Richard Towler once again proved his sim racing prowess by fighting back from a first corner mishap to claim his second Virtual FunCup race victory at Snetterton this past weekend.

Qualifying saw the former multiple NASCAR iRacing champion turned FunCup photographer claim pole position with Riley Phillips, the man who won the first Open race at Spa-Francorchamps, alongside him on the front row, followed by Jay Sheppard and Piers Stockton lining up behind them. Other notable names in the order included Ed Bridle and Chris Hart, both of which started on the third and fourth rows respectively, along with Julian Thomas.

Both front-row men picked up an even start off the line as the race got underway, with Philips taking the inside line into Riches with Towler remaining to his left. As Towler ran a little deep into the corner, his exit saw he and Shepherd aim for the same patch of tarmac, leaving the pair to make contact and sending Towler off into the grass as Shepherd clattered against in the inside barrier. Both managed to rejoin the pack straight away, albeit with Shepherd recovering back into 4th and Towler squeezing into 8th amongst a frantic melee around the midfield runners. Not only did all of this allow Phillips to claim the lead as well as Stockton immediately chasing after him in 2nd, but it also gave Ed Bridle a chance to weave through the fracas into an impressive 3rd place, albeit with Shepherd, Thomas and Hart snapping at his heels early doors. Hart would in fact make a daring dive into Oggies on the opening lap to pass both Thomas and Shepherd in one move to steal 4th place for himself.

Hart picked his way past Bridle to move into a podium place on Lap 2, while behind them a recovering Towler was beginning to make his way back up the order towards the front. With the quartet battling over 3rd all bunched together, Hart got sideways putting the power down out of Murrays and ended up briefly collecting Towler in the process, although both cars continued with minimal drama with the four cars now spread out a little more. Ahead of them the top two were beginning to work together, with Stockton electing to push leader Phillips in a bid to extend their gap at the front in the early stages. They managed to create a gap of over four seconds in just a handful of laps, seemingly leaving 3rd as the only step on the podium up for grabs.

Towler re-caught and passed Hart in Oggies shortly after their incident and immediately began setting about taking 4th place from Bridle with the trio circulating together for the moment. He wasted no time in taking a lunge into Murrays, but once again that man Hart decided to take advantage of Towler running wide to pick up 4th, as Towler finally managed to dispose of Bridle into the Wilson hairpin. Having dealt with Hart over the last couple of laps, Towler was keen to see the back of him and began chasing him down in a bid to pick him off once and for all. Within two-thirds of a lap, Hart has succumbed to the charging blue FunCup car behind him at the Brundle-Nelson complex, leaving him to deal with Bridle behind.

Back in front, it was clear that Phillips wasn’t too concerned with defending too much from Stockton behind, who was practically stuck to the rear of Riley’s car. Further down the order, two of the Racelogic cars committed the cardinal sin of colliding with each other after Thomas attempted to pass teammate David Denyer into Hamilton while both were chasing Mark Holme’s Team Viking car. Both quickly continued, albeit now a few seconds back in 11th and 12th. By one third race distance, Phillips had extended his lead to two seconds over Stockton with Shepherd bearing down on 2nd place, while Towler was firmly on a comeback charge and lapping quicker than all three cars ahead of him. He caught and passed Shepherd heading into Brundle but lost the place again two corners later, forcing Towler to reassess and try again and eventually make the move into the Wilson hairpin two laps later. Almost immediately, Towler then charged past Stockton for 2nd place, as he seemed to be off the pace compared to his fellow leaders.

Race leader Phillips had an advantage of just over four seconds at this point, but with the ultimate race pace that Towler was showing, this seemed to begin tumbling over the next few laps. The rest of the field remained fairly spread out as the race headed into the early stages of its second half, with the closest scrap being that of John Iley and Chris Walton as the pair entertained in their back and forth battle. With less than 20 minutes to go, Towler had closed to within a second of the lead and at this stage, it seemed as though Phillips was ready to wake up and fight for victory after holding on for so long. Towler’s first attack came into the Wilson hairpin to no avail, but this was just the start of an epic skirmish that seemed to last for almost the entire remainder of the race.

Towler finally took the lead for the first time on the same lap into Agostini, but a bold comeback from Phillips saw him dive inside at Oggies to reclaim the lead before the pair went side by side down the Bentley straight. For the next few laps, Towler stayed in range of Phillips and sensed another chance out of Riches and into the Wilson hairpin again. As before, he swept down the inside to get in front, but Phillips was ready for him at Palmer to get back through, only for Towler to incredibly repass him again through Agostini. Down the Bentley straight, it was wheel to wheel again between the two as Towler anticipated Phillips running deep into Nelson corner, getting the switchback on the exit to lead again, but amazingly Phillips still wasn’t finished. He slotted back past exiting the Bomb Hole turn, concluding a total of six lead changes in one single lap!

With five minutes remaining, part three of the Phillips-Towler duel got ready to commence as they lapped a backmarker in the process. Once again using the Bentley straight to his advantage, Towler latched on to the tow from Phillips and a forced mistake allowed him to slot by back into the lead. Phillips remained on his tail down the pit straight as they started the penultimate lap and exiting Riches, he finally had the inside line this time to get the lead back. Towler dived back inside at Agostini in a thrilling yet seemingly endless struggle between the two cars as the time ticked down and for the third time, the pair would run parallel towards the complex. Phillips daringly dived down the outside only to lose out once again on the exit, and this ultimately appeared to be the last move in what had been an incredibly enticing high-speed game of motorsport chess!

Towler ensured there was nothing else anyone could do on the final lap and kept it smooth and consistent to clinch his second win in the Virtual Fun Cup UK Series, with Phillips a valiant 2nd place after a titanic scrap in the closing stages. Stockton wound up a distant 3rd place after challenging early on, with Shepherd back in 4th and Hart completing the top 5. John lley fended off the attentions of Julian Thomas in the final laps right until the sprint to the line when a slight mistake exiting Murrays allowed the multiple FunCup champion steal 6th in the final seconds, while Walton, Holme and Gibson completed the top 10 finishers.

Scott Woodwiss


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