HOUSE AND NEWSHAM WIN AS SMITH TAKES TITLE
Aron Smith (Rathfarnham) became the 2008 ELF Renault Clio Winter Cup champion with a brace of second place finishes in rounds three and four at Rockingham on Saturday, 8th November. The Irish driver came home behind PH Motorsport's Phil House (Harrogate) in round three, while Amery Motorsport's Dave Newsham (Inverness) won a closely-fought final race.
Smith's victory means Team Pyro completes the 2008 Clio Cup double after winning the summer championship with Ben Winrow (Earls Barton) at the wheel.
Two wins at Croft gave Smith the upper hand heading into the second weekend's racing but it was Total Control Racing's Alex MacDowall (Carlisle) who claimed pole position for both of Saturday's races. Smith joined him on the front row, with TCR's Ray MacDowall and Newsham on row two.
The start of round three saw Alex MacDowall, Smith and Newsham run three-wide through the banked Turn One but as they battled for space it was Ray MacDowall who came through to take second ahead of Smith. Mardi Gras Motorsport's David Dickenson (Keatingstown) moved up to fourth as Newsham once again lost out on the opening lap of a Clio Winter Cup race.
Lap two saw Dickenson pass his countryman for third place, while House and Newsham diced for more than half a lap before House got past at Brook chicane. Smith and Dickenson swapped places twice more at Deene hairpin and Pif Paf. House then caught Dickenson and feinted a move at Brook that caused the Irish driver to run wide and down to fifth. Alex MacDowall took advantage of the action behind to storm into a 6.6s lead after just five laps.
Ray MacDowall served a Drive Through Penalty on lap six, issued for a false start, which dropped him down to sixth. As Smith was slowed by MacDowall moving to take his penalty, House came up to take second place and set about catching Alex MacDowall.
With three of the 12 laps remaining, House was within two seconds of the lead as MacDowall's tyres began to wear on the drying circuit. MacDowall lost five seconds on lap 11 as House took the lead, Smith following through into second place. Newsham then took third on the final lap as MacDowall slipped to fourth and it was House who celebrated his first Clio Cup victory.
Aron Smith gave himself a scare at the start of round four, running wide at Deene hairpin on the opening lap. He battled side by side through Pif Paf with Phil House, his main rival for the title, regaining fourth place. Alex MacDowall held the lead from pole position but Dave Newsham soon took over at the head of the field as MacDowall slipped back on lap two.
Smith moved into third place by passing Ray MacDowall on lap two and with House down in sixth place after losing out to David Dickenson, the title was comfortably within Smith's grasp. This didn't stop the Irishman from going all out to improve his position and Alex MacDowall had to defend hard to resist the Irishman's charge.
Lap five saw House slide off at Pif Paf and he was forced to pit, rejoining two laps down but still able to win the title should Smith fail to finish. That became a possibility as Smith and Alex MacDowall raced side by side through Yentwood and Pif Paf, the Team Pyro driver just edging ahead in second place.
Smith immediately pulled away from MacDowall and with five laps left was faced with a 1.75s gap to Newsham. On lap eight, both Alex and Ray MacDowall ran wide at Deene, Dickenson taking fourth place from Ray. Smith took almost a full second out of Newsham's lead on lap nine and the final three laps would prove highly tense for the Amery Motorsport driver.
Deene hairpin looked the most likely passing opportunity and Newsham was careful to cover the inside line in the braking zone. Through the infield, the Amery driver kept Smith at arm's length and it came down to the final lap. Once again Smith attacked at Deene but Newsham, accustomed to front-running from his success in Legends racing, shrugged off the pressure to take a deserved first Clio Cup victory.
Commenting after the race, champion Aron Smith said: "I got a good start but really over-cooked it going into the first corner and I thought I wouldn't get it stopped. Luckily I managed to do it just in time and it was good racing with Alex and Dave after that. I suppose it was a bit risky given that I just had to finish ahead of Phil but it was good fun and it turned out OK in the end!"
The ELF Renault Clio Cup continues in support of the British Touring Car Championship in 2009 as the only saloon-car championship on the BTCC support package. Rounds one and two take place at Brands Hatch on 4th/5th April.