton. Price meanwhile added a rostrum finish at Croft to a double at Thruxton, and all three head to Rockingham as potential race-winners.
The first victors of the season back at Brands Hatch in April were Lee Pattison and Paul Streather, and despite neither driver finishing on the podium since April, they remain in the top six of the standings – Pattison lying tied fourth with Rivett as it stands.
Two drivers to watch this weekend are JamSport’s Luke Kidsley and Chris Smiley. Kidsley is full of confidence following a breakthrough podium finish at Snetterton last time out, while ex-BTCC racer Smiley will be looking to build on an impressive series debut that produced two top eight finishes.
The ultra-competitive nature of the Clio Cup means over a dozen drivers are capable of challenging for the podiums this weekend, including Pyro man David Dickenson, PP Motorsport’s ever-improving Anton Spires and Finesse Motorsport’s Daniel Rowbottom.
George Jackson meanwhile returns to the scene of his career-best fourth place finish twelve months ago hoping a switch back to JamSport can put him back in podium contention, his move leaving fellow top ten finisher Rory Collingbourne to spearhead the Cooksport challenge alongside Pattison.
Dan Zelos secured a long-awaited top ten breakthrough on home tarmac at Snetterton and will now look to breach the top six at a circuit he’s previously won at in Ginetta Juniors, but amongst those with similar aims are his Ciceley Motorsport team-mate Ollie Pidgley, Rory Green and Paul Plant.
After two practice sessions on Friday, the weekend’s action begins with qualifying at 11:20 on Saturday, with the opening race following that afternoon at 16:10. Race two comes on Sunday at 13:00, with that encounter set to be televised live on ITV4 and itv.com.
Full championship standings ahead of the weekend can be found here.