LULHAM & MARTINS TAKE SILVERSTONE VICTORIES TO SET UP iRACING BRITISH F4 TROPHY SHOWDOWN
The fate of the inaugural iRacing British F4 Trophy will now be decided at the final rounds next week, as Fortec’s Chris Lulham’s mixed fortunes allowed teammate Luke Browning to stay within touching distance of taking the title, with Lulham and Arden’s Rafael Martins taking a win each on the night.
Both of the championship-contending Fortec drivers locked out the front row once more with Browning taking pole from Lulham. Impressive Russian youngster Alexey Nesov claimed 3rd fastest time with Zak O’Sullivan alongside for company, while Bart Horsten showed good pace on his series debut with 5th fastest alongside fellow Arden driver Rafael Martins in 6th. With a gap of just 19 points between the top two drivers and 100 points still up for grabs, the tension was palpable.
A better start from the front row by Lulham helped him grab the lead heading into Abbey corner for the first time with Browning in tow and O’Sullivan up to 3rd as the cars headed onto the Hangar Straight for the first time. As the pack exited the right-hander, Horsten lost rear grip and looped his car, but he would get some salvation seconds later when the safety car was called before the leaders had even completed a lap. Frederick Lubin, Jonathan Hoggard, Alex Connor and James Hedley were all caught up in incidents throughout the opening few corners, leading to the rest of the pack bunching up at a reduced pace while most of those involved hit the fast repair button back to the pits.
Lulham’s restart wasn’t strong enough to shake Browning as the pair ran nose to tail through Abbey and Farm, although Luke wasn’t able to find a way past initially. One of the main battles behind them began with Abbi Pulling attempting a dive inside of Kremers at Stowe which was countered, leading to Varrone to pounce and steal a place for his troubles. Varrone then tried to get past Kremers at the Arena section as Pulling spun behind them, with the Argentinian completing the move on the Carlin driver at Club before attempting to run away after Martins in 5th place.
Back with the leaders, Browning was sticking to the gearbox of Lulham’s car, setting the fastest lap along the way as he continued to apply pressure. Further back, Seb Priaulx took his turn to attempt a pass on Kremers and while he was able to get in front initially at Stowe, he found himself staring at the Carlin driver’s gearbox again a couple of corners later, leading to teammate Connor to begin attack albeit unsuccessfully. The top five had broken off into two groups with the pair of Fortec cars still heading the pack and the three remaining cars fighting over the final podium place a few seconds back with outside championship contender O’Sullivan holding the position from Nesov and Martins.
Browning continued to hound Lulham until eventually, his opportunity arose. Picking up a strong tow on the Hangar Straight, Browning swept to the inside late on the approach to Stowe and despite coming agonisingly close to making contact, both drivers did incredibly well to avoid tangling with each other. Ambitious the attempt may have been, but Luke’s move was successful and the lead changed hands by the exit of Stowe. Lulham bravely fought back around the outside through Abbey and Farm before taking the same line through The Link to retake the lead, but the in-fighting only gave O’Sullivan an opportunity to mix it up with the pair himself. Nesov was also in the vicinity too and began pushing for 3rd place, which he successfully took into Club. Browning made another enquiry for the lead heading into Village to no avail as Martins joined the scrap for P3, as O’Sullivan took the place back, leaving those watching not knowing where to look with so much action going on at the same time!
O’Sullivan’s title chances then took a blow when contact from Nesov fired him off into the gravel at Club, giving Martins and Varrone a chance to attack in the closing stage with Kremers also making great progress and trying to join the battle too. Varrone went wheel to wheel with Martins towards the end of the lap, but he too would also see his the latter’s good fortunes slip away when netcode caused contact between the pair and sending Martins into the barriers. In the lead, Browning continued to throw everything he had to overhaul Lulham for the win, but at the flag the two drivers remained in the same order with the points gap between the two extending by a couple more points in the process. Nesov claimed the final podium spot ahead of Kremers and Varrone, followed by Connor, Priaulx, a recovering O’Sullivan, Hoggard and Pulling.
A silver lining for Martins; late retirement was the reverse grid pole position for Race 2 as a result, leaving him to head the field along with teammates Lubin and Nathan de Villiers. Martins managed to break away quickly early on the opening lap, leaving his teammates to squabble with Christian Mansell, but the drama would take place behind them as points leader Lulham spun approaching The Link before receiving a whack from Hedley, forcing him to fast repair to the pits, while Whitehead and Fitz-Simon both tangled at Club, as did Pulling and Nesov in a separate incident. Unsurprisingly, the safety car was called once again to allow everyone to regroup.
Another great restart from Martins allowed him to jump the field again, but towards the back a critical spin for O’Sullivan left him at the back of the field in a race that, ideally, he needed to win to remain in championship contention. Back with the front runners, Lubin and Horsten were attempting to work as rear gunners for Martins as they fought to keep the rapid Carlin pair of Christian Mansell and Kremers behind them. De Villiers would join them moments later, as would Luke Browning who had survived the first lap chaos and climbed to a staggering 7th place by the end of the first lap from the restart. Lubin would then received a tag from Kremers under braking for Club, leaving him off in the gravel trap as the Benelux driver continued on relatively unscathed.
All of this allowed Browning to steal further places and move into 4th place as he watched Mansell and Horsten get stuck in for the runner-up spot. As expected, Luke was on their tail in no time but still had a feisty Kremers just behind him waiting to pounce. Browning had a look for 3rd place at Stowe with no success, but a slow down penalty for Horsten allowed a free pass as Luke’s Fortec teammate Hoggard latched onto the rear of his car and gave him a helpful push down the back straight in a bid to assist him in catching Mansell. As expected, Browning was quick to reel the Carlin machine in and after applying pressure for a lap, a lock-up into Village helped set up an attempt that was blocked into Stowe. But, more critically just one corner later drama unfolded when Browning tagged Mansell under braking, putting him into a spin and causing Browning to half spin briefly and drop to 4th, losing a handful of precious points he would have gained on Lulham in the process.
Out in front, there was no one to challenge leader Martins as he reeled off the laps one by one in a comfortable lead which he would never lose and in the process allowed him to clinch his first win in the series. Hoggard and Nesov would join him on the podium, while Browning picked up 4th place but will have rued his mistake late in the race that cost him points. Kremers took the final top 5 spot, while a sure and steady race from Jayden Ojeda earned him 6th place by staying out of trouble. De Villiers and Hedley came home next, followed by O’Sullivan and Rafael Villagomez, although 9th place was not enough to keep O’Sullivan in the hunt for the title, leaving it to be a two-horse race between Lulham and Browning with only the Brands Hatch finale left to run.