Steve McMaster made an early case for the 420R Championship title as he began the season with a pair of victories at the opening rounds of the second season of virtual competition at Oulton Park.

The honour of the first pole position of the new season went to DPR Motorsport team boss David Rowe, who showed his excellent progress in pace over the break between seasons to claim the top spot in qualifying by less than a tenth of a second ahead of McMaster, with Emile Gijselinckx of Belgium lapping third fastest ahead of Will Rossetti and James Murphy.

As it turned out, Rowe was a little too keen to get the new season underway as he jumped prematurely from the lights just before they went out for Race 1, instantly earning him a drive-through penalty as a result. Nevertheless, Rowe still held the lead into Old Hall for the first time followed by McMaster, Rossetti and Murphy, while a slow start from Gijselinckx dropped him to 5th in the opening corners. But after everyone had got through Cascades and Lakeside cleanly, the fireworks began exiting Island Bend, as Murphy and Rossetti got together and set off a chain reaction for the cars behind. While some drivers immediately behind them slipped through, others ended up spinning on the grass or in the barriers in sympathy trying to avoid them, but everyone was able to rejoin albeit in a slightly mixed up order.

While Rowe and McMaster began to escape up the road, prior to Rowe serving his drive-through, Gijselinckx had moved up to 3rd ahead of Jaroslav Cerny, while Christian Szaruta had expertly worked his way through the melee to climb to 5th by the end of the opening lap ahead of multiple-time Caterham champion Jamie Ellwood. Cerny was able to pass Gijselinckx into Lodge at the end of the second lap, as Szaruta watched on and slowly crept onto the tail of the pair in front. Spotting an opportunity, Szaruta considered a move into Hislops to no avail, but the battle between the trio was about to become a quartet.

Rowe duly served his drive-through penalty, but managed to come back out right in the middle of the battle between Cerny, Szaruta and Gijselinckx. Szaruta managed to take 4th from Gijselinckx exiting Old Hall and immediately began to pressure his DPR team boss for a podium place. Over the next lap, Rowe remained on Cerny’s tail and heading towards Shell Oils on the following lap Szaruta was also in the mix as the three cars headed to the hairpin. Holding on to 2nd place, Cerny put his car sideways through the corner apex and just remained in front of the DPR pair snapping at his heels. Rowe continued to bide his time until another opportunity arose heading towards Shell Oils, making the move for 2nd place as the two drivers swapped roles with Cerny now the hunter.

Cerny remained on Rowe’s tail as the race entered its final five minutes, but Rowe’s chances of a podium disappeared with a small bump between the two cars heading towards Lodge unsettled the black and green DPR car, shooting across the apex of the corner and just avoiding being collected by the cars behind. Rowe rejoined in 5th place, just ahead of a race-long battle that had been raging between Jamie Ellwood and Tim Vanhee. Back with the fight for the podium, Szaruta survived putting two wheels on the grass exiting Cascades and re-passed Gijselinckx for 3rd and then began to attempt to catch Cerny before the race was through. Out in front, however, there was no catching McMaster who had dominated the race from the very beginning and cruised to a somewhat easy win to kickstart the new season with a large haul of points. Cerny drove well to claim 2nd place ahead of a superb 3rd on his 420R debut for Szaruta, while Rowe managed to catch a sleeping Gijselinckx on the final lap to pass him for 4th. Ellwood beat Vanhee to 6th place, while Jay Shepherd was another driver to make great progress from deep in the pack to finish an impressive 8th on his first appearance ahead of Tom Wyllys and James Fowler.

Cerny managed to get a better start away from the grid for Race 2 and taking the outside line into Old Hall, he beat McMaster to the lead on corner exit. Szaruta also tried to attack as he moved alongside and completed a move before entering Cascades to push McMaster down to 3rd with Rowe also keen to join in the fight. The top four quickly attempted to pull away in the opening couple of laps with Gijselinckx also giving chase to turn the quartet into a quintet, while behind them a scrap for 6th was also developing between Wyllys, Vanhee, Ellwood and Bennett, although the latter name in that list ended up spinning onto the infield grass exiting Knickerbrook after he checked up to avoid hitting the back of Ellwood’s car.

Back at the front, Szaruta was keen to put the pressure on Cerny for the lead and was on the tail of the Czech driver with McMaster also keen to get involved as he led Rowe and Gijselinckx behind him. Heading to Lodge, Cerny was forced to go defensive but remained in front, only for Szaruta to dive up the inside at Old Hall and take 1st – briefly. McMaster sensed a great opportunity and stole places from both Cerny and Szaruta in one move to go from 3rd to the lead in the blink of an eye. Cerny then lost 3rd to Rowe heading towards the Brittens chicane, and was soon under threat from Gijselinckx as he too made a move entering Island Bend to drop the once race leader down to 5th place.

McMaster was able to edge way from the battle for 2nd as Szaruta now found himself under threat from Rowe, eventually capitulating at Lodge when a switchback move from Rowe allowed him to take the position. Just a few corners later, however, Szaruta was back through as the two cars went side by side and Rowe found himself running wide on the outside line and onto the grass, losing a few seconds to Szaruta and instead coming under threat from Cerny for the final podium spot. The extra pressure from behind seemed to help Rowe get back up to speed as heading into the final lap, he was motoring towards the rear of Szaruta’s car again in a bid to catch back up again and make a pass.

As for the leader, there was once again no stopping McMaster who pushed on out in front with clear track in front of him to complete a brace of wins from the opening rounds of the championship at Oulton Park. The three-car battle for 2nd went right down to the line with Szaruta picking up the spot ahead of Rowe and Cerny, with Gijselinckx completing the top five ahead of Wyllys, Fernihough, Vanhee, Murphy and Shepherd.

Next up on the schedule will be the first race for the Academy Championship, also taking place at Oulton Park ahead of the opening round of the real-life Caterham Academy series at the same venue.

Scott Woodwiss


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