James Walker's battered KPM Scirocco leads Aaron Mason's AWM Golf home for round two victory. Photo:

A brace of dramatic opening rounds at Oulton Park – contested by a field of 25 cars – kicked off the new season of the APR Volkswagen Racing Cup in style on Monday at Oulton Park.

Despite the worst the Easter Bank Holiday Monday weather could throw at proceedings, both races were incident-packed thrillers. Aaron Mason and James Walker shared the spoils and leave Cheshire in joint possession of the championship lead.

A dramatic first-corner clash, which involved both pole man Mason and Walker, and several others, marred the start of Round 1. It was triggered when Cambridgeshire youngster Dominic Pettit made a slightly better getaway from second on the grid in his Vindis-backed Jetta to overhaul the AWM Golf GTI of Doncaster driver Mason on the run towards Old Hall. Mason and Pettit made contact, and then Mason and Walker were in collision, Nottinghamshire driver James then clouting the barriers in his new KPM Scirocco.

Amazingly Walker bounced off the barriers and back on to the track, pointing more or less in the right direction, and was able to get going again in seventh. Alas his return to the track triggered a chain reaction which saw the Golf of 16-year-old Nikhil Chopra and the Scirocco of Kieran Griffin in collision. Chopra was able to get going again but Griffin’s race ended against the barriers, with the safety car called into play while the debris was cleared.

Undeterred by the bumps and bruises, Mason regained the lead from Pettit on the opening lap, before the safety car started its three-lap procession period. Mason looked in no danger of losing his advantage after the restart until a fired-up Walker and his battle-scarred Cooke and Mason-backed Scirocco appeared in his mirrors on lap five, James having battled past Joe Fulbrook’s Bora, Peter Wyhinny’s Leon and Pettit on the way through to second.

James and his KPM-prepared machine hunted down Mason until two laps from the end, when a slow puncture slowed his progress. Aaron was 10s clear at the flag, and said: “It was a bit of a rough start – I got squeezed a bit by both James and Dominic – but it was OK after that until James came back at me a bit strong.”

Walker added: “I made a fairly decent start and was carrying on in a straight line, and then the next thing I know I am heading towards the barriers. I managed to get going again and just kept pushing until the tyre started to go down. I can’t complain – second is a good result for the opening round.”

Pettit came under heavy pressure in the late stages from his KPM running mate Wyhinny, the latter making a strong return to racing after 10 months away. Dominic was just a tenth clear of the SEAT UK boss at the line.

Last season’s top rookie, Tom Wilson, was an encouraging fifth in his Complete Racing Golf (with his racing novice dad, Jonathan, claiming 19th on his track debut), with Fulbrook sixth with handling woes.

Mike Neuhoff, the 2001 champion, showed few signs of rustiness, qualifying his KPM Mk VI Golf seventh and battling back to that position after slipping to 10th on the opening lap, claiming fastest lap along the way. Craig Milner’s new Scirocco carried him to eighth, ahead of championship newcomer Andy Wilmot and fellow Golf men Richard Morgan, Philip Morris and Cameron Thompson.

There were good drives from several racing rookies in addition to Jonathan Wilson: Paul Dehadray placed 13th, one spot ahead of ex-Superbike racer David Fairbrother, with Simon Tomlinson 20th and Chopra 21st.

Round 2 was no less dramatic, with Pettit making an extraordinary start from fourth on the grid to drive around the outside of everyone into Old Hall to nose his Jetta ahead. Dominic’s glory was shortlived, however: Mason demoted him to second before the lap’s end and then Pettit slithered into the Shell Oils Corner gravel trap on lap two.

A brief safety car period allowed Walker’s Scirocco, well patched up between races, to pounce at the restart and demote Fulbrook from second. A string of fastest laps from James brought him close to leader Mason, and he made his move for the lead on the seventh lap at the Shell hairpin, Aaron having to give best to his rival: “James had better pace in that race,” he said, “perhaps because I used the same wet tyres all day – a new set might have helped. However, overall it’s been a good day and I’m not disappointed.”

“That was a really good, clean race,” said Walker. “I had a good battle with Aaron and managed to find a way past at Shell. A first and a second from the opening weekend of the season is a great result and I’m very pleased.”

Like Pettit in race one, third-placed Fulbrook felt heavy late-race pressure from determined SEAT driver Wyhinny: “I saw him coming but managed to stay ahead, just,” said Joe. “Peter drove very well, all credit to him. My old car is showing its age a bit now and we have struggled with the set-up today; some changes we made worked and some didn’t.”

As in race one Wyhinny was followed to the flag by Wilson Jnr, with Morgan sixth to record his best-yet result in the championship. Morris’s seventh was a personal best also, the FUCHS Lubricants-backed driver racing home ahead of Milner and Griffin, whose heavily repaired SlideSports Scirocco had had to start from the back of the grid. Truck racer Chris Levett took 10th ahead of Wilmot, Neuhoff, championship returnee Richard Kingsnorth and the Beetle of Tony Harberman who, like Levett, had started from the back after a first-race off.

The Volkswagen Racing Cup – whose new title backer for 2012 is US Volkswagen group tuning giant APR – features 14 rounds over seven meetings, one of them at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. The series enjoys additional support from Ceva, ECM, Eibach, Hankook, Milltek Sport and Paragon.

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