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Bushell’s back! Double Clio Cup champ looks forward to the year ahead

After the announcement that Mike Bushell would be joining Team HARD for the 2018 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, the double Renault UK Clio Cup champion took time out of a busy schedule at Autosport International to speak to btcc.net on his prospects for the year ahead.

Bushell last took to the grid in Britain’s premier motor racing championship back in 2015, completing a campaign in AmD Tuning’s Ford Focus ST. By his own admission, his debut year didn’t play out as smoothly as he would have hoped, with illness tempering his fitness over the opening portion of the season and a heart-on-the-sleeve attitude to racing at the pinnacle of UK pyramid affecting results. The Kent racer is aiming to change his approach this time around as he looks to capitalise on an opportunity that arose and came together at short notice.

“It’s all been a bit of a shock really!” said Bushell. “After my first foray in 2015, we came away from it at the end of the year and though that was it, the ship had sailed. I didn’t have the chance to stay for a combination of reasons and I was just a little bit naive at the time – I didn’t approach it in the right way, thinking to the future.

“I went into it driving with my heart and didn’t best deal with the rest of it that comes along with top-level UK motor sport. I had a troubled start to my first foray. My fitness was poor because of my illness prior to the season, and as a result I struggled early on. I found it extremely tough every time I was in the car, it was hard to drive.

“This year, things should be much better from the outset. Team HARD is a friendly family that wants to help. I’m just excited, I can’t wait to get in the car. I went back to the Renault UK Clio Cup and going there I said I wanted to win a second title. I missed out by the narrowest of margins to Ant Whorton-Eales in 2016 but obviously managed to do it in 2017.

“It was maybe a little bit of ‘rabbit in the headlights’ in my first year in the BTCC. It’s hopefully dipped beam now! Not quite so dazzling!”

A post-season test with Team Pyro in a TCR-spec Honda acted as encouragement to Bushell, reinforcing that he could still mix it in higher-performance machinery. With BTCC champion Ash Sutton also testing the Civic Type R on the day, Bushell had a benchmark. His performance was such that it warranted a phone call from Team HARD and Brisky Racing in the immediate aftermath, and the offer of a BTCC drive followed shortly thereafter.

“When I finished the season last year I thought that would be that, especially with a little girl on the way,” continued Bushell. “Having two titles in Clios is something not many have managed and I thought that would be my lot.

“I then had a go in a Honda TCR car at Brands Hatch, alongside Ash Sutton. There were a lot of people there taking notes of who was doing what, and as it happened I was pretty comparable to Ash on the day. I got a phone call from Richard Wheeler of Brisky Racing and he was trying to tempt me into a TCR car full time. Then I got a phone call about a possibility of driving one of the Team HARD Volkswagens and that was that.

“Everything came about so quickly and it’s nice to have everyone around you in the team. If people want you to be there, then they’re willing to help you be there. You feel like you’re part of the family. They want to have the success with you, as well as with the team.

“From a personal point of view, it was brilliant to be up there on the time sheets in that test with Team Pyro – a generous gesture from them for winning the Clio Cup. It was nice to get the confidence back in something that’s a notch up from one of the Clios because I have to say I did doubt myself after leaving the BTCC the first time around.”

Bushell hailed the ambition of his new team, and the efforts of its staff – headed up by longstanding Team Principal Tony Gilham. Recruiting engineer Geoff Kingston from Speedworks Motorsport at the end of 2017 is one particular piece of the jigsaw that Bushell has singled out as he looks to maximise the performance of the Volkswagen CC in what is his second crack proper at the BTCC.

“You can’t take anything away from the work that Tony (Gilham) and the team are putting into this behind the scenes. It’s a massive effort to get everything sorted and I’ve seen the changes which are happening and certainly, I’ve only ever heard good things about Geoff Kingston. He’s the sort of chap that needs to have a constant goal to achieve. 

“I’ve already built a good relationship with him, similar to the one I shared with Mark Hunt at Team Pyro. That’s important for me because I can’t really go and do it on my own all of the time. I need to have the right person to talk to – dialling the car in together. That’s what you need. It’s all about the people around you.

As far as ambitions for the season to come, Bushell hopes for silverware – no mean feat in one of the most competitive, closely contested touring car championships in the world, up against a grid full of prime tin top talent.

“There’s only ever four or five people in Clios that are really on it. Now, I’m coming into a whole grid of race winners in other classes so it’s going to be hard. I’ll certainly be looking to work alongside all of the drivers in our team to get us up the pack. You’ve only got to look at what Matt Neal and Flash (Gordon Shedden) do. They’re always actually working together, whether that be in testing or in qualifying and even in the racing, towing each other along. You just have to look at the bigger picture.

“My absolute top goal for the year would be a podium, even if it means lucking into one on a reverse grid. A podium’s an achievement that a lot of people will never get. When you look at the people that have come and gone, there are many that never reached the rostrum. I think it’s one of those things that can really seal a future in British Touring Cars. We’re coming back into it looking at it from a long-term business perspective and from a career point of view so we’ll just be realistic with it. I’ll be driving with a head.”

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