August 14, 2018

 

This week's career ladder action takes place from the fearsome Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian GP. As always on a Tuesday it's the turn of the stars of tomorrow in GPVWC with the Formula Challenge series taking centre stage.

Coming into the round, the two horse race for the driver's title between Chris Butcher (333pts) and Chris Shepherd (319pts) showed no signs of slowing up, and indeed qualifying featured yet another intense battle between the two stars.

It would be the STAX driver Shepherd who would take first blood, setting the fastest time of the session with a 1:54.324, a feat made even sweeter with his team mate Adrian Campfield taking second, a tenth of a second behind. Butch in the end could only manage fifth, almost a half a second off with Marcin Rybaczuk and Matthias Muuss in between, third and fourth respectively. However the Red Arrow driver would have the final laugh as Shepherd had to drop back five spots on the grid for a rule infringement in the previous round.

Race 1 showed Spa at it's very best with battles galore and drama at the very end. With Campfield starting from pole, it was Rybaczuk who made the better start and would take the lead after an excellent run out of Eau Rouge. Just behind, Butcher managed to move up to third whilst Shepherd also gained, moving up to fourth. The next lap saw Butcher make a decisive move on Campfield to take second and begin chasing down Rybaczuk for the win, whilst Matthew Williams and Cliff Van de Vin fought over fifth place after both overtaking Muuss. Lap five saw Campfield move over for team mate Shepherd, meaning he was now on the tail of Butcher, and sure enough later on in the lap he took his opportunity to throw the STAX up the inside and overtake his title rival.

The second half of the race quietened down a little as everyone found their rhythm around the twisting turns of Spa, however the relative peace was soon disturbed with a violent crash for Van de Vin at the top of Eau Rouge on the penultimate lap of the race, completely destroying his TTF machine in the process. An unfortunate end to what was a promising race for the Dutchman. However the drama wasn't over there as on the very last lap, after leading the entire race, Rybaczuk span out of first place with what appeared to be a moment's lapse of concentration, gifting the win to Shepherd, a remarkable recovery from his grid penalty. Butcher would follow him home in second with the unfortunate Rybaczuk having to lick his wounds in third. Williams and Campfield rounded out the top five.

The reverse grid was drawn as number fifteen, promoting Dan Cell to pole position and casting Shepherd as far back down the grid as he could possibly have gone, P15. This would soon prove to be disastrous for him. The field managed to get through the first corner cleanly however the top of Eau Rouge was about to collect its next victim, or maybe we should say victims. Harry Graham's car literally took off at the top of the hill, before coming back to meet the rest of the pack and trigger an almighty pile up, some 12 cars either having to retire or pit with damage. This included the aforementioned Shepherd and David Jundt, who both retired on the spot, as well as Butcher, Williams and Campfield who all had to pit for repairs. The race surprisingly continued without intervention from the race director.

It was left to TR Bluvos' Matthew Beavis, who took the lead on the first lap, to take control of the race. Behind, Cliff Van de Vin made the most of surviving the Eau Rogue chaos to move up to a fantastic P8 by the end of lap 1. With the field fairly strung out, the action wasn't nearly as frequent as race one, however a minor incident between Wesley Stefano and Ross Woodford into the first turn whilst battling for P4 raised eyebrows for all the wrong reasons. There was to be another big crash as well, once again involving Eau Rogue and the luckless Rybaczuk, losing control over the crest of the hill and ending up without a rear sign whilst running in a strong P6.

Beavis would hold on to win by over four seconds from newcomer Tom Lambaerts for the returning IDOS Motorsports team. Behind however was undoubtedly the driver of the race, Cliff Van de Vin with an astonishing recovery to get onto the podium in third place. His TTF Racing team mate Rauno Muru finished just behind in fourth with Stefano rounding out the top five, although will likely be subject of a post-race investigation. Butcher could only recover to P17 meaning he could not make nay gains with Shepherd's retirement.

In the points, Shepherd's win means he has now moved to within nine points of Butcher at the top of the drivers' standings with six rounds to go, the next being the fastest circuit of the calendar, Monza for the Italian round of the GPVWC Formula Challenge series.



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