As the dust settles on a frantic weekend of racing, we want to bring you a round-up of the weekend from our perspective, we’ll have the results, pictures, news and everything in-between. This weekend saw the opening round of the British Touring Car Championship along with the support classes that make up the TOCA package. Brands Hatch the venue, as has been tradition to open and close the season, with the first visit of the year to the 1.2mile Indy circuit. Along with the main BTCC races, the TOCA package brings with it a multitude of support races, each providing great entertainment in their own unique way. Our focus was obviously firmly on the newly named Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup series, with this being the first race outing of the new 1.6 litre turbo-charged 4th generation Clio and a grid consisting of some veteran Clio talent, previous champions and some highly tipped youngsters the Clio Cup promised some good racing. We were also excited to see a full grid of Clio’s sporting the Courier Connections title sponsorship.
Leaving on Friday for the 400mile trip to the Kent circuit meant that we missed out on watching the free practice sessions on the Friday, being new to the championship as a title sponsor this was a weekend of firsts for us! We would have liked to have been unveiling the Renault 5 GT Turbo Winner’s Prize this weekend, unfortunately some last minute restoration issues put a stop to that, so a last minute alternative was sourced and we made the journey down.
Late night arrival at Brands Hatch on Friday meant that we would be waiting until Saturday to see any action in the paddock or on track. Parked up in the support paddock made for an excellent view of Paddock Hill bend round towards Druids.
Saturday morning saw Touring Car Free Practice with the qualifying session for the Courier Connections Renault Clio Cup getting underway at 11.20. The qualifying session was the first time we seen the new generation Clio Cup cars run in-anger on track.
The session was frantic with times being close throughout the field, the sun-soaked circuit providing a perfect base to push the new turbo’d cars to the limit. After the checkered flag flew, signalling the end of the 20mintue session, lap times could not have been closer, with the top 11 cars separated by less than 3/4 of a second. It was SVRacing/KX Akademy driver Alex Morgan that came out on top, closely followed by the defending champion Mike Bushell of Team Pyro and championship veteran Paul Rivett in hot pursuit in third for the newly formed WDE Motorsport.
No major mechanical dramas for any of the drivers meant that all focus could move to getting their cars setup exactly as they wished for the first race of the season in the afternoon. The first Clio Cup race of the weekend scheduled for 4.25pm directly after the qualifying for the BTCC. Once Andrew Jordan had put his Pirtek Racing Honda civic on pole position in the Touring Car qualifying it was time to line up the Clios for the first race of the 2014 Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup.
The racing gladly did not disappoint, a coming together between Mike Bushell and Paul Rivett on the way through Paddock Hill Bend on lap 1 ended up with Paul facing backwards on the grass. Fortunately no mechanical damage incurred, so the hunt to catch the back of the pack for Paul began. The incident at the first corner let Rob Smith in the Evergreen tyres car through to battle it out for the race win with Morgan. Josh Cook put in a huge performance to hold off the advances of Bushell for the majority of the race to secure third place on the podium. Meanwhile further down the pack, with Rivett at the back it left Lee Pattison to take the Masters Class win in 5th place. Paul Rivett, despite finishing in 11th place showed excellent pace setting the fastest lap of the race with a 53.118s time on lap 4 showing that, despite the lack of seat time in the new car, Rivett would be a force to be reckoned with in
the 2nd of the weekends races, on the Sunday. The close racing displayed all the way down the field, setting us up nicely for the second of the 2 Clio Cup races to take place on the following day.
With the sun shining down on Brands Hatch all day on the Saturday we decided to unload the trailer and display the last minute stand-in car that had made the journey down from
Scotland with us. The second generation Clio was displayed outside the Renault Sport hospitality center, gleaming in the English sunshine but we do promise to have the Renault 5 GT Turbo on display at the next meeting at Donington!
With the on-track business finished for the day, it left us to explore the support paddock, chat with the teams and check out the new generation cars up close. Overall, the consensus seemed to be positive towards the 4th generation of the Clio Cup car, with its new 1.6 turbo providing similar levels of power to the old 2.0 naturally aspirated unit but with a chunk more torque to play with. This years car comes packing a 5-speed sequential gearbox with paddle shift, along with a non-servo assisted braking system with larger Brembo brake calipers. All of this packed into, what we think, is the best looking body style yet! Paul Rivett described the car as a “Real drivers Car”
“I love this new car, they keep getting better and this is the best one yet. It’s a real driver’s car, it’s harder to drive than the last one,” he told TCF.
“To find the edge with it, you have to push more and it’s much more challenging, and therefore much more rewarding as a driver. They respond very well to adjustments, and we haven’t even started fine-tuning the set-up with it yet, and it’s generally a great car.”
So, as the sun rose over Brands Hatch on Sunday morning for what looked set to be another glorious day, we were excited to see the 2nd of the weekends Clio Cup races. Scheduled for 3:30pm, there was the small matter of a couple of British Touring Car races to enjoy first, with a packed grid consisting of 30 cars and 7 previous champions the action did not disappoint, plenty of close racing ensued with Andrew Jordan coming out on top for first 2 rounds of the BTCC.
3:30pm came and it was time fr the 2nd race in the 2014 Courier Connections Renault UK Clip Cup and it looked set to provide more close racing, and it did not disappoint! With Alex Morgan starting
on pole position again, it was always set to be a close race. Morgan had pressure from Bushnell and Rivett who stayed on his tail the entire race, with Rivett eventually making a move round the outside of Druids to take second place. Morgan put in a fantastic defensive drive while maintaining the pace to stay in first place. Meanwhile Rob Smith all the time looking keen in 4th place until Whorton-Eales eventually found a way past on lap 17. The top four drivers crossing the line with less than 1 second covering all 4, Mike Bushell setting the fastest lap with a 52.895s whilst trying to pull way from Rivett on lap 5.
The second race of the weekend finishing with Alex Morgan taking his second win of the weekend, Paul Rivett taking 2nd and Mike Bushell in 3rd.
So with the second Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Cup race of the year complete, it was down the the touring cars to round out the weekend with another exciting race. Colin Turkington taking the honors closely follow by Matt Neal and Jason Plato.
The exiting and close racing displayed throughout the main races and the support package this weekend has really wet our appetite for the season to come, its looking too close to call in the Clio Cup at the moment with over half the field realistically having the pace to grab a race win. We would hate to pick a favourite at this early stage. All we can say is that we are truly looking forward to the next meeting at Donington Park on the 19th and 20th of April! On that note, it would be rude of me not to mention our ticket giveaway – we are giving you the chance to grab a pair of tickets to Donington Park to see all the BTCC and Clio Cup action for yourself. To enter just visit our Facebook Competition here.
So as we leave Brands Hatch behind until we visit again to close out the season, the Courier Connections Renault UK Clio Championships looks like this:
Alex Morgan leading with 64 points followed by Mike Bushell on 49 and Rob Smith on 48. Its all to play for at this stage! The drivers displayed some excellent racing for us on Saturday and Sunday that we thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks to Mike Bushell for the tour round his car on Sunday and to all the drivers who kindly stopped to allow us to grab a couple pictures next to our trailer. With that, I’m away to watch and enjoy the ITV4 coverage of Sundays race and I hope to see you at Donington Park on the 19th and 20th of April.
I shall leave you with some of our favourite pictures from around the paddock at the weekend.
See you at Donington!