Fortec Motorsport’s Chris Lulham extended his points advantage at the top of the British F4 iRacing Trophy to 17 markers over team mate Luke Browning on a dramatic evening for all three title contenders at Snetterton’s 300 circuit.
Browning was imperious in qualifying yet again, securing a fifth straight pole position with a best lap time of 1:39.084 around the 2.99-mile Norfolk circuit ahead of Lulham, with the other man in realistic contention, Carlin’s Zak O’Sullivan, fifth behind Nico Varrone and reigning real-world champion Zane Maloney.
Browning made a perfect start from pole as Lulham was forced on the defensive from Maloney into Riches; this cost the Bajan racer momentum and brought O’Sullivan and Varrone into close quarters on the run towards Wilson Hairpin.
Varrone attempted to pass O’Sullivan on the outside of Agostini a few corners later, but contact dropped the Argentine to the rear of the field on a frantic opening lap.
Start-line contact between Nico Pino and series debutant Luke Whitehead, as well as a tangle between Sebastian Priaulx, Alex Connor, James Hedley and Carter Williams further round the lap forced the safety car into an early appearance.
Moments prior to the Ford Mustang’s dispatch, O’Sullivan was able to pass Lulham for the runner-up spot, but he could do nothing about Browning at the restart as the Cheshire racer streaked clear to victory by 2.2 seconds.
Lulham had one attempt to claw back second into Riches near the end of the race, but robust defending from O’Sullivan earned the Carlin driver another trip to the rostrum.
Maloney recovered from early-race drama to finish fifth behind Marijn Kremers; Varrone, Connor, Horatio Fitz-Simon, Williams and Alexey Nesov rounded out the points-scorers.
That result moved Browning back into the championship lead, 5 points ahead of Lulham, but the reverse grid contest would turn the competition on it’s head once again.
JHR’s James Hedley did well to fight off Oulton Park race winner Johnathan Hoggard and Arden’s Rafael Martins in the opening exchanges, but it would be his team mate Abbi Pulling that led by the end of the opening lap.
Browning’s race was thrown into chaos at Palmer on the first tour, contact dropping the erstwhile points leader to the rear of the field via the pit lane for repairs.
By contrast, O’Sullivan and Lulham were enjoying a fine race, cutting through the pack to run fourth and fifth respectively, before the latter dived to the inside at Riches to seize the upper hand on lap three.
The pair then set about chasing down Whitehead, Hedley and Pulling at the front, gaining by around a second per lap.
Whitehead managed to best Hedley for second into Brundle and Nelson; despite slight contact, he made it through unscathed and chose not to defend when Lulham, already past Hedley in the same sequence, then challenged him into Riches, opting to preserve his podium finish in third.
Crucially, O’Sullivan did not get past Hedley until Wilson the following lap, and a fightback by the JHR racer into Agostini ended in contact and sent both into the pit lane, and out of contention.
That could have huge ramifications for the championship, putting O’Sullivan 35 markers behind new leader Lulham, who took the chequered flag some 2.2s clear of Pulling, who led the race until the final three minutes and secured her first podium in the series.
Whitehead was delighted to complete the podium, with Priaulx a tremendous fourth after starting at the back.
Hoggard rounded out the top five, with Williams, Kremers, Martins, Fitz-Simon and a recovering Browning completing the scoresheet.
The next round of the British F4 iRacing Trophy takes place at Silverstone (International) next Monday (01 June) at 19:30 (BST).
To re-watch the action from Snetterton, click here.