It would be a season that started similar to 2016, but by the conclusion, a spectacular second half from Bobby Thompson saw him crowned 2017 VW Racing Cup champion.
Going into the final round it had come down to three drivers with Tom Witts leading the overall points ahead of Thompson and Jamie Bond. Witts would conclude the Donington Park round as the overall leader, but dropped scores saw him miss out by 24 points.
For both Thompson and Witts, the title would be valuable as they looked to establish long-term plans. With last years champion Phil House pulling out at the halfway mark, the stage was set for a new champion, as the top three all won a test in a BTCC car with Maximum Motorsport.
Old Rivalries and New Faces
The opening round saw the VW’s return to Oulton Park as they once again followed the British GT support package, though all eyes were not on the Volkswagens.
Rule changes during the winter had allowed the Audi TT to be entered, with Slidesports fielding two entries. Simon Walton filled one of the cars, with his son Owen Walton in the other. Despite not having any previous racing experience, it would be the younger of the two who won on his opening weekend to competitive racing.
The inability to properly limit the Audi’s had led to surprising success, with Witts taking the reverse grid win from House, as normal service was resumed.
Just like in 2016, the House vs Witts story line looked like it would continue, with Witts pulling slightly ahead at Rockingham. As for Thompson, he won the opening race before being heavily damaged by Kenan Dole in race two.
With a non-score in the opening round and a mere six points in the second, Thompson’s title dream looked over before it had begun. The Team HARD Racing driver was not one to give in though, finishing off the podium just once for the rest of the year.
Snetterton proved to be Thompson’s first major assault on the title, taking a clean sweep of pole, fastest lap and race win in the opening encounter with Witts narrowly beating him to the line in race two.
The first Brands Hatch round, on the GP circuit proved to be a turning point, with an accident into turn one wiping out Tim Docker and Paul Ivens, as the latter rolled up the hill towards the hairpin.
House, who initially spun Docker would be blamed for the accident and was subsequently disqualified from the restarted race that Bond won. Having fallen behind Witts in the early stage of the season, House decided to hang up his boots for the season after Brands, leaving Witts with a considerable championship lead.
Witts’ Fall from Grace
By this point, the question came to who could catch Witts. As it turned out, the consistency from Bond allowed him to remain just a few points behind, with Thompson’s double win during the Deutsch Fest also putting him back in contention.
It marked the first weekend that Witts had failed to score a win. As it turned out, Witts would not pick up silverware for the remainder of the year.
Thruxton would see a weekend long scuffle between Kenan Dole and Thompson, with both picking up a win and second place each as everything came down to the final round.
Witts was still leading on overall points, 28 above Bond. Though on dropped scores, Thompson would lead the Maximum driver by 4 going into Donington Park.
Another spectacular drive through the field saw Thompson take the win in race one, with surprise polesitter Stephan Johansen and Bond joining him on the podium. Witts’ fifth ensured that Thompson simply needed an eighth place to secure the title, though was not prepared to take it easy.
Thompson not only made up places, but passed Witts on track to secure second place and his slot in the history books. With no dropped scores he finished with 520 points, while Witts ended the year on 496, having finished the weekend just ten in front of Thompson on overall points.
Bond’s third was easily secured despite dropping back in the final race ending a coming-of-age year for the Team HARD racer.
Strong Performances All-Around the Field
Elsewhere, Darelle Wilson would emerge in fifth place overall as the independently run DW Racing crew picked up a win in the final race of the year.
Despite finding success in the final round, Wilson could not beat Kieran Gordon, who once again finished fourth in the standings after a year in which he failed to pick up a win. He would conclude the year with JW Bird Motorsports following on from his maiden campaign with Team HARD in 2016, often proving to be a threat to the leaders.
Tom Walker would be another driver caught out by the dropped score system, as he was one of only five drivers to finish every race this season. Despite this he maintained sixth, picking up his only silverware in the season finale at Donington.
Two retirements from Dole ensured that despite his dominant Thruxton round, would finish two points adrift of Walker as S. Walton became the highest placed Audi driver in eighth overall, after a dismal season.
Whether either Walton’s will return may be up to their commitment in the Audi project, but just two third places and a fortunate win in a season wrecked by reliability may be an early nail in their 2018 plans.
Despite failing to finish inside the top eight for the first half of the season, Johansen would find his legs in the second half, even picking up a shock pole position at Donington. The resulting podium was not enough to jump ahead of Mark Smith, but pushed him above House and O.Walton who had won the opening encounter.
Progression from the championship has been rare in recent years, but with the BTCC test for the top three remaining in 2018, the series may yet be seen as a logical step to higher forms of Touring Cars.
As for Thompson, it’s unclear where he will move on to, but a season in Team HARD has certainly equipped him with the connections to further his career.