REIGNING MNI SPORT Mini Cup champion Clive King reckons he’ll have a battle on his hands to retain the title in 2017 – and he’s delighted.
The Midlands-based driver and his navigator Anton Bird clinched the 2016 crown in a last-round thriller on the Isle of Man.
And the pair are back for another tilt at the title, starting with next month’s opener, the AGBO Stages, but King acknowledges it won’t be a walk in the Park.
“Obviously we’ll be going all-out to defend our title, but there’s been a lot of interest in the Mini Sport Mini Cup over winter and a lot of new faces will be there,” he said.
“Amongst them are some very highly-rated drivers such as Ray Cunningham, who is coming over from Galway to do the series, and Mark Gamble, who was impressive in his Suzuki Swift last year at Weston Park.
“When you add in the established contenders such as Adrian Kermode, Peter Horsburgh and Jim Brindle it’s going to be tough. But that’s exactly how it should be, and however wins the Cup at the end of the year – and I hope it’s me – will know they have been in a fight.
“But it’s not all about winning, it’s also about the taking part. The camaraderie in the Mini Sport Mini Cup is unrivalled, with everyone prepared to help each other out. There’s a brilliant atmosphere at every round, and socially, it’s second to none. When the helmets go on, it’s every man for himself, but back in the paddock, we’re all friends.
That camaraderie was much in evidence on the final, ‘double header’ round of last year’s Mini Sport Mini Cup on the Isle Man.
King and Bird’s run on the first round came to an early end thanks to gearbox problems, but Clive stayed on late to help out Shane Gamble get his car ready for the Friday leg. Meanwhile, title rival Adrian Kermode was busy help secure a garage for Clive to repair his gearbox so that he could start the second leg – and win the title.
“For me, that summed up what this championship is all about,” said King.
With potentially up to 30 registered entries for the 2017 series, competition at the top of the leaderboard will place another pressure on the drivers, as King explained:
“With the strict regulations in place, it’s a level playing field and no-one has a real performance advantage. Drivers have to be very quick ‘out of the box’ from stage one, and they can’t afford a mistake. There are just seconds between the top five crews, so even a missed gearchange can spell trouble.
“Getting the balance between being consistently fast enough, but not overstepping the mark means driving with your head and not just your right foot. Anyone who overdrives a Mini will just lose time.”
*Run under the umbrella of the HRCR Old Stager Historic Asphalt Stage Rally Championship, the 2017 Mini Sport Mini Cup gets underway on Sunday March 19, at Weston Park, Shropshire.
March 19: AGBO Stages, Weston Park.
April 30: Dixies Historic Challenge, Epynt.
June 18: Mid Summer Stages, Caerwent.
August 6: Solway Coast, Scottish Borders.
September 14-16: Rally Isle of Man (two rounds)
October 22: Cheviot Stages, Otterburn.
Reserve event: November 25: Hall Trophy, Blyton Park.
You can follow updates on Clive and Anton’s progress, along with full results on the Mini Sport Mini Cup page here.