BROWNING & LULHAM CLAIM INAUGURAL iRACING BRITISH F4 SPOILS AT DONINGTON PARK
Fortec Motorsport drivers Luke Browning and Chris Lulham made history earlier this week as they became the first-ever race winners in the inaugural contest of the new iRacing British F4 Trophy after two contests at a virtual Donington Park.
The iRacing British F4 Trophy invites both current and recent drivers from the championship to compete in equal virtual Dallara F3 machinery (due to the Mygale F4 chassis not being currently featured on iRacing) on a variety of UK circuits included within the sim racing platform, with the competitors competing in identical single-seater race cars to earn the chance to win a free British F4 race weekend entry once the championship finally gets underway at its revised start date of August 1-2 at Donington Park.
Browning claimed pole position for Race 1 and led into the first corner at the start, but immediate pressure from fellow front-row man and teammate Lulham ended up seeing a switch for the lead halfway through the opening lap. With the leading pair quickly pulling away, the battle for 3rd was on between Arden’s Roman Bilinski and Zak O’Sullivan of Carlin with Nico Varrone’s privateer entry giving chase to round out the top 5. O’Sullivan managed to quickly slip past into McLeans to take the place, and while Bilinski attempted to repass it only left him vulnerable to attack from Varrone.
At the front, Lulham and Browning continued to run together in the leading pair as they began to work through backmarkers. A mistake from Lulham as he ran wide exiting the Old Hairpin put Browning underneath his rear wing once again, but the 2019 F4 debutant managed to quickly recompose himself and remain in the lead. A mishap a couple of laps later from Browning saw him drop a wheel onto the outside grass exiting Coppice, forcing him down to 4th behind O’Sullivan and Bilinski and leaving him with ground to make up. He quickly closed in on Bilinski as the pair, in turn, reduced the gap to O’Sullivan to less than a second as the race entered its closing stages with backmarkers set to play their part. O’Sullivan lost time lapping Oliver Bearman bringing Bilinski right onto his tail with a lap and a half to go, but in the end it wouldn’t be enough to trouble the Irishman.
Lulham, meanwhile, became the first-ever iRacing British F4 race winner as he took the chequered flag for Fortec by nearly 6 seconds with O’Sullivan keeping Bilinski at bay at the flag for the pair to take 2nd and 3rd respectively. Browning was only able to recover to 4th ahead of Johnathan Hoggard at the base of the top 5, while Abbi Pulling recovered brilliantly from early contact with Varrone at the Old Hairpin to claim a superb 6th. Ginetta Junior champion James Hedley delivered a solid 7th place ahead of Varrone in 8th after the Argentinian served a drive-through penalty for the incident with Pulling, with Ollie Bearman and Mikkel Grundtvig rounding out the top 10.
The grid was reversed for the second race of the evening with former British F4 champ Kiern Jewiss and newcomer Matias Zagazeta on the front row together, while the front runners from Race 1 would start all the way at the back of the pack. Jewiss took the lead from the start heading into Redgate for the first time as Zagazeta found himself swamped by both Varrone and Bearman after a poor getaway. The pack ran cleanly until the Old Hairpin when Arden’s Rafael Martins skated off into the gravel before both Varrone and Zagazeta were caught up in an incident that left them both in the barriers as well as collecting Race 1 winner Lulham and Pulling in the process. With all four out of contention for a good result, Jewiss led from Bearman as Hedley spun out of 3rd at Redgate, giving the place to a charging Luke Browning who had stormed up the order into a podium position in just over a lap.
Setting off after the top two with teammate Hoggard and Carlin’s O’Sullivan in tow, Browning only needed a lap to close onto the gearbox of Bearman and dived up the inside at Redgate to snatch 2nd place and begin his chase of leader Jewiss. As with Bearman, Browning wasted no time in reeling in the 2018 British F4 champion and in an identical move slotted past at Redgate, only to find that Jewiss was not prepared to give up that easy. Repassing into the Old Hairpin, Jewiss retook 1st place but the battle came to a premature end when the pair made light contact at McLeans leaving Jewiss on the grass and relinquishing the lead back to Browning. While this took place, a mistake from Hoggard behind them dropped him out of 4th place and sent him tumbling down the order and into the pits. Hoggard’s mistake left O’Sullivan in 4th place, but he soon came under attack from both reigning British F4 champion Zane Maloney and former F4 racer turned GT star Sebastian Priaulx as the race approached half distance.
In the lead, Browning had been able to extend a 1.2-second advantage ahead of Jewiss with Bearman a further 1.7 seconds back in the final podium place in 3rd. Bearman’s inexperience in single-seaters began to show as O’Sullivan and co started to draw him towards them thanks to faster lap times, and in no time at all the Carlin driver could sniff a potential podium finish in the offing. A wide exit for Bearman from Coppice corner allowed O’Sullivan to pile on the pressure even more as the race headed towards its final quarter, but two failed attempts to pass at the Old Hairpin and McLeans only brought Maloney into the mix as the three cars ran nose to tail before the Barbadian driver lost ground after running wide exiting the Fogarty Esses. O’Sullivan continued to hassle rookie Bearman and quickly dived inside of Redgate to initially steal 3rd place, but Bearman fought back as the pair went side by side through the Craner Curves. O’Sullivan resisted at the Old Hairpin and the lightest of touches put Bearman onto the grass on corner exit and as Maloney arrived to take advantage, his avoidance of Bearman’s rejoin left him charging over the grass at Starkeys, cutting across the inside of McLeans and questionably rejoining the circuit just before Bearman narrowly avoided making contact.
Meanwhile, Browning drove on unchallenged at the front to claim victory in the second race, followed home in 2nd place by polesitter Jewiss almost 4.5 seconds back with O’Sullivan rounding out the rostrum. Bearman survived another grassy excursion on the final lap to secure 4th ahead of the recovering Maloney who rounded off the top 5, while Priaulx did well to pick up 6th place as he came close to challenging for a top 5 finish in the closing stages. Marijn Kremers picked up 7th place for his troubles ahead of Josh Skelton in 8th, while Frederick Lubin and a resurgent Chris Lulham completed the top 10, the latter doing well to recover to 10th after getting caught up in the first lap incident.
The next instalment of the British F4 iRacing Trophy is set to take place on Monday May 4th as the drivers get ready to compete on the digital representation of Brands Hatch’s Indy circuit.