Words - Tim Langham
Photographs - Dirk Wharton
The 2019 A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship visited Croft Circuit, North Yorkshire for the annual “Battle Of Britain” races, an event for machinery with two, three and four wheels on the 17th and 18th August. The weekend was action packed – while Saturday saw championship leaders Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley (LCR Suzuki) take another win, and finally lower the two-decades-old lap record, Sunday was a less fruitful outing. They suffered an incident at Clervaux (Turn One) on the opening lap, which also sidelined F2 Cup championship leaders Simon Robinson / Mick Fairhurst (LCR Suzuki), who had been looking to repeat their class victory of Saturday. Instead, there was a popular maiden series win for Sean Hegarty / James Neave (Baker Honda), while Rob Atkinson / Mark Middleton (Bellas Suzuki) won the Cup category, to consolidate their second place in the standings.
Persistent rain and low cloud put a dampener on the optional Friday afternoon test sessions. However, despite the wet conditions, teams commented that there were massive levels of grip – no doubt attributed to the fact the circuit had been fully resurfaced in April. However, while this did lend to faster lap times over the weekend when the circuit dried out, many competitors voiced their concerns about certain parts of the circuit having “bumps” in places where they least expected them – even for regular visitors to Croft, it was almost a case of having to relearn the circuit!
Saturday's qualifying got underway in the early afternoon, and almost immediately, Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie jumped to the top of the timesheet, with their fastest ever time around Croft. However, Founds / Walmsley, despite being late onto the circuit soon began putting in similar lap times. The red flags came out half way through the fifteen minute session, as Conrad Harrison / Andy Winkle (Bellas Honda) beached themselves in the gravel at Hawthorne. A quick recovery took place, and the outfits resumed battle. Crawford / Hardie were caught in traffic, and unable to surpass their earlier benchmark – however, Founds / Walmsley improved to a time of 1:27.806 to take their sixth pole position start in as many meetings. Crawford / Hardie were second, ahead of the chasing pack of John Lowther / Tom Christie (LCR Honda); Hegarty / Neave; Harrison / Winkle and the leading F2 Cup team of Atkinson / Middleton.
Race one saw the pole sitters out-accelerated from the start by Crawford / Hardie, and these pairings were in close company for the opening laps. Team A.R.C. were the first to officially break the lap record at the end of the second lap, with a time of 1:28.525, however, it was obvious that should either team be able to get a clear circuit, there would be plenty more time to be found.
With the leading outfits making a break from the rest of the field, Lowther / Christie were beginning to move clear of Hegarty / Neave and Harrison / Winkle. Robinson / Fairhurst were keeping the pressure on the two outfits ahead of them, and the leading F2 Cup pairing were pulling clear of fellow Cup front-runners Atkinson / Middleton. An early retirement to pitlane was the wild-card team of Greg Lambert / Rob Child (GLR Honda).
Close racing was going on throughout the field, and a notable mention must go to John Shipley snr / Andy Haynes (LCR Suzuki) and F.S.R.A. debutants and wild-cards Michael Boak / Brian Jukes (Baker Honda), who were trading places several times a lap throughout the duration of the race.
Founds / Walmsley found a way past Crawford / Hardie at half distance, and began to pull away slightly – improving the lap record to 1:27.888 on lap six. Unfortunately, Team A.R.C. had a major problem as the kneeler tray in the fairing collapsed, meaning Hardie was unable to work right handers fully, and the integrity of the fibre glass was failing – spectacular clouds of smoke poured from the wheel-arch on several occasions as it fouled the sidecar tyre. While Founds / Walmsley cantered to another victory, Crawford / Hardie did well to nurse their machine home ahead of Lowther / Christie, who put in a late charge. Hegarty / Neave took fourth, with Robinson / Fairhurst fifth – and first of the F2 Cup runners. Atkinson / Middleton were sixth, and Brian Ilaria / Olly Lace seventh – that being their seventh F2 Cup podium in the last eight outings.
Race two got underway mid-afternoon Sunday, with the top six finishers from Saturday's race in reverse formation on the grid. Making a remarkable getaway from the third row were Crawford / Hardie who snatched the lead into Clervaux. However, behind them, Founds / Walmsley and Robinson / Fairhurst both took to the gravel trap, with the reigning champions machine flipping over. Thankfully, all involved were relatively unscathed. Further drama had unfolded in the meantime as the leaders came through the chicane onto the back straight. Crawford / Hardie's chain jumped the front sprocket, and tore through their crankcases. After circuit staff and marshals had recovered the three stricken outfits, a shortened ten lap re-run took place.
Lowther / Christie took the initiative in the early stages, from Hegarty / Neave, with Harrison / Winkle within touching distance in third. Mechanical problems sidelined Boak / Jukes on lap three, and fellow wild-cards Lambert / Child returned to the paddock two laps later. Also making an early retirement were Chris Schofield / Adam Nix who suffered their first non-finish of the season – they pulled out with a handling problem, and later discovered their front forks were the culprit.
Hegarty / Neave were pressuring Lowther / Christie as the race moved into the second half – with a lap time of 1:30.000, they set the fastest lap, and took the lead soon after. However, the scrap continued to the chequered flag – Hegarty / Neave held on to take their first British F2 win by just 0.584 seconds from Lowther / Christie. Harrison / Winkle had a relatively lonely second half of the race, coming home third, 17.5 seconds clear of F2 Cup winners Atkinson / Middleton. Ilaria / Lace were fifth overall and runners-up in the Cup. Taking their best result to date, placing sixth were Richard Hackney / Dave Ryder (CES Suzuki), and they were delighted to finish in the final podium slot in the F2 Cup.
The F.S.R.A. would like to thank all at the Darlington Light Car Club and 243 Racing Association for hosting a well-run and enjoyable event. 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 Castle Combe for the “Grand National” meeting, one which draws some of the biggest crowds of spectators in the country. The meeting will feature not just racing, but parades of legendary riders and machines over the weekend of the 31st August and 1st September.