It all comes down to this. After sixteen close-fought races filled with twists and turns, the destination of the 2016 Renault UK Clio Cup title will be decided this weekend, with Mike Bushell and Ant Whorton-Eales going head-to-head for the honours at Brands Hatch.
For Bushell, championship glory will put his name into the record books as only the second driver ever to win the Clio Cup more than once, while for Whorton-Eales, title success would be the culmination of five years of hard graft in the series.
Who will emerge victorious is anyone’s guess though. Bushell has established himself as the king of qualifying, having taken ten of the last twelve pole positions on offer, though when it comes to race victories, it’s Whorton-Eales who clearly leads the way with nine wins in sixteen races this year.
While he’s only hit back with three wins himself, Bushell has been consistently collecting strong points finishes in every race, with the Team Pyro ace having failed to finish outside the top five all season so far – Whorton-Eales has done so on four occasions.
It all means that heading into the final two races, it’s Team Pyro’s Bushell who holds a fourteen point advantage at the head of the standings …. that is until the championship’s dropped score ruling is applied, in which case it’s JamSport Racing’s Whorton-Eales who leads by eight points.
With it being so close between the two, the championship cannot be decided in the weekend’s opening race, meaning it’s assured to go down to Sunday’s live-televised encounter – potentially setting up an epic final battle that their superb title war deserves.
The outright title is the only one left up for grabs at Brands Hatch meanwhile, with Lee Pattison and Max Coates having already won the Masters and Graduates Cup’s respectively, while Team Pyro have sealed their third Entrants Trophy in four years.
Wrapping up his class crown with a weekend to spare means Coates can focus on trying to end his maiden Clio Cup campaign in the overall championship top three, with his competition coming from the most successful driver in series history, Paul Rivett.
Both drivers took their sole race wins of the season so far back at Croft in June and will be eager to grace the top step of the podium again this weekend. Coates heads to Kent with six podiums in his last ten races, while Rivett has eight rostrum finishes to his name across the year.
In similar fashion to the battle above them in the standings, Coates holds a nine point advantage over Rivett heading into the weekend, though when dropped scores are taken into consideration that switches to an eight point lead for the former triple champion.
Completing the top six in the standings at present are Lee Pattison and Paul Streather, who both return to the scene of their season opener victories back in April hoping to make their presence felt at the front of the field once again.
Pattison is hoping to end a spell of ten consecutive races without a top four finish, whilst for Streather that run stretches two races longer, though he’ll be spurred on by a superb showing at Silverstone when he stormed through from the back of the grid to a pair of ninth place finishes.
Streather will need to look over his shoulder in the standings though, with the impressive Josh Price hunting him down for sixth overall. The Pyro racer gained ground with a return to the podium at Silverstone, his fourth of an impressive rookie campaign.
Price is also battling with his Pyro stablemate Senna Proctor over second in the Graduates Cup, the latter holding a one point advantage – the same margin he holds over Charlie Ladell as they contest eighth in the overall standings.
Both those two drivers, plus the likes of David Dickenson, Luke Kidsley and Chris Smiley, head into the weekend with realistic hopes of challenging for the podium, likewise James Colburn who goes to a circuit he’s previously won at in 2011 and 2013 following a promising return at Silverstone.
Colburn became the 22nd different driver to finish in the top ten so far this year, proving once again the depth of quality in the Clio Cup grid, with Rory Collingbourne, George Jackson, Jake Giddings, Ollie Pidgley, Dan Zelos and Shayne Deegan all capable of fighting to the front.
With so many drivers looking to end their seasons on a high, and a thrilling championship duel guaranteed to go down to the final race of the year, all signs points to two superb, action-packed races around the world famous Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit.
The weekend’s action begins with qualifying at 10:55 on Saturday (1st October), with the opening race following that afternoon at 14:30. The live televised final race of the year then follows at 13:30 on Sunday (2nd October).
Full championship standings ahead of the weekend can be found here.