Fortec Motorsport racers Chris Lulham and Luke Browning put in a stellar display to dominate the opening two rounds of the British F4 iRacing Trophy at a virtual Donington Park.
After being split by just 0.016 seconds in a closely fought qualifying session around the 1.6-mile Leicestershire track, the two made a level start from the front row to lead the charge into Redgate, whilst chaos behind eliminated nearly half the field.
An audience of over 3,000 people tuned in to watch the pair’s early dice, with Lulham diving to the inside of Browning at McLeans on the opening lap to secure top spot, which he duly held to the chequered flag.
Browning kept Lulham honest throughout the opening half of the contest, but an unfortunate spin at Coppice whilst chasing the race lead dropped him back to fourth behind a titanic scrap involving Carlin’s Zak O’Sullivan and Arden Motorsport’s Roman Bilinski.
“It was a good race, it was a close one with Luke until he made a mistake. It was good fun,” said Lulham.
“Our pace is pretty strong and we hope it’ll stay the same way all through the season.”
“Hopefully, as long as I can start at the front, me and Luke will just do the same thing every race.”
The duo had locked out the second row and were split by just 0.2s at the line after a thrilling scrap, O’Sullivan leading home Bilinski to round out the rostrum.
Aston Martin BRDC Autosport Award winner Johnathan Hoggard rounded out the top five – another front-running Fortec machine – with Abbi Pulling (JHR) recovering to sixth after early-race contact at the Old Hairpin.
Her team mate James Hedley took seventh, with privateer Nico Varrone eighth after a drive-through penalty. Karting racer Ollie Bearman and Mikkel Grundtvig rounded out the points finishers in the top ten.
In the reverse-grid contest, it was 2018 champion Kiern Jewiss and Bearman that held the early advantage, with Hedley third before a spin at the Old Hairpin dropped him back.
A few laps in and Browning, cutting his way through the field, dived to the inside of Bearman at Redgate to promote himself into second, and a series of quick laps put him onto the tail of Jewiss.
This time, the 18-year old made no mistake. Jewiss put up a valiant fight after Browning’s initial move at Redgate, reclaiming the lead down the Craner Curves, but another diving pass from Browning at McLeans made the Fortec driver sure of the victory, his eventual margin 4.4 seconds.
“That race was a little bit less exciting, strangely, for me than the first one!” admitted Browning.
“Once I got in front, I could chill out then. It was really enjoyable, it’s great to be able to do this with everyone – I’m racing some names I’ve not actually raced on track before, so that’s good.
“I think I’ve got the world record on iRacing around Brands Indy in this F3 car, so hopefully I can carry that form into the next race as well, it’s looking quite promising.”
Behind the pair, a thrilling three-car dice emerged for third, fourth and fifth. Bearman held the final spot on the rostrum early on, fending off attention from O’Sullivan and reigning British F4 champion Zane Maloney behind.
O’Sullivan and Maloney’s duel did give Bearman a bit of breathing space, but the trio closed up in the final few laps, O’Sullivan diving to the inside at Redgate to firm up third; Bearman took fourth and Maloney was fifth.
Sebastian Priaulx (Arden) steered his way through to sixth after becoming an unfortunate casualty of the Race 1 chaos, the British GT star leading home FEED Racing winner Marijn Kremers (Carlin), Josh Skelton (JHR), Frederick Lubin (Arden) and Chris Lulham, who dropped back after getting caught up in an incident on the opening lap at Coppice.
In terms of the points standings after two races, Browning moves into the lead on 37 points, with O’Sullivan just behind on 33. Lulham is third (26), with Jewiss (18) and Bilinski (15) completing the top five.
The series heads next to Brands Hatch (Indy) on Monday 4th May, with a start time of 19:30.