The best circuit yet visited by the APR Volkswagen Racing Cup – said the drivers unanimously – provided the best racing of the season so far, with a four-way battle for victory, three different race leaders and a popular first win of 2012 for KPM’s Mike Neuhoff which went undecided until the final corner.
Pole man Walker led off the line in the Cooke and Mason Scirocco but he relinquished control to Neuhoff even before the first corner, La Source – “I snatched second gear too quickly,” conceded James. Walker slipped to third behind Aaron Mason, but seized second back from the AWM Golf driver on the run down to Double Gauche.
Neuhoff crossed the line at the end of the opening lap with half a second in hand over Walker, with Mason third from Lines, Gilham, Tom Wilson and Joe Fulbrook. Half a second’s advantage was not enough, as Mike discovered on the Kemmel straight on lap two as Walker slipstreamed past for the lead.
Lap three saw Neuhoff wrest the lead back from Walker, and then on lap four Mason began his charge, unseating Walker from second before taking the lead, and pushing Neuhoff back to third, next time around. Alas Aaron’s time on top was shortlived; engine problems brought his retirement on the sixth and penultimate lap. “It was a great shame,” said Mason. “The others’ tires were gone and I was just ready to wind it up.”
Joker-playing Neuhoff, like most of the field a racing newcomer to Spa, held his nerve to regain second from Walker just after Mason’s Golf cried enough, and he crossed the line into the final lap with a second in hand over the Scirocco man. Gilham, having got the better of his fight with Lines and Wilson, was by now right with the leaders and gunning for glory; the BTCC man managed to unseat Walker from second but Neuhoff remained ahead at the checkered flag.
“I was getting rather miffed at having gone from first to third in quick time,” said Neuhoff, “and then I saw a spot of oil on my windscreen and it transpired that Aaron had a problem. He disappeared and that left me tailing James again. We had plenty of overtaking between the three of us all race, all good, clean fun – just fantastic. It’s very special to win at Spa. Having never raced here before I’m very happy; it’s such a wonderful circuit.”
Gilham was delighted with his second place, not least because he had missed much of qualifying after a mix-up over his race license. “I was still signing on when the rest of them were out on the track. We did it the hard way; I lost the clutch and most of the brakes by mid-distance. I should have settled really, but I’m a racing driver and I wanted to push on and I nicked second. I’m in the Scholarship car, and it proves that we can build a good, competitive car.”
“It was a good race, wasn’t it?” said Walker. “My car was getting a bit tired towards the end, and I was pushing really hard because I didn’t want to be third – I’ve not finished lower than second before this year – and maybe I was over-driving it a bit.”
There were battles right through the field and a number of personal-best performances in addition. Tom Wilson placed fourth – equalling his best finish – in his battered Golf, after losing time to the leaders while embroiled with Gilham and Lines; the Wiltshire youngster finished 10s clear of Lines, whose fifth spot was a best-of-season finish, with Peter Wyhinny’s SEAT Leon sixth.
Harberman followed up his excellent qualifying with a record-equalling seventh in the TGR Beetle after passing championship returnee Mark Howard’s Golf early on. “I had no brakes on the final lap,” said Tony, “which was a little too exciting.” Howard was eighth and the first SlideSports driver to finish, ahead of his team-mates Richard Morgan and Rob Daniels, subbing for the injured Kieran Griffin in the Addison Lee Scirocco.
Simon Andrews and Philip Morris dueled throughout the race, with Andrews’ Golf just ahead at the line, and their battle was joined on occasion by the Scirocco of Jonathan Wilson, 13th at the line to equal his top score.
Simon Tomlinson, Andy Wilmot, Richard Kingsnorth and Nikhil Chopra finished in line astern (Chopra’s 17th place a personal best for the 17-year-old rookie), with Fulbrook – his Warranty Direct Bora beset again by engine overheating problems – the final classified finisher. David Fairbrother’s Golf and Andrew Smith’s Beetle joined Mason in retirement.
APR Volkswagen Racing Cup
Spa-Francorchamps Round 7
- Mike Neuhoff – KPM Golf GTI – 20m 01.169s / 91.30mph
- Tony Gilham – Gilham Racing Golf GTI +1.573s
- James Walker – KPM Scirocco R +1.973s
- Tom Wilson – Complete Racing Golf GTI +17.206s
- Stewart Lines – KPM Golf GTI +27.179s
- Peter Wyhinny – KPM SEAT Leon +30.326s
- Tony Harberman – Beetle RSI +38.789s
- Mark Howard – SlideSports Golf GTI +43.275s
- Richard Morgan – Golf GTI +43.707s
- Rob Daniels – Scirocco R +44.999s etc
- APR Volkswagen Racing Cup