With the start of the 2016 season looming for most of the UK championships and series, excitement and anticipation is high at tracks and garages up and down the country.
No less so than for the organisers, competitors and fans of the Renault UK Clio Cup. As a current support series to the British Touring Car Championship, 2016 will mark the 25th anniversary for the championship in its current guise, and the series has come a long way since its debut at Donington Park in April 1991.
I spoke with Carl McKellar, spokesman for the series, about the history and what excitement the cup has in store for the fans this year.
What does the 2016 season promise?
The culmination of the 2015 season saw it come right down to the wire, with Ashley Sutton taking both race wins at the final event at Brands Hatch to overturn his rival, Ash Hand, and clinch the 2015 title by just five points.
Carl tells us “It certainly looks like we’re in for the same pulsating action as we saw in 2015. There are an increasing number of comments from fans about just how impossible it is to pick a winner.
“2015 was pretty exceptional in terms of competition, controversy, rivalry, unpredictability, fightback etc. at the front – probably the best there has been. Sutton, Hand, Whorton-Eales, Rivett – we had four fantastic drivers locking horns and there were others coming through such as Ladell, Collingbourne who should be in there as well this time around.
“I think a lot of people going to BTCC events are now looking forward to the touring car action but also what’s in store from the Clio Cup grid.
“Everyone is looking forward to it immensely thanks to what happened last year.”
But it wasn’t just the final race of the season that helped the 2015 championship take a big bite of the thunder from the other series…
“We started at Brands Hatch Indy with that great race between Sutton and Whorton-Eales and got a new closest top-three finish with Hand thrown in. Then we broke that record at Donington Park a few weeks later and broke it again in September at Silverstone.
“The fact it just kept getting closer and closer was very telling. I recall at Donington Park pretty much the whole BTCC media dropping everything in the media centre just to watch the Clio Cup – it was that good!
“If we have anything like the same in 2016 then we can say even now it’s going to be very memorable again.”
Meanwhile, for 2016, we are assured…
“There are no rule changes of significance. It’s kept really simple – per weekend it’s a half hour qualifying session to decide the two grids (based on fastest and second fastest times) and then the two races.
“Keeping things simple and not overcomplicating them is very important for many reasons.”
F1 paddock take note!
The history of the cup!
The Clio Cup serves, and has served, as so much more than a warm-up act to the BTCC and whilst the cars have evolved over the years, champions have moved on and new championships have moved up through the ranks, the excitement and passion in the series has never faltered.
So many names are brought up when I ask who has gone from success in the Clio Cup and onto other big series. Perhaps unsurprisingly the majority of them move on to the BTCC. Names in the Clio Cup alumni include 2013 champion Andrew Jordan and 2014 champion Colin Turkington. Not to mention the likes of John Bintcliffe, Mat Jackson, Jack Goff, Josh Cook, Dave Newsham, Mike Bushell and Aron Smith.
Tom Onslow-Cole is another name from the Clio history books, with Tom going on to become the 24H Series champion after a short spell in BTCC. Jonny Adam, the 2015 British GT champion, is another big name to have graced the Clio’s.
Meanwhile, BTCC champion and legend, Jason Plato and two-time World Touring Car Champion, Andy Priaulx have won associated Renault series.
Looking further afield and back into the archives, even petrol-head and actor Rowan Atkinson (of Mr Bean, Blackadder, Johnny English etc.) and WHAM! guitarist Andrew Ridgeley have had a go in one of Renault’s professional series.
Carl adds, “If memory serves correct, Ridgeley rolled at Brands Hatch! Imagine the headlines!
“Rowan was pretty handy.”
So what about the cars?
How different are the current generation of racing Clio’s to the ones we see at the dealership?
“The cars actually share a lot with the showroom spec version, but obviously they are of a racing specification (brakes, slick tyres, spoiler, rollcage etc).
“Like the road car they use a paddleshift gear change but this is again race-spec. The engine is as per the road car (1.6 turbocharged) but with a few trick bits.
“The road car’s 0-62mph time is 6.6s; the race car’s 6.2s. Road car weight is 1200kg; race car’s 1080kg. The race car costs 43,200 (around £33,600) Euros and the road car is just under £22,000.”
So is this the secret to exciting, competitive racing? A healthy mixture of fifteen drivers hungry for success in a fast, well protected and, perhaps most significantly, cheap and easy to repair car? We have no doubt that 2016 will go to great lengths to prove that to be the case yet again!
The series calendar follows the BTCC as detailed below (with the omission of Knockhill in Scotland):
Sat 2/Sun 3 April: Rounds 1 & 2 – Brands Hatch (Indy Circuit), Kent
Sat 16/Sun 17 April: Rounds 3 & 4 – Donington Park, Leicestershire
Sat 7/Sun 8 May: Rounds 5 & 6 – Thruxton, Hampshire
Sat 4/Sun 5 June: Rounds 7 & 8 – Oulton Park (Island Circuit), Cheshire
Sat 18/Sun 19 June: Rounds 9 & 10 – Croft, North Yorkshire
Sat 30/Sun 31 July: Rounds 11 & 12 – Snetterton, Norfolk
Sat 27/Sun 28 August: Rounds 13 & 14 – Rockingham, Northamptonshire
Sat 17/Sun 18 September: Rounds 15 & 16 – Silverstone (National Circuit), Northamptonshire
Sat 1/Sun 2 October: Rounds 17 & 18 – Brands Hatch (Grand Prix Circuit), Kent
Check individual circuit timetables as day/time of the event will vary for each event.
With thanks to Carl McKellar of Renault UK Clio Cup
Images provided by Renault UK Clio Cup
by Tom McBeth