Ant Whorton-Eales (Lichfield) raced to his first ever outright Renault UK Clio Cup victory thanks to a sensational performance during round 14 of the season at Rockingham this afternoon, Sunday, 15th September, while Josh Files (Norwich) took a big step closer to securing the 2013 title.
Whorton-Eales, who steered his KX Racing with Scuderia Vittoria car to the runner-up spot during the opening race of the weekend at the Northamptonshire track on Saturday, did all the hard work off the start with an outstanding run from 12th on the grid.
As during the previous day’s encounter, the 19-year-old produced a remarkable getaway when the lights went out and sliced past 10 cars through Turn One of the Rockingham Oval to be in contention for the lead around the outside at the second corner, Deene Hairpin.
With the track very slippery initially, light rain having fallen just prior to the start, Whorton-Eales got his Clio very sideways on the exit of the turn but was able to get his 2.0-litre car pointing in the right direction and brilliantly moved ahead of pole-starting team-mate Stefan Hodgetts (Redditch).
Over the first couple of laps, the KX Racing pair surged into a huge early lead but the Safety Car was deployed in time for the start of the third tour due to a multi-car incident from the opening lap which left the Juta Racing Clio of front-row starter Ignas Gelzinis stranded. Hodgetts, meanwhile, pitted at the end of lap two for a replacement front-right tyre he eventually finished in 17th position.
After a single lap under caution, racing resumed and Whorton-Eales led the field away, setting fastest lap pace as he tried to rebuild his advantage. Pulling over two seconds clear by lap seven, he then started to be caught by Team Pyro racer Files who edged gradually nearer lap after lap.
By lap 11, Files had moved to within one second of Whorton-Eales but although the championship leader applied significant pressure the KX Racing driver didn’t buckle and went on to claim a superb maiden category win by 0.5 seconds. Added to his second place from round 13, and two Graduate Cup class victories, Whorton-Eales was unsurprisingly named the ‘BuyOils.co.uk Driver of the Event’.
“It’s fantastic to get the first win”, said the ecstatic winner, “We’ve had two seconds this year, both behind Stef [Hodgetts], so to finally be on top this weekend is great. It’s important to have a strong last half of the season and up to now we are. Qualifying didn’t go according to plan, so to get the results we have this weekend from 12th on the grid is fantastic.”
Files, who started sixth, initially ran in fourth after the Safety Car period behind fellow Pyro racer Ash Hand (Nuneaton) and title rival Paul Rivett (Banstead). Opening lap contact for the Names.co.uk / Stancombe Vehicle Engineering driver, though, led to some handling issues and preceded a costly lock-up at Deene on lap five which dropped Rivett from second to sixth.
Opening the way for Files to further enhance his points cushion, after passing impressive rookie team-mate Hand for the runner-up spot on lap five at Deene he went on to add the bonus points for fastest lap on the 10th tour to increase his series lead to 52 points, 40 points on ‘drop scores’.
“This weekend has been almost a dream come true”, said Files, “Paul Rivett had a DNF yesterday and finished behind us today, so I couldn’t have asked for more in terms of the championship. At the start, I was in the middle at the hairpin with cars all around me and I did get hit so I really thought my chances had ended. In the end, it was a great race for us and has been great for our points total.”
Following a superb performance, car racing rookie Hand celebrated his first podium of the year with a richly deserved third place less than two seconds shy of his more experienced team-mate. Such was Hand’s pace, he was more than six seconds clear of the chasing pack.
“It’s been a challenging year, at the start of the season I really did think it was much tougher than I’d originally realised I underestimated how tough it was”, commented Hand, “I’ve come such a long way, working really hard on my fitness, and I just need to say a really big thank you to my sponsors for getting me here and to everyone at Team Pyro. It’s all paid off now with our first podium.”
Behind the podium finishers, Westbourne Motorsport’s James Colburn (Worthing) replicated the sort of performance shown by Whorton-Eales with a sensational drive from 16th on the grid into fourth place. Rocketing into the lead positions on lap one, judging the slippery surface perfectly, Colburn was into the top five prior to the Safety Car and moved into fourth when Rivett fell back.
Finesse Motorsport’s Jake Giddings (Wisbech) finished in fifth place ahead of Rivett with Jordan Stilp (Potterspury) grabbing seventh on the last lap for Westbourne at the expense of Pyro driver Alex Morgan (Reading). Scuderia Vittoria’s Devon Modell (Maidstone) did likewise to 20Ten Racing’s Masters Cup class winner Peter Felix (Derby) for ninth position on the final tour.
The battle in the lower half of the top 10 was especially entertaining with lots of position swapping throughout the 15 laps. Modell, Stilp and Felix all made excellent progress from low grid positions with the latter scything through from 23rd on the grid to run as high as seventh at one stage. Maltese driver Jacques Mizzi, meanwhile, just missed out on the top 10 with a season’s best 11th place.
Reflecting on the Masters Cup win in only his second race back in the Renault UK Clio Cup since 2008, Felix said: “To be fair, we were out of place a bit in qualifying, we got the tyre pressures wrong, but we proved in the race 20Ten can put a really good car out. The car was great and I thoroughly enjoyed this weekend.
“It’s great to come in from the Clio Cup Series and be able to hold our own like we have. It’s been great racing against drivers of the highest calibre, up against guys like Paul Rivett who, for me, is far superior to a lot of the touring car drivers. It’s been a brilliant weekend for me and the team.”
Post-race, the championship Clerk of the Course handed out penalties to JHR’s Josh Cook (Bristol) and Scuderia Vittoria’s Josh Wakefield (Colchester) following an incident. Cook received five points on his racing licence, a deduction of five points from his championship total and a five place grid penalty which will be applied at the final race meeting of the season.
For his part, Wakefield was excluded from the entire Rockingham race meeting, meaning six points on his competition licence and a loss of six points from his championship total. Additionally, he loses the 14 points scored during round 13 on Saturday.
There is now a four week break from action for the Renault UK Clio Cup competitors ahead of the final two races of the season, rounds 15 and 16, at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit in Kent over the weekend 12th/13th October.
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Official website: www.renaultsport.co.uk/championships/cliocup