Words by Rebecca Bland and Toby Owen
Sunday evening saw a thrilling start to the third season of the Virtual Touring Car Cup (VTCC) as 26 drivers took to Snetterton for three 15 minute races, with the first and last race grid decided by qualifying and the second race by a random grid. There are two divisions this season, Pro and Am, which were decided with evaluation races before the season beginning, and have separate championships and streams for both.
As the racing is incredibly close in the Pro class, the organisers have decided to run a special concurrent championship table, the 'GoBobby.uk Trophy', which sees drivers in the Pro lobby who have not taken a Pro class podium prior to this season as eligible. Drivers could choose between the BMW 320 TC (E90), Renault Mégane R.S. SMS-R Touring, Mercedes-AMG A 45 SMS-R Touring, or the Opel Astra TCR for the season.
Joining the grid for this season is Lewis Kent, the 2020 TCR UK Touring Car Champion, who will be swapping his Hyundai i30 N TCR for a Renault Megane SMS-R as he joins Cooper Motorsport for his first season in the VTCC. Previous series winner Alex Jamieson is also rejoining the grid with teammates Andrew Gillone and new Ambition Racing signing Stu Neale after his consistent performances in the VRCC’s Group A DTM series.
The weather was clear for the first part of the evening as a chaotic first race saw many regular frontrunners, including reigning champion Alex Jamieson, knocked out of contention early on. The leading group was eventually whittled down to Aran Large of e11evens Racing, Jason Powell of Track & Beyond, Jirka Štěrba of OG Racing and Roy Grassie of AJR Motorsport. With positions changing lap after lap, real-life Rallycross driver Jirka Štěrba emerged from the chaos to secure his first series win, with Grassie just behind in second and Large in third.
The random grid start for race two saw Brendon van Eden of Gummy Motorsports, who had been among the early race one casualties, drawn on pole. After the excitement of the first race, the second began in a somewhat calmer fashion as the drivers settled into their positions on the track.
Andrew Gillone, looking to redeem himself after losing places in race one, impressively worked his way up through the order to fourth place. Brendon van Eden took a lights-to-flag victory after taking a confident lead early on, with Stu Neale proving himself a fruitful signing for the Ambition Racing team finished in second.
The second race of the night to be decided by qualifying was made extra interesting by the addition of rain. Roy Grassie came out on top, with Andrew Gillone starting second. A fantastic session for Toby Owen saw him begin the race in third, joined by Jay Daniels in fourth.
The lights went out for the third time in round one and saw Gillone launch his BMW confidently ahead of Grassie by the first corner, cementing his lead which he would hold until the end of the race. Behind him, as the drivers settled into the changeable conditions, firm but fair racing ensued.
With just five minutes to go, Gillone had extended his lead to over six seconds but was now using every inch of water still on the rapidly drying track to cool them down, having elected to stay out on his wet tyres as others pitted. His teammate Alex Jamieson unfortunately failed to finish for the second time in the evening after connection issues made it impossible for him to race.
Gillone took a decisive victory, one important not just for his driver standings, but for the team’s as well.
“The BMW is good in the wet, and strong off the line so it was a case of keeping it together and creating a gap. People were talking about pitting but I thought it wouldn’t be the right strategy. Even though there was a dry line, it was still greasy and slippery,” recalled Gillone.
The Am class welcomed a number of returning drivers as well as a whole host of new faces to the VTCC this season. It was the old guard who took top honours early on though, with AJR Motorsport’s Trev Hummer and TCS Motorsport’s Alice Hughes setting the early pace in race one. Trev led across the line, but a time penalty for a track limits infringement handed the victory to Hughes. It was a significant moment in the VTCC, as Alice became the first female driver to win a race in the series!
Hummer got his own back in race two however, profiting from a more favourable random grid draw to take an early lead and never lose it, whilst Hughes battled her way through the field from a lowly grid slot to fourth place. Full Send Racing’s Adam Bent duelled OG Racing’s Paul Hargreaves for the final position positions, with Paul winning out and becoming the first of the new cohort to secure a podium.
Race three saw the rain arrive and the differing conditions made things challenging for all the drivers. One driver to revel in the wet, however, was the VTCC’s youngest driver Teddie Cooper, who got a good start from the second row and held his nerve to become the third different winner of the night, just under three seconds clear of Hummer in second. Hargreaves once again completed the podium, with Hughes in fourth.
The Am drivers put on a terrific show at Snetterton and we leave the Norfolk circuit with Trev Hummer enjoying a slender Championship lead over an incredible three-way tie for second between Hughes, Cooper and Hargreaves. This season looks like it’s going to be tight! Join us again for more VTCC action on Facebook and YouTube.
About the VRCC:
The VRCC is a community of drivers organising leagues across multiple sim racing platforms including Project Cars 2, Assetto Corsa, and Assetto Corsa Competizione. Races are run throughout the week and are often accompanied by live commentary and broadcasts on various platforms. The community is best known for its Virtual Touring Car Cup, but have also provided race series with Ginettas, MX-5s and Vintage F1 to name a few, alongside occasional stand-alone events. Follow their page on Facebook to find out more, or join in the conversation on Discord.