Words - Tim Langham
Photographs - Ste McNorton
Team Founds made history at Castle Combe over the weekend of 31st August and 1st September. They sealed the 2019 A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship with two rounds in hand, to land an unprecedented fourth consecutive title. Pete Founds (LCR Suzuki) – this weekend with Jake Lowther alongside him – deputising for regular passenger Jevan Walmsley, who is recovering from a minor foot injury sustained at Croft – took yet another convincing double win, and smashed his existing lap record twice over the weekend.
The chase for second in the Super F2 Championship could not be any closer, though, with John Lowther / Tom Christie (LCR Honda) now only a single point ahead of Sean Hegarty / James Neave (Baker Honda). The gap at the top of the F2 Cup series remains unchanged, with Simon Robinson / Rob Child (LCR Suzuki) – who was standing in for Mick Fairhurst who too was nursing minor injuries from Croft, maintaining a nineteen point margin over Rob Atkinson / Mark Middleton (Bellas Suzuki). Both teams took a win and a second place over the weekend, and were well amongst the Super F2 top six throughout.
A heavy downpour of rain fell shortly before the scheduled qualifying session, and teams quickly changed to wet tyres, and waited patiently at the holding bay. However, the prior solo session was red flagged following an incident which caused a fifteen minute delay. With standing water rapidly disappearing even before the machines took to the circuit, it looked like conditions could be awkward. The added worry of destroying treaded tyres in the latter stages, with the former airfield circuit now rapidly drying was also playing on many minds.
Wet-weather specialists Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie (LCR Suzuki) quickly set the early pace, but were struggling, stopping on-track to adjust their brake biasis on the third circulation, allowing Founds / Lowther to briefly top the times. With changes proving postive, Team A.R.C. took their first pole-position start of the campaign, 1.2 seconds clear of Founds / Lowther, thus breaking Team Founds monopoly on being the fastest in every qualifying session so far this season. Lowther / Christie were third, just 0.3 seconds clear of John Shipley jnr / Milo Ward (LCR Suzuki), who put in a very impressive performance to be fastest of the F2 Cup runners. Brian Ilaria / Olly Lace (DDM Suzuki) and Atkinson / Middleton completed not only the top six overall qualifiers, but the leading trio of F2 Cup contenders.
The afternoon programme was interrupted on several occasions owing to a number of incidents in the solo classes, with one particular stoppage necessitating the attendance of the air ambulance. Due to a strict curfew on noise at Castle Combe, the organisers had little option other than to shorten all races, and it was just before 6pm on Saturday evening when race one got underway beneath sunny skies.
Crawford / Hardie made the most of their qualifying performance and led the pack into Folly and up Avon Rise. Founds / Lowther were being pressured by Lowther / Christie, allowing the leaders to pull out several bike lengths in the opening lap. Hegarty / Neave had made some progress through the field, while Shipley jnr / Ward sadly seemed slightly down on power and began to lose ground to the leading pack, allowing Atkinson / Middleton to take charge of the F2 Cup order, and were in a position to capitalise on any mistakes from the leading pack of Super F2 machines.
An early retirement owing to a faulty lanyard saw Ralph Remnant / Sam Tilley (Lumley Kawasaki) sidelined – a disappointment for the local pairing who not been able to attend the last two rounds.
Crawford / Hardie were coming under increasing pressure from Founds / Lowther, who took 0.3 seconds off Founds' own lap record, set last September, to be the first team to go under the 1:15 barrier around this configuration of Castle Combe. Founds / Lowther took the lead at half distance, and while Crawford / Hardie fought back valiantly – immediately re-taking the position, they eventually had to succumb to Team Founds, and settled for a safe second place.
Richard Lumley / Ray Whitnall (Lumley Kawasaki) had a minor incident, touching the recticel fencing at the hairpin, luckily both they and their machine escaped unscathed. On the final lap, wild-cards Andy King / Alun Thomas (Ireson Honda) were forced into retirement to the paddock, with a puncture ending their race.
Founds / Lowther took the win by 1.5 seconds from Crawford / Hardie. In the closing stages, Lowther / Christie came under increasing pressure from Hegarty / Neave, but just held on for the final podium slot in what was a very close finish. Fifth overall and first in the Cup were Atkinson / Middleton, 0.4 seconds in front of Robinson / Child. Completing the F2 Cup podium, and relieved to finish seventh overall were Shipley jnr / Ward, with a mis-fire hampering their progress, following their hugely promising qualifying performance. Giles and Jen Stainton (LCR Suzuki) managed to coax their outfit to a finish, but faced a long Saturday evening fitting their spare engine in readiness for Sunday's action.
Sunday morning warm up saw Crawford / Hardie set their fastest ever time around the 1.957 mile former airfield circuit – a time under the old lap record of 2018. Overnight repairs and modifications had proved successful, as all twenty machines registered a time in this session.
With the top six from race one forming up the grid in reverse order, the F2 Cup championship contenders of Robinson / Child and Atkinson / Middleton headed up the front row. However, making a blistering start from fifth were Crawford / Hardie, who charged through to take the lead. Lowther / Christie followed them through, with Founds / Lowther making their way past to second position at the end of lap one, about 1.5 seconds down on the leaders.
Lowther / Christie started falling down the order drastically, at the end of lap one, they found themselves in the lower reaches of the top ten, with a retirement to pit-lane a lap later, with their outfit having dropped onto three cylinders. Joining them on the sidelines in the early stages were David Schofield / Guy Pawsey (Windle Suzuki); Paul Riley / Shaun Parker (MRE Suzuki) and Charlie Morphet / Paul Halliburton (LCR Suzuki). The wild-card entrants of Dean Nichols / Kenny Cole (LCR Suzuki) joined the list of non-finishers, as they returned to the paddock at two-thirds distance.
At the front, the battle raged between Crawford / Hardie and Founds / Lowther. The leaders momentarily held a new lap record of 1:14.818, but Team Founds reacted with time of 1:14.374 whilst giving chase. It was to be yet another cruel blow for Team A.R.C. at half distance, having begun to edge away from Founds / Lowther when they lost drive – the chain having jumped the front sprocket, ending their race at Old Paddock Bend. While the new leaders were able to ease their pace, it was all-action in the fight for second place, with Hegarty / Neave having to work hard to keep a determined Robinson / Child behind them in a battle which went all the way to the chequered flag.
Atkinson / Middleton came home in a safe fourth place, and runners-up in the F2 Cup. Ilaria / Lace were fifth (third in the Cup), with Shipley jnr / Ward completing the top six.
The F.S.R.A. would like to thank all at North Gloucester Road Racing Club for hosting a well-run and enjoyable event, which was attended by a huge throng of spectators. As always, we also express our thanks for the ongoing support of the A.C.U. and the series sponsors: A.R.C. Binchester; A.V. Craine & Son; Hegarty Plant; Lockside Engineering; Pagid Racing; Rowtec Ltd; Whitby Cottages and Yorkshire Engine Supplies. The next round of the series is at Mallory Park over the weekend of the 21st and 22nd September. This is sure to be a well-supported event, with the F.S.R.A. Pre-Injection Sidecar Championship also in attendance, and ever-popular charity “Taxi Rides” after the completion of racing on Saturday.