THE SUPPORTING ACTS
There were some enthralling title battles on the TOCA package this year. By Stephen Lickorish RENAULT UK CLIO CUP BRITISH F4
Last year was an incredible season for the Renault UK Clio Cup. It had a thrilling title battle between three evenly matched drivers, with Ash Sutton eventually sealing the crown in a tense finale, so 2016 had a lot to live up to. And it certainly delivered.
Right from the moment Ant Whorton-eales was stripped of two poles for the Brands Hatch opener it was clear the frenetic action would continue this year. That the Jamsport driver fought through from the back of the grid to impressive eighth and sixth places showed how determined he was to make up for the disappointment of 2015, when he missed out on the title having led the standings for much of the year.
He was to be one of the title protagonists again with returning 2014 champion Mike Bushell the other key player.
Both had strengths in different areas. Team Pyro racer Bushell was the king of qualifying as he claimed an incredible 12 poles out of 18. Whorton-eales’ advantage was in the races as he was capable of making some blistering getaways – the way he surged from 10th to second on the first lap at a very wet Rockingham was incredible – and also his superior racecraft.
He pulled off some brilliant passes, with his double overtake on team-mate Luke Kidsley and Bushell into Riches at Snetterton a highlight.
The pair were almost inseparable in the points heading into the Brands Hatch finale. But that was when the racing became even more unpredictable. First, Bushell spun off while weaving too enthusiastically behind the safety car in race one.
Three-time champion Paul Rivett then proved to play a significant role in the title battle in the finale as he lunged down the inside of Whorton-eales at Graham Hill Bend. AWE just about controlled the slide but returned to the track in the path of the innocent Bushell, which speared the Pyro driver off into the barriers. His title hopes were as battered as his Clio machine.
“I couldn’t believe I tagged Mike – I was gutted to see his race end like that,” says Whorton-eales, whose final winning margin was eight points. “I wanted to battle him on track hard and fair.”
Bushell was left thinking of what could have been. “I’m ruing a couple of mistakes that cost me those eight points, but I have to give credit to Ant for his prowess at the starts,” Bushell says. “To be on pole by a second at Thruxton – I don’t know how I did that. So they [the 12 poles] are feathers in the cap.
“The only thing I’m gutted about is I’ve never had a win taken away from me before.”
Bushell only took three wins all year, compared to Whorton-eales’ nine, but was twice stripped of victory post-race. The first was for a track limits penalty in race two at Thruxton, while an overly-robust move on his title rival in the Silverstone opener led to another post-race penalty. Had he kept those wins, he would’ve been champion.
For a season with so many incidents it was perhaps unsurprising that the very final act would be so dramatic, as a roll for Kidsley brought the season to a close.
ou would think that anyone who has a 93-point lead heading into the final three weekends of the season is a pretty sure bet to win the title. But the 2016 Ginetta GT4 Supercup campaign showed how quickly fortunes can change as in the end Tom Wrigley triumphed by a mere three points.
The Rob Boston Racing driver was dominant in the first half of the season. He took a hat-trick of victories at Donington Park and also nearly completed a quartet at Knockhill until a collision with Carl Boardley and Callum Pointon ended his run of finishing every race on the podium. That kickstarted a dismal spell for the 24-year-old.
“Rockingham started off well as I qualified on pole by half a second and it went down hill from there,” Wrigley explains. “I had an electrical problem in the first race and race two was going well until I made a slight error of judgement [when he collided with title rival Will Burns at Chapman Curve] – I can laugh about it now!
“After that, the pressure mounted up a little bit and I wasn’t performing as well as I could. I ended up getting in lots of different scuffles and it messed with me a bit mentally.”
In the space of one weekend Burns cut Wrigley’s advantage from 93 points to 19 and set up a thrilling final six races. More errors from Wrigley followed as he was penalised for another incident with Boardley and Pointon at Silverstone and then he had a dismal qualifying at Brands Hatch.
This helped set up an incredible finale where he just scraped home. But it all came down to a bold move on Jack Mitchell that netted him third and the title. With Burns finishing second, the title would’ve been his had Wrigley not pulled off the risky pass.
“It [the overtake] felt a lot less bold in the car,” admits Wrigley. “I really enjoyed the last race – the cards were on the table. There was no way I was letting it go – for me being so dominant not to win the championship would’ve been crazy.”
As for Douglas driver Burns, he approached the final rounds with no pressure and so nearly came away with the crown himself.
“I had completely written off the championship by Knockhill,” he recalls. “For the last round I had no pressure and gave 110 per cent. I did about everything I could do – it was out of my hands really.
“In hindsight you think you should’ve taken a few more risks earlier in the year but I was only trying to finish every race as consistency is so important.”
That consistency nearly brought rewards as he finished every race and was just twice outside of the top five, but in the end it wasn’t quite enough.
Third-placed Jamie Orton would also have been a title contender after Wrigley’s slump but for missing the four Knockhill races when his wife was expecting their first child.