Reigning champion Steve Chaplin and rapid front-runner Aaron Mason made it four different winners from the first four rounds of the 2011 Volkswagen Racing Cup with FUCHS Lubricants at an action-packed Snetterton in Norfolk over the weekend (14/15 May).
Marking the championship’s first visit to the new ‘300’ circuit configuration, the racing was as unpredictable as ever, although Chaplin, Mason and Steve Wood filled the podium for each encounter.
Wood, who has returned to the championship full-time this year in his Mk V Golf GTI, was the star of qualifying with a dominant performance and he backed this up with a very close second to Chaplin in round three, and third in round four.
Most importantly though, Wood opted to play his points-doubling ‘Joker’ ahead of Saturday afternoon’s race and so he has rocketed into the championship lead on 186 points, ahead of Mason, who played his Joker for round four.
Following the opening two rounds at Oulton Park last month, former double champion Joe Fulbrook was tied at the top of the standings with James Walker but the Bora driver didn’t have the best of weekends in East Anglia.
After a slide and subsequent spin at the Esses on the opening lap of round three, which resulted in contact with Mason, Fulbrook failed to score with a penultimate lap retirement. However, a superb drive through from 18th on the grid on Sunday was rewarded with an excellent sixth place.
The weekend marked the first appearance of the fantastic new Caddy Van Racer in the hands of Simon Elliott, who achieved 11th and 14th place finishes. Meanwhile, front-runner Peter Felix left the track even before qualifying got underway on Saturday due to problems which his Golf developed in testing.
Round 3
Chaplin managed to nose ahead of pole-sitter Wood at the beginning of the opening encounter while fourth-placed starter Mason surged into the top three as they headed to Riches, before getting ahead of Wood soon after.
Behind the leaders, contact in the mid-pack involving the Scirocco of Kieran Griffin and the Golfs of Richard Morgan and Martyn Walsh resulted in all three retiring on the spot - it also ended Morgan’s involvement in the remainder of the weekend.
Through the infield Chaplin held the lead in his ‘Herbie’ Beetle RSI, just fending off the rapid Mason out of Agostini shortly before the latter’s storming start to the race really came unstuck through no fault of his own.
As he made his way through the second part of the Esses, Mason’s Golf was collected by the Bora of Joe Fulbrook, which bounced across the grass sideways after an unfortunate moment heading into the turn. Mason rejoined 10th while Fulbrook continued until his car expired on lap nine.
Chaplin and Wood were well clear of the chasing pack due to Mason’s removal from the equation but the fight for third didn’t take a back seat - father and son Richard and James Walker in a great scrap with the impressive Tim Snaylam.
Mason continued his charge back up the order and after going fifth on lap five at the expense of James he quickly scythed his way past Richard and Snaylam as they duelled at Riches on lap six. Mason then ousted Walker Snr from third at Riches on lap seven to complete his tremendous recovery to the podium - a slim hope at best midway through lap one.
Second placed Wood began to encounter problems with his ECU, causing him to lose time, so to post the fastest lap and hustle Chaplin all the way was a measure of his performance, just 0.3 seconds splitting the pair in the end.
Behind the top three, Richard Walker remained ahead of son James by a couple of seconds while Peter Lettinga rounded off a superb race in sixth ahead of Zoe Wenham and Thomas Wilson. Snaylam had to settle for ninth after two spins and the Caddy was just outside the top 10 on its 2011 debut in 11th place.
“Fortunately for me Steve had a problem with his ECU cutting out,” said Chaplin. “He’s a formidable competitor and he’ll have a go if he has half a chance so I was mindful of that but also mindful of driving my own race.”
Wood added: “Luckily we had a bit of a gap to the cars behind. The ECU cut out a few times but with a quick flick of the engine off and on I was able to catch back up to Steve within a lap or so. I didn’t want to try anything too aggressive against my team-mate though.”
“The knock I had on the front of the car put the tracking out but that did give me amazing traction for the right-handers”, explained third placed Mason, “so I was able to pick people off quite easily on the brakes.”
Round 4
With the top-six finishers reversed on the grid for the second race, Dutchman Lettinga lined up on pole position and he made a terrific getaway to lead before being bundled back to fourth a couple of corners later.
Mason shot away from the second row and displaced both Walkers at Riches before taking the lead into the infield as Lettinga dropped positions. Soon after, the pole man was also passed by Chaplin and Wood, demoting him to sixth.
Team-mates Chaplin and Wood continued their good progress by getting ahead of James Walker, but behind the lead bunch there was a substantial gap to the remainder of the field following a multi-car tangle early in the race.
Through the mayhem came Fulbrook, a tremendous start already gaining him 10 places, and he closed down a substantial time deficit over the course of the race to be within just 0.1 seconds of fifth at the flag.
By lap three, Chaplin was really on the move and starting to close rapidly on Mason, with Wood third ahead of the Walkers, Richard still leading James, and Lettinga in sixth. Chaplin then took the lead before turning into Riches at the beginning of lap four but Mason didn’t let him pull away.
On the fifth tour, though, the leader ran wide exiting Williams which allowed not only Mason through to retake first place but also promoted Wood to second. On lap six, it was Wood’s turn to go a little wide - this time at the hairpin - and so Chaplin moved back to second some 2.5 seconds adrift of Mason.
The Beetle driver produced a series of ultra-quick laps to get right back on Mason’s case but although rain started to fall during the last lap or two, the Golf runner held on strongly to win and - with the aid of his ‘Joker’ - move up to second in the championship behind Wood.
“It did become quite greasy towards the end, it was a case of just hanging on and taking things that bit easier,” reported Mason. “I was worried about my fifth gear for the last two laps - it was going in but it was clunking. Thankfully it held on. It’s a great way to finish the weekend, I’m really happy.”
Chaplin was just 0.138 seconds shy of Mason at the flag with Wood third and leading home Richard and James Walker. The impressive Fulbrook was sixth from Lettinga, Griffin, Walsh and Mark Howard, with Peter Wyhinny’s SEAT Leon 11th and Elliott’s Caddy 14th.
“I hadn’t really noticed the rain to be fair although it did back Aaron up a bit and things were a bit skatey,” said Chaplin. “I pushed to try to make a move on him but he drove a cracking race, he deserved the win.”
In addition to title backer FUCHS Lubricants, the Volkswagen Racing Cup is supported by Hankook Tyres, Paragon, Milltek Sport, Superchips, Ceva Logistics and ECM Vehicle Delivery.
Provisional results
Volkswagen Racing Cup with FUCHS Lubricants
Round 3 (of 14)
Snetterton 300 14 May 2011 10 laps = 29.70 miles
Pos Driver Home Car Time
1 Steve Chaplin Maisemore Beetle 3.2 RSI 22m 05.785s / 80.61mph
2 Steve Wood Ashleworth Golf GTI +0.309s
3 Aaron Mason Doncaster Golf GTI +9.847s
4 Richard Walker Tuxford Golf GTI +12.577s
5 James Walker Normanton Golf GTI +15.099s
6 Peter Lettinga Bentveld / NL Golf GTI +20.803s
7 Zoe Wenham Tewkesbury Golf GTI +27.018s
8 Thomas Wilson Castle Combe Golf GTI +27.372s
9 Tim Snaylam Bolton Golf Mk5 +44.973s
10 Mark Howard Westborough Golf GTI +48.775s
Fastest lap: Wood 2m 10.198s / 82.09mph Est Rec
Round 4
Snetterton 300 15 May 2011 10 laps = 29.70 miles
Pos Driver Home Car Time
1 Mason 21m 57.702s / 81.11mph
2 Chaplin +0.138s
3 Wood +11.658s
4 Richard Walker +13.723s
5 James Walker +18.007s
6 Joe Fulbrook Maidenhead Bora +18.109s
7 Lettinga +33.721s
8 Kieran Griffin Essendon Scirocco R +42.131s
9 Martyn Walsh Chipping Norton Golf GTI +44.309s
10 Howard +44.690s
Fastest lap: Chaplin 2m 09.549s / 82.50mph Rec
Full results:
Provisional championship standings
1 Wood 186 points; 2 Mason 178; 3 Chaplin 162; 4 James Walker 154; 5 Richard Walker 144; 6 Fulbrook 118 etc
Next rounds 19 June Brands Hatch GP