Brands Hatch GP Blog – Season Finale

Max Coates Brands Hatch GP blog

Missing out by the narrowest of margins, the 2018 Renault UK Clio Cup title decider

The pressure has been on since the second half of the season started at Snetterton, we started then with a small points lead and extended that significantly at the Norfolk venue. From then on in holding that advantage has had its challenges, namely a DNF (Did Not Finish) at Rockingham and subsequently at Silverstone. It was deeply frustrating to know that these were caused by circumstances out of the team and my control, but that’s racing.

The net result was that heading into the championship decider at Brands Hatch we had a 6-point lead over 2nd place in the series and a 7 point lead over 3rd. The gap was small but I preferred to have the advantage. (It is important to note here that points are awarded as follows 25pts, 1st – 22pts, 2nd – 20pts, 3rd – 18pts, 4th – 16pts, 5th – 13pts, 6th – 10pts, 7th etc with 2 points awarded for the fastest lap and an additional bonus point for any leader of the race over the finish line).

Brands Hatch is like a second home track for me. Whilst I’m a proud Yorkshireman at heart, Brands Hatch, especially the GP circuit variation which we finish on has always had a soft spot for me. I grew up watching World Superbike’s at the circuit so I feel comfy in my surroundings there. The weather was set to be good all weekend, not a drop of rain in sight and fairly warm, just to my liking.

The pre-event test on Friday went well, 4th in the first session was good and I felt fast straight out of the box. I attacked the track from lap one and felt good. In the second session we ran a new set of front tires to get a feeling for Qualifying. It went very well as I set the fastest ever lap recorded by a Renault Clio Cup car around the circuit. Therefore, confidence grew and as we went to bed on Friday I felt very good.

Saturday’s qualifying session didn’t go to plan. Qualifying has been a real strong point for me this year. After the practice tests we felt comfortable a front row start was on the cards. In the first part of qualifying we were running in the top four but a number of drivers went faster on the second set of tires and I ended up 7th and 6th places for the races respectively. I was disappointed because I knew I had the speed to put it on pole.

Race one started well, from 7th I got the better of the driver on the outside of the row ahead of me and slotted into 6th. The race was interrupted somewhat due to an incident on lap one and then a big crash for a fellow competitor about 7 laps in. I made a position up to 5th as another driver had jumped the start. The safety cars and red flags meant I couldn’t make an advance on my championship rivals who qualified ahead of me and therefore the gap between the three of us shrunk to 4 points!

The build up to race two was intense, as much as everyone tells you there is no pressure, there definitely is and none more so than what I put on myself. I knew I had work to do but if I brought my ‘A game’ then I was in with a chance. A good start was just what I needed, straight up to 4th and past one of my title rivals, the other had taken the lead. On lap 2 my team mate ran wide and the third placed car went with him, up to 2nd! At that point I thought this is it, it’s fate. A couple of seconds to catch up to James Dorlin and with clear track ahead, this is mine to win now! Unfortunately, the cars behind had other ideas and with the all-important slipstream they stayed right on my tail and with this pressure from behind I couldn’t catch James out front. Mike Epps managed to edge ahead of me on the GP loop of the circuit just before the first safety car. Once the lights went out I tried to find a way past but couldn’t. Then, another safety car. The front three cars got a jump this time but Mike dropped a wheel onto the grass coming exiting the final corner which allowed James, in the lead, to get away and those behind to close the gap to me. I got up the inside at turn two but a push from behind sent me wide and I fell back to fourth momentarily before regaining 3rd at the next corner. I then set about trying to make another pass for 2nd but couldn’t find a way through. You could tell I was trying from a big two wheeled moment at Paddock Hill bend. I finished the race 3rd, it was nice to end the season on the podium but it wasn’t enough to win the championship. Gutted, just three points off!

Whilst we didn’t win the series I am very proud of the achievements this year, as well as in the previous year for myself, the teams I have raced for, my friends, family and sponsors who have supported me. It’s been a fantastic couple of seasons in the Renault UK Clio Cup and has certainly been the making of me as a driver. To reflect on this year in particular we have had some real highs; race two at Brands Hatch, the Thruxton weekend as a whole, Croft, Snetterton and some real lows; Rockingham and Silverstone in particular. I’ve also put some stats at the bottom of the page which give you an idea of just how close we were to winning the championship.

During the rest of 2018 I have a few races planned. The first was in the Britcar Endurance Championship with DAT Racing in a Seat Leon TCR car at Silverstone International. We finished on the podium in our class in race one. I will be re-joining the team and Guy Colclough in driving duties at Brands Hatch for the series’ ‘into the night race’. Also, on the 3rd and 4th November I am hoping to compete in the Renault Clio World final at Paul Ricard in the South of France with the hope of becoming World Champion.

My efforts are now also focussed on 2019 as I hope to break back into the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). We are currently in talks with a number of teams and only time will tell where we find a seat. Fingers crossed 2019 brings as much success as 2018.

As ever, a big thanks to all at Clements for their continued support!

Some stats:

  • Race one Croft: Paul Rivett: 1:32.283 vs Max Coates: 1:32.285 (0.002) +2 points
  • Race two Croft: Lee Pattison: 1:32.589 vs Max Coates: 1:32.609 (+0.020) +2 points
  • Race two Brands Hatch GP: Daniel Rowbottom: 1:39.260 vs Max Coates: 1:39.299 (0.039) +2 points
    0.061 off being Champion!
  • Additionally, I missed out on an additional point at Croft in race one when trying to pass Paul Rivett. 0.042 off Paul Rivett at Croft. (+0.042) +1 point