After suffering title heartbreak in a dramatic 2016 season finale, Mike Bushell returned to the Renault UK Clio Cup this season and banished those demons with a commanding charge to an historic second championship success.
The 2014 victor was in imperious form at points through the season, with a particularly superb qualifying record setting him up for a tremendous run of podium finishes and race wins on his way to the title, putting him alongside Paul Rivett as the only two-time champion in Clio history.
Bushell would take twelve pole positions this year, extending his record to a sensational 24 poles out of the last 32 on offer in the series, with that level of qualifying success meaning he would remarkably just gain six places from his grid positions across the eighteen race campaign.
Running with eventual Entrants’ Trophy winners Team Pyro, Bushell would miss out on the openng win of the season to Lee Pattison, however a second place and a victory at his home circuit Brands Hatch set the tone for Bushell’s campaign, which reached his peak in the summer run between Thruxton and Snetterton.
Starting at the front of the grid for seven races out of eight, the former BTCC racer would convert that advantage to six race wins and a pair of second place finishes, with that pivotal spell meaning he headed into the final three meetings of the year with a healthy 98 point advantage.
Bushell suffered a season low finish of tenth at Rockingham, but that result didn’t phase him though and a podium finish in the Silverstone closer would be more than enough to wrap up the honours with a weekend to spare, the first time the Clio title hasn’t been decided at the season finale since 2010.
With Bushell only finishing off the podium three times all campaign, it’s fair to say it was a one-horse title race for most the season, but from one of the strongest Clio Cup grids in recent seasons, it was the ultra-experienced pairing of Rivett and Pattison that emerged as his early challengers.
Pattison started the campaign with a superb run of four consecutive top two finishes including a victory apiece at Brands and Donington Park, but he then went on a run of six races in a row without a podium, whilst three-time champion Rivett was kicking off proceedings well with four rostrums in the opening three meetings.
A mini-resurgence for Pattison led to a third win of the campaign at Rockingham, but a poor end to the campaign cost him the vice-champion position to his WDE Motorsport team-mate Rivett, who finished in the top two of the championship standings for a remarkable seventh time.
A consistent campaign for Rivett saw him collect eight podium finishes in the end, with the top moment of his season coming as he marked his milestone two-hundredth race in the championship at Silverstone in style with a fantastic forty-seventh career victory, continuing his record of winning in every Clio season he’s contested.
Joining Pattison and Rivett on the fringe of the title mix throughout the campaign was Max Coates, who returned following an impressive debut campaign last year and signalled his intent for a championship challenge with Ciceley Motorsport by taking victory in the second meeting at Donington.
Coates’ podium consistency wouldn’t be strong enough to get near Bushell though, however a popular home podium at Croft and a double pole position and a victory at Rockingham would be the highlights on his way to an impressive second consecutive top four points finish in the series.
One of the standout stories of the season would come from Daniel Rowbottom, who after a partial debut campaign in 2016 would return for a full assault on the series and put together an impressively consistent year as a single car entry with his own DRM team.
Rowbottom would finish in the top six on no less than twelve occasions across the campaign, a record beaten by only by Bushell and Rivett, and that run included five visits to the rostrum including a brilliant breakthrough pair of third place finishes back at Oulton Park.
Those results meant Rowbottom would take the final position in the championship top five ahead of former series vice-champion James Colburn, who mounted a full assault on the series for the first time since 2014 with his family Westbourne Motorsport squad under the ‘PP Motorsport’ banner.
Colburn’s best run of form came with a second place finish at Thruxton followed by a sole win of the season at Oulton Park, and while he would go on to add a third rostrum result in the season finale, it wasn’t quite enough to see him add a fifth top five championship finish to his resumé.
Benefitting from Colburn’s experience in the Westbourne camp was James Dorlin, who made an immediate impression in his first season in the series with victory in only his sixth race at Thruxton following a brilliant duel with eventual champion Bushell.
That came as part of a breakthrough podium double for the 2016 Michelin Clio Cup Series champion, who would go on to take a maiden pole position at Snetterton and then a superb second victory at Silverstone in treacherous wet conditions – the severity of the rain having seen the start of the race delayed by over an hour.
Alongside those successes, Dorlin was also a front-runner in the Graduates Cup, battling hard for the class victories across the campaign with Nathan Harrison and Jack McCarthy in particular, with Harrison emerging with the category title despite finishing below both his rivals in the overall classification.
That made it two class titles in two years for Harrison alongside his 2016 MINI Challenge Rookie title, with the success coming courtesy of a consistent campaign that featured nine top ten finishes, including a best run of four consecutive top three grid positions and a pair of podium finishes at Oulton Park and Croft.
McCarthy meanwhile immediately burst into the spotlight by qualifying in the top three at the season opener, setting the tone for a campaign that saw him finish with the second best qualifying average behind Bushell, which he converted into a pair of podium finishes late in the season.
Lucas Orrock was another first year driver to enjoy some front-running success, though he would have to wait for that to come after being caught up in some of the massive incidents that blighted the opening few weekends of the campaign.
A move from JamSport to Pyro would be the catalyst for an upturn in fortunes and after taking a best result of eleventh prior to the summer break, Orrock would impressively go on to take seven top ten finishes in the final eight races including a maiden podium finish from pole position at Silverstone.
Like Orrock, Dan Zelos would also have to wait until the end of the campaign to see his hard work and perseverance rewarded with a podium breakthrough, with his pace having been clear from the off with a pole position at Donington Park and front-row starts at Thruxton.
Luck wasn’t in Zelos’ favour for most of the campaign however, but a handful of top six results through the campaign would be topped off by a superb display in the finale, when the WDE ace secured a brilliant pair of second place finishes to conclude his second Clio season.
The sheer strength in depth in the 2017 Clio Cup grid was proven by the fact that no less than 24 different drivers would take outright top ten finishes across the campaign, with seven more finishing inside the top fifteen as the series enjoyed a standout year for competitiveness.
The busy midfield pack featured a number of drivers switching teams through the year, with Aaron Thompson putting in strong showings with JamSport before joining Ciceley for the final meeting, a team that Luke Reade and Sam Osborne both left to switch to WDE in the closing stages of the season.
Osborne would impress with an early fifth place finish at Donington Park, but couldn’t build much momentum from that result and only added one further top ten finish to match the tally of Thompson, while Reade fared slightly better and reached a best of seventh within four results of tenth or better.
Jade Edwards stuck with the Ciceley team throughout her maiden Clio campaign meanwhile and would feature in the top ten on three occasions, while Nicolas Hamilton would show strong progression on his return to the series after four seasons away and took a best finish of thirteenth within a five weekend tenure.
The much anticipated return to the series of 2015 title contender Ash Hand proved to sadly be a short-lived affair, with a best result of fourth in a six race spell, while Shayne Deegan showed his potential with a front-row start at Donington Park, but that would be his last appearance of the campaign.
Former race-winner Paul Streather had headed into the season hotly-tipped for further success, however medical issues limited him to a sole appearance at Donington, while Jamie Going, James Ross and reigning Michelin Clio Cup Series champion Ben Palmer also made one-off outings.
Palmer’s former sparring rival Brett Lidsey made the step up for the first time with three appearances across the campaign, taking a best finish of ninth, while Ollie Pidgley and Myles Collins both reached a peak of eighth as they each contested the first three meetings before departing the series.
Sam Randon enjoyed an impressive Clio Cup debut at Croft as he stunned the paddock by qualifying on the front row, but would have to wait until his final outing at Snetterton for a top ten breakthrough, while Kyle Hornby secured a best finish of ninth before departing with half a season under his belt.
Impressing late in the season meanwhile were teenage talents Zak Fulk and Bradley Burns, who each took top ten finishes and starred at Brands Hatch GP, with Burns qualifying on the front row for both races and Fulk setting the final fastest lap of the campaign.
At the other end of the age spectrum on the grid were the drivers contesting the Masters Cup, with the class title battle boiling down to a straight duel between Rivett and Pattison, with the former taking the crown despite Pattison securing four more class victories across the year
The others entrants in the class were all part-time, with the aforementioned one-off entrant Going, series stalwart Graham Field, privateer entrant Shawn Taylor and Swiss racer Oscar Rovelli battling it out, the latter having made an early departure from the series with team-mate Ambrogio Perfetti.
While the opening few weekends of the season were marred by big accidents and plenty of visits to the stewards room, the 2017 Clio Cup season would still settle down into a memorable campaign with some fantastic on-track action and a brilliant march to an historic second title from Bushell.
While it was some familiar names atop the standings, the performances from the likes of Dorlin, McCarthy, Harrison, Zelos and Burns show that the next generation of drivers are ready to wrestle the spotlight away and taste title success of their own as we head into 2018 and beyond.
The full final championship standings can be found here: http://tsl-timing.com/file/?f=TOCA/2017/173903ptscli.pdf