The first round of the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship took place over the weekend of the 7th and 8th April in contrasting conditions. Many teams took the opportunity of a couple of test sessions on Friday afternoon to familiarise themselves with the circuit, having not been there since 2016 - and for some it was their first visit.
On to Saturday - the forecast was to start dry and rain later, however it started raining before free practice and pretty much continued off and on through the whole day. The fifteen minute qualifying session started at 1130, with twenty eight teams on a very wet track. The early pace setters were Team A.R.C. Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie on their LCR Suzuki. Having gone a second quicker than their nearest rivals, the reigning champions Peter Founds / Jevan Walmsley, they opted to pull into the pits with six minutes of the session remaining. In the dying seconds of qualifying they were demoted to second on the grid after Team Founds put their brand new Suzuki powered D.D.M. chassis on pole position with a time of 1:39.695 which was 0.565s ahead of Team A.R.C. This was no mean achievement as the first time the pair turned a wheel in anger on the new sidecar was in free practice prior to qualifying.
The second row of the grid would see the father and son pairing of Steve and Matty Ramsden on their LCR Honda and Conrad Harrsion / Andrew Winkle aboard their Honda powered Bellas chassis. On the third row were last years F2 Cup Champions Mike Jackson from the Isle of Man with new partner - also from the Island - Harry Payne, on their Windle Suzuki. A remarkable qualifying session from the newcomers to the championship Daryl Gibson and Ashley Moore place sixth on their Shelbourne Suzuki. The next row contained the pairings of Scottish ace Gordon Shand with his Belgian passenger Frank Claeys on their Shand Suzuki and John and Jake Lowther on their LCR Honda.
The fifth row of the grid and qualifying ninth overall were Sean Hegarty / James Neave on their Honda powered Baker chassis, and alongside them would be the second wildcard entrants Tony Baker and daughter Fiona Baker-Holden. On row six were two teams whom had many battles last season and finished second and third in the F2 Cup respectively: Ralph Remnant / Samantha Tilley on their Kawasaki powered Lumley chassis, and Team Powerhouse Brian Ilaria and new passenger Sarah Stokoe aboard their Suzuki powered DDM chassis.
Around noon racing was delayed for some two hours due to the constant rain. The circuit staff did an amazing job in clearing over three tonnes of rain water that had fallen in this time. An inspection car was sent out with Lee Crawford and Dom Herbertson to assess the condition of the circuit. It was agreed that the British sidecar race would be first out after the delay.
N.B. I will just be covering the registered teams in the race reports as “wildcards” do not qualify for points and also to add that the aggregate winners of the two races would receive the Mac Hobson trophy.
The race commenced at 1500 with two formation laps and then twelve racing laps. Twenty seven outfits took to the grid.
It was Crawford / Hardie that led the way after lap one, opening up an impressive four second gap back to Harrison / Winkle who in turn was 1.697s ahead of the Ramsdens in third. With Founds / Walmsley in fourth trying to get to grips with their new chassis they were closely followed by Jackson / Payne and Hegarty / Neave. Just under a second behind Sean and James were the first of the F2 Cup teams; Gibson / Moore who had opened up a six second gap in class to Richard Lumley / Andy Haynes who were a second ahead of Ilaria / Stokoe and Remnant / Tilley.
After the end of lap two Crawford / Hardie had doubled their lead to over eight seconds over Harrison / Winkle with Founds / Walmsley moving ahead of the Ramsdens into third. The biggest mover after two laps after starting at the back of the grid racing under the True Heroes Racing banner on their Shelbourne Honda, former Manx G.P. solo winner Mike Russell with Shaun Parker in the chair had gained twelve places up to sixteenth overall and sixth in class.
At the halfway stage Crawford / Hardie now led Founds/Walmsley by fourteen seconds; who in turn had opened up a six second gap back to Harrison / Winkle. In the F2 Cup, Gibson / Moore held an eighteen second advantage over Ilaria / Stokoe who in turn were just 0.526s ahead of Remnant / Tilley, relegating Lumley / Haynes back to fourth in class. A battle for sixth in class ensued between Paul Downes / David Hainsworth on their MRE Suzuki and Richard Hackney / Jayne Morris on their CES Suzuki with just under two seconds separating these pairings, and on the very next lap the positions would be changed with Hackney / Morris moving ahead of Downes / Hainsworth.
Also after the end of lap seven would see Hegarty / Neave move in to the final podium place at the expense of the Ramsdens and Harrison / Winkle. With three laps to go the top three positions in each class remained the same, however Jackson / Payne had overtaken Harrison / Winkle to move in to fifth position and this is how it remained until the chequered flag.
A dominant win from start to finish for Crawford /Hardie was secured by twenty one seconds, with Founds / Walmsley taking the runners up sport some twelve seconds ahead of Hegarty / Neave. In the F2 Cup class an equally dominant performance for Gibson / Moore who won by thirty one seconds from Ilaria / Stokoe with Remnant / Tilley a further five seconds back.
In summary, it was a superb performance from the winners of their respective classes in what were far less than ideal conditions. What was also impressive was that there were just two teams who had a DNF by their name. Well done to all teams in battling with the elements.
This season for the second race, the top six finishers in race one start in reverse order on the grid.
At Croft no racing is allowed until 12pm on Sunday.
The second race got underway just after 2pm in the dry, and it was another blistering start from Crawford / Hardie who were starting from sixth on the grid and they led the pack after lap one and had opened up a 2.554s gap to Jackson / Payne who in turn were just 0.026s ahead of Founds / Walmsley followed by Ramsden / Ramsden, Hegarty / Neave and Harrison/Winkle. In the F2 Cup class it was once again Gibson / Moore leading the way, some five seconds ahead of the pairing of Ilaria / Stokoe, Lumley / Haynes, Remnant / Tilley, Chris Schofield / Derek Taylor on their Ireson Honda and Russell / Parker.
After two completed laps the top six positions in the F2 Cup class remained the same, however moving up three places into seventh in class were Giles and Jen Stainton on their LCR Suzuki, relegating Peter Millington / Helen Deeley back to eighth in class on their MRE Suzuki. In the Super F2, Founds / Walmsley had slotted into second place, some 3.864s behind the leaders Crawford / Hardie, and 1.560s seconds ahead of the Manx pairing of Jackson / Payne. The Ramsdens had dropped to sixth, suffering from brake fade.
At the end of lap three Crawford / Hardie set what would be the fastest lap of the race with a time of 1:30.576s, both the pairings of Harrison / Winkle and Hegarty / Neave had overtaken Jackson / Payne.
By lap nine, Crawford / Hardie had built an eight second gap to Founds / Walmsley, who in turn were nine seconds ahead of the third placed Harrison / Winkle, who were just about holding off Hegarty / Neave.
In the F2 Cup, Ilaria / Stokoe retired with technical difficulties, which meant Remnant / Tilley had moved into second place ahead of Lumley / Haynes, with Schofield / Taylor just a second back after ten completed laps. A final charge on lap eleven would see Schofield / Taylor pipping Lumley / Haynes to third place by 0.105s and thus achieving a podium finish on their first British Championship round.
The spoils and a double win went to Crawford / Hardie by 4.181s over the pairing of Founds / Walmsley who had to be extremely happy on their new chassis with no testing prior to free practice on Saturday morning and in third place after another race long battle were Harrison / Winkle, finishing just 0.626s ahead of Hegarty/Neave.
In taking both the wins Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie were also awarded the Mac Hobson trophy which Team A.R.C. have now won four times in succession.
Many congratulations to Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie and Daryl Gibson / Ashley Moore on your double wins.
The F.S.R.A. would like to give thanks to the circuit staff, marshalls, medics, registered teams and wildcards for making this a very successful meeting.
We look forward to seeing you all at the next round at Cadwell Park weekend of 28th/29th April