A bumper field of aspiring touring car racers will look to impress at Brands Hatch this weekend (2/3 April) when the 2011 AirAsia Renault Clio Cup UK bursts into life at the Kent circuit.
The shorter Brands Hatch Indy layout plays host to the first two rounds of the 2011 campaign, with an impressive field set to do battle for early bragging rights in the all-action series; now under the control of new promoter SRO and with title sponsor, AirAsia.
The 17-car entry for the season opener is headed by defending champions Team Pyro, who clinched the title last season in dominant fashion with BTCC graduate, Dave Newsham.
The Barwell-based team go into 2011 with a stellar line-up featuring no fewer than six drivers, and showed themselves as the team to beat during official pre-season testing at Rockingham. There, Adam Bonham (Kibworth) showed his potential by topping the times by nearly half a second, setting himself up as one to watch in his first season of Clio competition.
“After setting the pace at the media day at Rockingham, I’m really looking forward to the weekend,” he said, “but it’s important to remember than testing is testing, and I can’t underestimate the competition going into the race weekend.
“Initially my aim for Brands Hatch was to try and be in the top ten, but with my performance in testing, I’m now hoping to be near the front.”
Bonham is joined in the Pyro line-up by Chris Swanwick (Nottingham), Josh Files (Norwich), Aron Smith (Rathfarnham), Jack Goff (High Wycombe) and Craig Currie (Foston) – all of whom head to Brands Hatch keen to make a strong start to their championship campaigns.
The defending champions won’t have it all their own way however, with multiple title winners Total Control Racing heading to Brands Hatch with an impressive multi-car line-up of its own.
Local driver James Dixon (Maidstone) heads into his home event as one of the title favourites after an impressive ‘tin-top’ debut last year; which was capped by a double win on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit in the final rounds of the campaign.
Having been second quickest in testing at Rockingham, he heads to Brands Hatch keen to replicate the results he secured on Finals Day back in October.
“Ending the season with a double win last year was fantastic so I have to aim to do the same again this weekend,” he said. “It’s crucial to try and get both pole positions in qualifying because the Clio Cup is so competitive that you will struggle to fight for the win if you aren’t at least on the front row. The aim is to start my season with two victories.”
Dixon is joined in TCR’s line-up by three newcomers to the Clio Cup; Tom Grice (Hockley) moves up from karting to sample car racing for the first time, and former BTCC racer Mark Proctor (Driffield) comes out of retirement to return to action for the first time since an accident in 2009 which saw him halt his career. The four-car line-up is completed by Nicolas Hamilton, younger brother of 2008 F1 champion Lewis, who will make his racing debut in the opening rounds of the new season.
Amongst the other leading contenders for the year ahead is the man who finished second in the championship standings last season, Lee Pattison (Liveridge) who has agreed a deal to return to JHR Developments. James Colburn (Worthing), who finished fourth in the championship last year, is another driver to return this season with the Westbourne Motorsport team and will be in contention for honours from the opening weekend of the season.
Darren Wilson (Newark) is another driver returning to the series this season with his 20Ten Racing team while Lancashire racer Jake Packun (Bolton) is also back in action with the newly created Get on Track Developments team.
While a number of eager youngsters will aim to secure title success, the opening rounds of the new season also see two more experienced figures return to the series; and both have championship honours to the names.
Having finished tenth in the standings last season despite only entering eight of the 20 rounds, double Clio champion Paul Rivett (Banstead) makes a full-time return with Stancombe Vehicle Engineering, running under the Lumison BlueSquare Data banner, while former Winter Series title winner, Matt Allison (Norwich), heads up series newcomers Scuderia Vittoria as he makes his return to full-time racing.
Allison will be partnered by Clio Cup rookie Luke Wright (Shaftesbury), who will move into the series having raced in single-seaters in 2010.
“I’ve basically been away from racing for two and a half years,” Allison said, “and it’s nice to be back in a series I have history with. I love the one make series as you know everyone has an equal chance, whereas when I was in the BTCC, you would arrive at the circuit and know sixth was the best you could hope for.
“I’ll be happy this weekend if we can get some top six finishes and maybe break onto the podium as you can’t win the title in the first round, but DNF’s can hurt you. It’s important that we finish both races and I’ll try to use my experience to come away from the weekend with as much as possible.”
The AirAsia Renault Clio Cup UK will be in action twice during the Brands Hatch weekend, with the opening 20 lap encounter due to start at 16:25 on Saturday, with the second race on Sunday afternoon at 14:45.
Clio Cup action will feature in the live ITV broadcast of the opening rounds of the new BTCC season, which will air on ITV4 and ITV4 HD from 11:00-18:00 and will also be available on www.itv.com.
In addition, the Sunday race will be available to view online through the Renault Sport website following the weekend’s action.