Renault UK Clio Cup racing entered a fresh era in 2014 with the introduction of the new fourth generation turbo-powered racer but the action, unsurprisingly, was precisely what followers of the championship have come to expect the ultimate in one-make saloon car competition.
Featuring some of the very best ‘tin top’ drivers in British motorsport, the season marked the 40th anniversary of Renault motorsport in the UK and delivered every step of the way through not only the main championship battle, but also the Graduate Cup and Masters Cup classes as well.
Mike Bushell (Tunbridge Wells) ultimately won the coveted Renault UK Clio Cup title on a dramatic final weekend at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit, along with a restored Renault 5 GT Turbo roadcar courtesy of series sponsor Courier Connections, while long-time series leader Josh Cook (Bath) had to settle for the Vice-Champion position.
Their campaigns were almost polar opposites over the course of the 18 rounds, Cook largely able to dominate for more than half the season while Bushell had to battle back from a less spectacular beginning before seizing the momentum during the series run-in.
After seven hugely successful years with the previous generation normally aspirated Renault Clio, the switch to the new turbo-powered 1.6-litre car was eagerly anticipated and the momentum soon gathered pace with more and more drivers, and new teams, joining the grid.
Returning 2013 Vice-Champion Alex Morgan (Reading) got his second season in saloon cars off to the perfect start at Brands Hatch Indy Circuit in late March, scorching to a pair of fantastic victories for SV Racing with KX while Cook and Bushell only managed one podium finish a piece.
During rounds three and four at Donington Park, though, Morgan’s team-mate Cook bagged his first wins of the year with two excellent performances which triggered a run of six straight podiums and included a third victory during round seven at Oulton Park International Circuit.
Bushell, meanwhile, secured his breakthrough maiden Renault UK Clio Cup win during round five at Thruxton with Westbourne Motorsport’s James Colburn (Worthing) also entering the winner’s circle in round six and adding a richly deserved second victory in round eight at Oulton.
Unfortunately for Bushell, set-backs at Oulton and Croft instantly put the brakes on his progress and Cook, too, had a tough weekend at Croft before the mid-year break. While they floundered, though, 20Ten Racing’s Jordan Stilp (Potterspury) came to the fore in North Yorkshire with an immense performance, converting two pole positions into maiden wins and setting fastest lap in each contest.
After the summer sojourn, Cook rocketed out of the blocks with a brace of memorable wins at Snetterton which were all the more important with Bushell having qualified on pole position for each encounter. With three weekends to go, Cook held a 30 point lead over Colburn, with Bushell a further 13 points adrift in third position.
But from that point forward, Bushell took control with a win and third place at Knockhill the other victory on Scottish soil going to the increasingly impressive Stilp and two key victories at Rockingham to surge into the championship lead ahead of the final weekend at Brands Hatch.
With the pressure on, Cook pulled 10 points back on Bushell with a great win in the penultimate race of the season his sixth victory of the year and knowing he had to secure the win in the final round to have any chance of securing the title, the SV Racing with KX driver threw caution to the wind.
Attempting a bold pass on former multiple champion Paul Rivett (Banstead) at Paddock Hill Bend on lap three of the race, Cook’s hopes ended in the gravel on the outside of the right-hander and so the championship crown was Bushell’s regardless of his finishing position.
As it turned out, the new champion claimed his ninth podium of 2014 in third place while Rivett made his first visit of the year to the top step of the rostrum, securing WDE Motorsport’s maiden success in the team’s first season in the category, as well as the Masters Cup title.
In the end, Stilp was just 21 points behind Cook in third place in the overall championship but in terms of the Graduate Cup battle he saw off his more experienced rival to seal the class crown and, with it, the prize of a Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC roadcar.
Although missing out on claiming a win, Ant Whorton-Eales (Lichfield) pipped Colburn for fourth in the main standings thanks to a fairly consistent multiple podium-finishing season with Morgan rounding out the top six.
In terms of the entrant battle, SV Racing with KX was utterly dominant and after wrapping up the crown on the penultimate weekend at Rockingham, Danny Buxton’s squad went on to conclude the championship a remarkable 237 points clear of multiple champions Pyro.
“The first season for the fourth gen Renault Clio really was fantastic, some spectacular racing and the highest quality of action from some of the best BTCC stars of the future”, reflected Renault UK Clio Cup championship manager Will Fewkes, “Mike [Bushell] and Josh [Cook] really did deliver an intriguing fight for the championship, all the way to the wire in the final race.
“While they were the stand-out drivers, so many others showed incredible potential as possible future Clio Cup champions not least Jordan [Stilp] who took his first wins. Huge congratulations to Mike, Jordan and Paul [Rivett] on their title successes and, of course, to everyone at SV Racing for such a strong season. After such a great first season with the latest car, we can’t wait for 2015!”