The penultimate round of the Virtual Stock Car Championship took place last Saturday with much anticipation as not only would it take place at an historic and driver-favourite track, but it also proved to be the round in which Matheus Machado claimed the title of RaceDepartment's Virtual Stock Car Champion! The Brands Hatch circuit is one steeped in history and prestige. For a time it was the host of the British Grand Prix and currently supports everything from top-tier GT3's to British Superbikes. It's fast and flowing corners make it a pleasure to drive especially when combined with the circuit's hilly nature. However, it's not all rosy as the track is proper old school. Bumps, gravel and grass. Minor mistakes can turn into race-ending incidents in the unforgiving gravel traps. The 27 strong grid would have to navigate 51 laps of this rewarding yet difficult circuit. Qualifying In the race to pole position it was David Armstrong with the biggest surprise result all season as he claimed pole position from Matheus Machado by just under a tenth of a second with a 1:26.84. A stunning lap that perhaps surprised even himself, but one that was very well deserved. Brodie Steen rounded out the top three just ahead of Tony Binelli. Shaun Allan and Chris Stacey were separated by just three one thousandths of a second, as Davy Vandevenne and Kevin Harris were both brutally close behind just three one hundredths slower than Allan's time. Sean Rogers had his best qualifying of the season with ninth place, ahead of Jamie Pyatt who rounded out the top ten, as the field yet again demonstrated their unbelievably close proximity as the top fifteen drivers were all separated by less than one second. Race Confusion was rife on the formation lap as Matheus Machado stalled his #21 Talking Door Peugeot on the grid. This triggered a domino effect and the entire left side of the grid was left waiting for a considerable amount of time after Chris Stacey also stalled due to making light contact with the rear of Tony Binelli. The log jam eventually cleared and the formation of the grid proceeded as normal. As the lights went out, David Armstrong had a poor launch from pole position allowing Machado immediately through into the lead of the race. On the run to the Druids Hairpin, Mike Bell, Sean Rogers and Fred Locklear went three wide, however Bell was seemingly unaware that he had two cars on the inside of him and turned into the corner. He made contact with the side of Rogers who unfortunately spun, sending him to the back of the pack. The other casualty of the first lap was Chris Stacey who, with all the grip of oiled oak, got into a tank slapper at Westfield Bend and collided heavily with the barrier, requiring a lengthy repair job and putting him a lap down on the entire field. The sloped, downhill starting grid made for some surprising results into turn one. Lap two and the track would continue to leave it's mark on the drivers as this time Kevin Harris would run slightly too wide at Graham Hill Bend, sending him into a spin. Fortunately he was able to avoid any serious damage as he only made light contact with the Armco upon reorienting himself. Unfortunately this undid all of his good work to get into sixth position as he dropped twenty places waiting to rejoin safely. Up the front and Machado was not able to pull away from the four cars of David Armstrong, Brodie Steen, Shaun Allan and Davy Vandevenne chasing him. With the top five separated by around two seconds and the track already claiming it's share of victims, a 'driving-on-egg-shells' approach was largely adopted: Keep it clean and safe now, and reap the benefits later on in the race. Further back in 10th place, a furious three-way battle was emerging between Matthew Wheeler, Michael Stead and Thomas Hinss as the trio ran almost nose-to-tail for a considerable amount of time. However, just behind them, Jeremy Talbot lost the rear end of his car at Graham Hill Bend and in an effort to save it he slewed back across the track into the path of his oncoming teammate Shawn Jacobs. The hefty whack sent Talbot back to the inside of the track, collecting Michael Nelson who had no where to go. The resultant contact left Jacobs with significant damage and a heavily bent steering rack. Wheeler (left), Hinss (middle) and Stead (right) were embroiled in a tense three-way scrap. The battle for fifth place began to heat up as Tony Binelli got into rhythm and gradually began to close the gap to Davy Vandevenne as the Belgian struggled to maintain pace with the leading quartet. Binelli was able to sneak up the inside on the run up to Sheen after Vandevenne ran slightly wide at Westfield which compromised his exit speed. Further back in ninth place, Mike Bell was on a charge as he piled on the pressure to Jamie Pyatt, making multiple hints up the inside, however Pyatt was able to cover him off. But a superior exit from the final corner saw Bell in position to get alongside and past Pyatt at Paddock Hill. Just a few laps later, Bell was again hunting down his next victim. This time it was the third place-getter from Oulton Park, Oli McGown. On this occasion it was a better exit from Paddock Hill that saw him able to get a nose up the inside at Druids Hairpin and eventually past McGown. As the pit window approached, it was David Armstrong who was the first of the front runners to head for the lane. With a full service of fuel and tyres, the total time spent in pit lane lasted roughly 60 seconds. This meant that Armstrong emerged from the pits in 13th place, albeit on much faster rubber than the surrounding cars. As the other cars gradually filtered in for servicing, Armstrong was quickly back up into podium contention, however both he and Machado had lost track position to Tony Binelli. The APIA driver had taken a very risky strategy of taking fuel only. This meant he'd save at least 28 seconds in the pits, but would be highly vulnerable in the second stint with a full tank and very worn tyres on a track that is renowned for being hard on tyres due to the high speed corners. Rule #1: Don't hit your teammate. Rule #2: See rule 1. Armstrong would need to make up 16 seconds to Binelli over the next 23 laps. Binelli was no match for Machado as a rather clinical pass for the lead came on lap 35 at Hawthorn Hill, however at this stage, Binelli recognised that his fight was not realistically with the Talking Door Driver, but rather with the #04 car of Armstrong. Closing in lap by lap, Armstrong made very few mistakes and was able to close the gap at some points by over two seconds per lap. Just behind, Davy Vandevenne was able to get past Shaun Allan in the battle for fifth place as the RaceOnOz driver ran wide out of the final corner, accompanied with a trip across the gravel trap to put him down into sixth position. Down in twelfth position, Jeremy Talbot was trying to hold off a hard charging Sean Rogers. The #54 SpeedyMite of Talbot made a small error at Sheen Curve which allowed Rogers to make a nice pass around the outside of Stirlings Bend. Binelli (right) drove a strong race, but there's no substitute for fresh rubber. With just four laps remaining, David Armstrong was now right on the bumper of Tony Binelli. With much fresher tyres and a bit of boost, Armstrong was able to make a clean pass on the #06 APIA machine into Hawthorns Bend for second place. From there, Binelli was rather powerless to remain with Armstrong as the life in his tyres had well and truly departed. With his pace significantly slower than the cars behind, Binelli was now playing the 'don't make any mistakes and hope for the best' game as he was being quickly reeled in by Brodie Steen. However, his lucky break came on the second last lap as Steen made a mistake at Westfield and ran across the gravel. This allowed Vandevenne and Allan to close right up to the back of him, whilst allowing Binelli to get away. Allan meanwhile was very lucky not to lose position after a spin at Graham Hill bend saw him end up on the infield. He was able to rejoin just ahead of Oli McGown. But just up ahead, Allan's teammate was now under serious pressure from Vandevenne, and a tardy exit from Hawthorns Bend was all the Copenhagen Apex car needed to take fourth place away from Steen. Final Result As the chequered flag flew, it was Machado who remained peerless by taking a commanding victory. In doing so, he is also crowned as the 2016 RaceDepartment Virtual Stock Car Champion as it is now mathematically impossible for anyone to catch him with only one round remaining. Congratulations Matheus on a fantastic season! Podium Interviews Matheus Machado | Talking Door Racing - 1st Place Q1. Congratulations Matheus, you are RaceDepartment's Virtual Stock Car Champion! Explain to us how that feels? A. "I'm feeling ecstatic! I've started simracing online exactly two years ago, so it was a long way to reach that championship. Being extremely off pace not knowing a thing about overtaking and defending position, I can just say I'm extremely grateful for all the races I've run here at RD! "I honestly can't describe what I'm feeling right now, my best guess would be some sort of accomplishment mixed with the desire for more! I just love working on what I can become better at and pushing myself to the next level is always my main goal. Thankfully this attitude resulted in the VSCC S4 championship for now!" Q2. Tell us a little bit about your race? You were pipped to pole by David Armstrong, but you made amends for that immediately by taking the lead off the line. A. "Qualifying should have gone a lot better, although even with a lap way off what I could achieve it was enough for second place. Luckily the grid slot was easier to make a good start than the pole's car, due to less inclination, camber and more grip, as it was on the racing line. "I've done plenty of practice starts in the warm-up session to make sure the start would be the best possible, so I just waited for the lights and executed it. By the first corner I already had a good lead. I was struggling a little to create a gap as always a little mistake threw my advantage in the back, however I decided to keep pushing, since I had nothing to lose in this round. It paid off really well! As soon as I got into a rhythm, I was able to pull fast lap after fast lap and grabbed the win pressured, but comfortably!" David Armstrong | Independent - 2nd Place Q1. Firstly, congratulations on taking pole position! You put in a mega lap that many, and perhaps even yourself, were surprised to see. How was the lap from your cockpit? A. "Thanks, it certainly was a surprise! I was actually ignoring all of my timing info throughout qualifying, so I didn't realise I was on provisional pole until half way around my final hotlap. The car felt great and I was able to put in a couple of near-perfect laps. I reckon I could have squeezed out a couple of extra tenths, but it's so hard around Brands to nail every corner." Q2. You also claimed your first podium of the season! You lost position to Tony Binelli after the pit stops due to him taking fuel only, were you surprised to see him try to make only one set of tyres go the distance, and were you confident you could reel him in, in the second stint? A. "I was very surprised when I realised he was trying to go the distance on the one set, as I assumed changing the rubber was going to be absolutely essential here. But with my fresh tires I was catching him fairly quickly and I also still had 3 boosts up my sleeve when I caught him, so passing him down the back straight was no drama at all." Tony Binelli | APIA Racing - 3rd Place Q1. Congratulation on taking third place Tony! You've had a very strong season thus far, so it was a surprise for me to see that this was your first top three finish of the season. Take us through your race for a bit, we saw you take the bold decision of not changing tyres. Were you ever worried you might not make the strategy work, given the closeness of the pack? A. "Thanks Chris, I am finally starting to get some pace mixed with consistency in my racing which makes me a more competitive racer. Qualifying was solid but nothing special and I believe i started 4th on the grid. "The start was a strange one getting tapped on the Formation lap but luckily getting no damage. Once the race started i got my customary poor take off and was 7th by the first corner and was hit again and had a semi-spin. From there it was a pretty solid race not making any major mistakes and thanks to some spin offs in front of me I moved up to 5th pretty early on in the race. "My tires felt quite good when it was time to pit and I was pretty confident most of the field were going to change tires so i decided to take the gamble and it obviously paid off, i came out of the pits in first place and only Matheus and Dave managed to run me down. My tires ended up at 39% but my lap times were just good enough to keep Brodie at bay "I was one happy podium winner. It really helps though when you have great APIA team mates that keep you focused and calm when the strain starts to show and of course our mascot Dave!" Q2. There's one round left and 13 points separating yourself and Brodie Steen in second place. What do you need to do in order to be "best of the rest" come the chequered flag at Mount Panorama? A. "Bathurst is going to be quite a challenge just to finish the race and to be perfectly honest that is my main goal. It would be nice to catch Brodie but he has raced very consistently and deserves to be where he is. "I think the harder job is to keep all the guys behind me right where they are. I actually get more of a thrill seeing APIA in second position rather than my personal achievement Bring on Bathurst and go APIA!!!" Championship Standings The championship now turns to the most physically and mentally grueling track of the season: Mount Panorama. The Mountain is unquestionably the toughest, longest and most difficult circuit of the Championship. With concrete barriers just millimetres away, the highest speeds and one of the most undulating circuits in the world, only the brave will survive, and only the best will flourish.