LANIK IN WINTER WONDERLAND WITH DONINGTON DOUBLE

Defending ELF Renault Clio Winter Cup champion Niki Lanik (Ashurst Wood) made the perfect start to his title defence with victory in rounds one and two at Donington Park National circuit on Saturday, 3rd November. Although he qualified down in fourth and seventh for the two races, the Youth 4 Human Rights with SVE racer came through to win two exciting races.

Robertshaw Racing's Harry Vaulkhard (Jesmond) secured a fantastic pole position for round one on his Clio Cup debut. JHR Developments' Richard Cannon (Chesterfield) lined up second after a terrific qualifying performance that saw him take pole for round two, while team-mate Andrew Herron (Dromore) also had two top-three grid slots.

Lanik made the best start in round one and he took the lead ahead of Herron as Vaulkard ran wide at Redgate, just holding third ahead of Cannon. The debutant was the fastest driver on track in the early stages, ensuring a three-way battle for the lead. With Cannon isolated in fourth, Coastal Racing's Carl Bradley (Morecambe) led the race for fifth place until lap five when he was passed by maximumsolutions.co.uk's Stewart Lines (Allen End, Staffs).

Lap five saw a change for the lead as Lanik slid wide at Redgate allowing both Herron and Vaulkhard to pass. On the following lap, Vaulkhard passed for the lead at Coppice but Herron forced his way back through at Goddards chicane and Vaulkhard ran wide onto the grass dropping to fourth.

Bradley re-took fifth place on lap eight ahead of Total Control Racing's Alex MacDowall (Carlisle) as Lines dropped back, while Team Pyro's debutant Joe Hopkins (Shepshed) suffered a spin as a light drizzle began to dampen the track.

Lap nine saw Lanik re-take the lead from Herron but he lost it again on the following lap as the track conditions continued to play their part. Cannon continued to defend third place from Vaulkhard, both drivers sliding their way through the chicane on lap 12 and losing several seconds to the leading pair. Vaulkhard's race ended two laps later when he ran wide through the Craner Curves and into the tyre wall.

The lead changed hands three more times in the following laps, Lanik making the decisive move at Coppice on lap 15 to secure victory ahead of Herron. Cannon took a maiden Clio Cup podium with MacDowall taking fourth in the closing laps from Bradley with Team Pyro's Chris Law (Guernsey) rounding out the top six.

Round two saw MacDowall make a blistering start from the second row to take the lead. Alongside him, Vaulkhard also got away well but as he tried to pass between the front row starters, he hit wheels with Herron causing a puncture that cost him two laps after making a pit stop.

As a result of the first lap incident, Lanik found himself up in second from seventh on the grid ahead of Hopkins in an impressive third. Lanik wasted little time in making a bid for the lead, passing MacDowall at Goddards chicance to end lap one. Cannon was fourth ahead of Bradley and the recovering Herron, while TCR's Jonathan Ridley-Holloway (Barnstaple) headed Lines and TCR team-mate Mike Robinson (Effingham).

On lap three, a mistake from Hopkins saw him fall to sixth place, while Herron passed Bradley to rise to fourth. The Northern Irishman then caught Cannon over the next few laps, passing him on lap seven for third place. By the halfway stage, Lanik's lead was up to 0.7s over MacDowall with Herron a further 1.5s behind.

Bradley upped his pace to close on fourth-placed Cannon, while Robinson posted his own fastest lap to pressurise Ridley-Holloway for seventh as the midfield battle intensified. Cannon then suffered a throttle problem on lap 11, forcing him into retirement on the following lap.

In the final three laps, Ridley-Holloway dropped back to eighth as Robinson passed him. Chris Law gained two places on lap 14 as he overtook the pair, Ridley-Holloway attempting to hold the outside line at Hollywood before running wide through the Craner Curves.

At the head of the field, Lanik's lead was reduced slightly by MacDowall but he controlled his pace perfectly to take a second victory of the day, MacDowall and Herron completing the podium line-up.

Commenting on his performance, Lanik, who has won five of the last six Clio Winter Cup races, joked: "I think we should have a long winter season and a short summer season! Race one was pretty tough because it was getting damp and you never knew how much grip there would be, which is why the lead changed so many times. In race two I got a great start and a few mistakes ahead of me put me in second. I got past Alex and then just kept my lap times as consistent as possible."

Andrew Herron ended the day second in the drivers' standings, commenting: "Race one was really cat and mouse and it was probably better to be in second place during the race because of the rain. My steering was slightly off in race two after the bump at the start but I couldn't get back on terms with Alex because my tyres had worn a lot as I fought my way back through."

Rounds three and four of the ELF Renault Clio Winter Cup take place at North Yorkshire's Croft circuit on Saturday, 10th November.

-credit: nl/grovewood.co.uk