In a tantalising 2016 Volkswagon Racing Cup Season, Phil House collected his third title in the series to add onto his success in 2004 and 2005. The 36-year-old started the year on the back-foot but led after the third round, hanging on after a final round championship battle with Tom Witts.
Last years top three did not return to the series, with two-time champion Aaron Mason entering the British GT Championship, which the Cup supports.
House, who this year partnered with JW Bird Motorsport, had an opportunity to start the year as the man to beat, winning the opening race. It was no easy feat for the to-be championship winner though as he held off polesitter Simon Rudd after a four-way fight for the win.
Race two from Rockingham proved to be just as intense. With team-mate Jamie Bond spinning in the first hairpin, Toby Davis would cruise home to take his only win of the season. Behind him, Jack Walker-Tully and House made it two podiums from two races, establishing themselves as the drivers to beat.
Oulton Park proved to be a disaster for Rockingham star Davis whose triple retirement virtually ended his championship chances before they’d even got going. It wasn’t a perfect weekend for rival House either, after being tagged by Bobby Thompson in race one, spinning him into the barrier.
Instead, this gave the advantage to Witts, who took his and the new Mark-7 Golf‘s maiden win in the series. Witts became the man to beat after scything his way through the field in race two, clinching the reverse grid win as well.
Following him home in that race was Kenan Dole. The Golf racer retired in race three, but had enjoyed a strong weekend, leading for a large portion.
The weekend, which had been run entirely on Easter Monday was rounded off with an excellent return to form from House, winning by under two seconds from the impressive Witts. Elsewhere, a retirement for Rudd gave Thompson the championship lead.
Thompson would not win a race all season, but with many of his rivals running into trouble early on, the Power Maxed Racing representative took full advantage, having finished lower than fourth just once all season.
This form continued into Silverstone, where the 2015 race winner picked up another second place behind House. It hadn’t been an easy win for him though, holding off pressure from Thompson, Davis and Witts in the closing laps.
“Treacherous. Absolutely treacherous.” said House about the weather. “Possibly one of the worst first couple of laps I have ever done – the standing water was just crazy.” The storm turned worse, with the second race of the weekend later called off due to excessive flooding.
House Settles into his Groove
From the cold damp Silverstone the series soon headed abroad to the sunny Spa-Francorchamps. Joining the series was Dennis Strandberg, who immediately proved his pace by collecting pole position by almost half a second.
The race was no different, with Strandberg taking the 44 points, plus his two for pole position. It was in way an easy win for the Swede though, after a race long tussle with Thompson and Walker-Tully.
House had settle for fourth in the opening encounter, but hit back on the second attempt, working his way to the front in the reverse grid race. The win helped him close back in on Thompson who had finished third after a last lap crash from Strandberg and Walker-Tully, the latter would not make another appearance all season.
Snetterton arrived only for Strandberg to continue his qualifying perfection, though once again the races didn’t go entirely his own way. House had made a poor start, but fought back to win by over five seconds from the #4 and Paul Ivens, taking his first podium of the year.
Thompson’s first retirement of the season handed the advantage back to House, with the Polo also failing to score points in race two. This left the door open for Witts to rescue his chances with a third win of the year.
Witts Finds his Form
After a few weeks break, the series returned to Donington Park. While the weekend marked the conclusion to the season for many of the championship’s supporting the British GT weekend, the title battle was far from over for the VW’s as a triple header allowed Witts to take two more wins and close in on House.
The JW Bird Motorsport driver ran into technical gremlins on the Saturday race, allowing Witts to emerge victorious from a four car fight for the win. Davis and Peter Barrable had crossed the line almost side-by-side, with Rudd, the fourth car in the battle picking up damage on the final lap.
Despite only recording eighth in the opening encounter, House fought back in race two to hold off rival Witts and Thompson, who still had a narrow chance at lifting the trophy.
The final event of the weekend resulted in another Witts victory as he, once again, held off Thompson to take the full points. House’s fourth ensured that Witts had closed in slightly during the weekend but it was clearly becoming a largely three-horse race, with Dole also keeping in check.
The VW’s arrived at Brands Hatch Indy without their usual paddock support, though the series did see the return of Jamie Bond, who had taken half the season off. Jamie would immediately show his pace, taking pole and the win.
It hadn’t been plain sailing for him though. Initially spinning on the opening start and incurring damage on Shaun Hollamby‘s car. Thompson came off worse though, flipping on the run up from Graham Hill.
The retirement of Thompson and Dole saw their championship chances come to a close, while on the second restart, Darelle Wilson spun while unchallenged in the lead. This handed victory back to Bond, with House coming home in second.
Witts was still in mathematical contention and closed in slightly after a comfortable win the second race from Wilson and Rudd. House would only manage fifth, but his real honours came in the final race.
With a large points deficit for Witts, House just needed to finish to secure the title. He was in no mood to sit back though, breaking away after Bond retired a few laps in.
Witts joined him at the front after finally making his way past Rudd. The Maximum Motorsport driver couldn’t catch the leader though, falling back and eventually settling for second. Behind them, Davis held off Kieran Gordon for the final podium of the season.
As for the championship points, dropped scores saw House finish the season on 604 points, with Witts on 580. Despite his retirement in race one, Dole recovered to secure third in the standings (480 points), in front of Gordon and Thompson.
Gordon’s fourth place in the final race saw him complete a remarkable fight back, ending the season with 432 points, two ahead of the unfortunate Thompson and six ahead of Rudd.
In seventh overall was Davis, whose six retirements brought a premature end to his chances. Davis was also the lowest place driver to compete in every round, with Ivens missing Rockingham and Spa. Behind them, Walker-Tully missed half the season, while Benjamin Wallace completed the top ten.