As the Renault UK Clio Cup headed North to Oulton Park over the weekend to support the British Touring Car Championship, all three of the Team BMR backed drivers performed well from the outset after Mike Bushell and Senna Proctor topped the time-sheets in Friday's test session with Josh Price hot on their heels in 5th.
When the sun rose on Saturday morning our expectations were high for qualifying and the boys came up trumps as Mike qualified on pole position for both races, with graduate Senna right alongside him on the front row of the grid. Josh managed 6th for the opening race later that afternoon, but after a trip into the gravel trap and only one banker lap in the bag he had to settle with 13th for the second encounter on Sunday.
As the lights went out for the opening race it was Ant Whorton-Eales from 4th on the grid who made the lightning getaway and was instantly on the back of Mike as Senna fended off the advances of triple champion Paul Rivett. Whorton-Eales finally made a move stick and would see Mike drop to 2nd as Rivett passed Senna for the final podium spot. However Mike wasn't going to settle for second and soon regained the lead of the race with places being traded up and down the field behind him. When the checkered flag fell it was Mike who took the race win, his first of the season as Senna crossed the line 4th his best result to date. Josh also had a great result bringing his Clio across the finishing line in 9th. Whorton-Eales and Max Cotes completed the podium as Rivett fell to 7th handing the championship lead over to Mike.
For race two Mike was keen to hang onto his lead after a great getaway, but this time is was Senna who attempted a move around the outside as gasps were heard from the garage as the duo ran side by side into turn one. Unfortunately for Senna, once again it was Whorton-Eales from third on the grid who managed to sneak up the inside into second dropping him to third as Rivett tagged the back of his Clio sending him sideways into turn two. However the Bridlington youngster managed to get the car pointing in the right direction and stayed ahead of Rivett on the run down to the hairpin as the chasing pack slotted into single file for the first time, as Josh moved up the order into a fantastic 9th place. At turn one on lap three a small mistake from Mike saw Whorton-Eales pounce and take the lead of the race placing Mike and Senna back together once again in 2nd and 3rd as Josh went on the attack of Coates whilst fending off Lee Pattison. The remaining nine laps would see many battles throughout the 21 car field, with Senna gaining all of the TV glory as he fended off four drivers headed by Rivett to hang onto his podium place. As the checkered flag fell for Whorton-Eales at the end of lap 12, Mike crossed the line in 2nd, his second podium of the weekend with just 1.33 seconds between them. Senna crossed the line 3rd gaining him another Clio Cup career best as Rivett crossed the line in 4th. Rivett also picked up a five second time penalty that dropped him all the way down the order to 12th, which just goes to show how close the Renault UK Clio Cup is. Josh dropped down the order in the latter stages to cross the line in 15th.
Senna was also handed a second trophy for taking the Graduate Cup win.
Speaking of his weekend in Cheshire Mike commented: "It's great to return to form. I've slowly been getting quicker and quicker since the start of the year and 4 poles on the trot is no mean feat. I'm a little annoyed with myself with a small error in race 2 that cost me a double win. We learn from our mistakes and I've still gained more points than anyone else over the weekend with the help of fastest lap in race 1 to go with the win and 2nd place." Speaking about his previous Championship assault back in 2014 he added: "In 2014 I didn't lead the championship until after penultimate round at Rockingham, so to be in the lead and have more points than I did in 2014 at this stage gives me confidence that I'm getting stronger every time I'm in the car. I've been driving with a more sensible approach this year so far and consistency has been key. Now the speed is returning, I just need to keep the momentum and pick up some more trophies."
A very ecstatic Senna couldn't wait to speak of how brilliant his weekend was and stated: "After a really tough start to the season, things had not gone as I would have wanted *so I decided to approach Oulton park with a more relaxed frame of mind instead of putting too much pressure on myself. It seemed to do the trick as we were quick right from Friday morning free practice and gained P2 for both races after a really good qualifying. At that point we knew we were in a great position to get my first podium in the Clio cup and it feels brilliant. I now hope we can continue this momentum into the rest of the season and it's nice to hit top form coming into Croft, a track I love and is also effectively my home circuit. I would like to thank Team Pyro for giving me a great car this weekend and especially Team BMR for all their support."
Pyro Team Manager Mark Hunt was also ecstatic about Senna's performance and added: "I'm very proud to see Senna at the front all weekend. We found a few issues after Thruxton that we resolved and his true pace showed through. We knew he had the pace as he was always fast in pre season testing. In Race 1 he received some damage that slowed his progress but still got 4th and in race 2 he kept ex Champion Rivett at bay for the whole race to get 3rd, his best result this season. I *can’t wait to see what he can do at Croft."
Mike remains at the top of the Championship standings some 14 points clear of Whorton-Eales who's race 2 win moved him up ahead of Rivett. Senna has moved up the order to 9th behind Josh who remains 8th.
We now head to Croft in North Yorkshire on the weekend of the 18th and 19th of June for rounds 9 and 10.
Written by Chris Chatters
Photo credits Phil Laughton Photography