Words - Tim Langham
Photographs - Dirk Wharton
The second round of the 2019 A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship saw another lap record fall, in a weekend featuring some fantastic racing. There was a win each for Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie, and series leaders Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley, both similarly mounted on LCR Suzuki machinery. Rob Atkinson / Glenn Dawson (Bellas Suzuki) were the dominant force in the F2 Cup, taking both wins to move up to third in the “series within a series”, despite having to miss the opening round at Snetterton a month ago.
Saturday morning saw thirty teams take to the circuit for timed qualifying, in dry and reasonably sunny conditions. Twenty eight series regulars were joined by two “Wild Card” teams, those being 2015 British F2 champion Alan Founds / Jake Lowther (LCR Yamaha), and the reigning World Champions, Ben and Tom Birchall (LCR Yamaha) – both looking for some valuable set up time before the Isle of Man T.T. Races later this month.
The early pace was set by Crawford / Hardie, but they were forced to return to the paddock at the completion of just four laps owing to an intermittent electrical fault. Founds / Walmsley made the most of the fifteen minute session, increasing their pace throughout, and put in twelve laps, taking their second pole position in as many meetings with a time of 1:14.525 – a tenth of a second under their existing lap record set in 2017.
Dave Molyneux / Harry Payne (Yamaha) continued to impress, qualifying just under 0.4s in arrears of Founds / Walmsley, with Crawford / Hardie third. The Birchall brothers lined up fourth, but opted not to take to the grid in either race, using other practice sessions to continue their development work.
Daryl Gibson / Ashley Moore (Shelbourne Suzuki) were fifth fastest, ahead of Sean Hegarty / James Neave (Baker Honda); Mike Jackson / Ben Binns (DMR Suzuki); John Lowther / Sarah Stokoe (LCR Honda); Conrad Harrison / Andy Winkle (Bellas Honda), with Steve and Matty Ramsden (LCR Honda) rounding out the top ten.
The second of the “wild cards” - Founds / Lowther – were next up, edging out Atkinson / Dawson, the first of the F2 Cup runners. Three LCR Suzuki crews completed the top fifteen, namely: Simon Robinson / Mick Fairhurst; Michael Kirkup / Arlo Brown and John Shipley jnr / Milo Ward – all of whom were also F2 Cup teams, so things were looking promising for entertaining racing in both sections.
A few rain showers in the early afternoon had put a slight dampener on proceedings, and with a little under a quarter of an hour to go before race one, more drizzle began to fall, with some ominous looking clouds on the horizon. However, it would have been a bold move to consider using wet tyres, so the majority of teams set off on slicks on the warm up lap to be faced a hugely greasy surface. Pulling into pitlane almost immediately were Stu Anderson / Karen Lupton (Lumley Kawasaki), and after making a slight adjustment they joined the back of the field, but were forced into retirement in the early stages.
Making a phenomenal start from row two were Crawford / Hardie, who tend to thrive in damp and wet conditions, and they opened a buffer of just under two seconds at the end of the opening lap from Founds / Walmsley. Molyneux / Payne were in hot pursuit, along with Hegarty / Neave and Jackson / Binns.
Conditions began to deteriorate, with steady rain falling around parts of the circuit. Kirkup / Brown had a spin, which left Chris Schofield / Lee Edwards (Ireson Honda) with nowhere to go, a slight impact forcing the current F2 Cup championship leaders into retirement. Nick Dukes / William Moralee (Baker Honda) retired to pitlane, with Paul Downes / Rowlinson (MRE Suzuki); Charlie Morphet / Paul Halliburton (LCR Suzuki); and Paul Riley / Shaun Parker (MRE Suzuki) also joining them on the sidelines.
In the F2 Cup, Atkinson / Dawson were having an excellent ride, moving inside the overall top ten and pulling well clear of the chasing pack. Schofield / Edwards were up to second in class, but eased their pace in the damp conditions, with Shipley jnr / Ward and Robinson / Fairhurst heading the chase for the final podium position.
Thankfully the rain stopped around half distance, and the track began to rapidly dry. Founds / Walmsley were starting to make in-roads to Crawford / Hardie, with their lead coming down to just under a second. Molyneux / Payne appeared to be dropping off the pace of the leaders, whilst the wild cards Founds / Lowther were making a huge charge through the field, and were up into the top six.
Back markers very much came into play in the closing stages, and there was little to separate the two leading teams, who were now well clear of the chasing pack. Crawford / Hardie held on to take the win by 0.2s from Founds / Walmsley, who had the consolation of taking the fastest lap whilst attempting to get on terms with the leaders. Founds / Lowther pipped Hegarty / Neave to third place, while Molyneux / Payne; Lowther / Stokoe; Jackson / Binns and the Ramsdens filled the next placings, each crossing the line singly with little company around them!
Atkinson / Dawson finished ninth overall, and were first of the F2 Cup competitors home, five seconds ahead of Harrison / Winkle. Shipley jnr / Ward and Richard Lumley / Ray Whitnall (Lumley Kawasaki) were next past the chequered flag, and completed the F2 Cup podium; with fellow Cup teams Robinson / Fairhurst; Dean and Ben Dickinson (Shelbourne Suzuki) and Brian Ilaria / Olly Lace (DDM Suzuki) making up the top fifteen.
Sunday dawned warm and sunny, and conditions were perfect for the longer twelve lap race, with the winners to receive the “Bill Boddice Trophy”. With the top six finishers from race one lining up in reverse order, the pole sitter was John Lowther with a change of passenger in Tom Christie, alongside Molyneux / Payne. However, as the lights changed, the top three protagonists from race one were contesting the lead as the pack charged frantically into Redgate, with much dust and brake smoke filling the air, unfortunately Shipley jnr / Ward were retirements after beaching themselves in the gravel as everyone fought for space into the first corner.
At the end of lap one, there was little to separate the two Founds brothers machines and Crawford / Hardie. The latter pairing briefly showed their nose ahead as the three outfits peeled into Redgate, but with yellow flags still out to deal with the aforementioned incident, they immediately gave the place back to Founds / Lowther. As the outfits passed the green flag as they headed for Craner Curves, it was Founds / Walmsley who took the initiative, and led from Founds / Lowther and Crawford / Hardie.
The chasing pack was only a second behind, and being keenly contested by Molyneux / Payne; Lowther / Christie and Hegarty / Neave. A little further back, another interesting battle was shaping up between Jackson / Binns; Harrison / Winkle and the Ramsdens.
Atkinson / Dawson again asserted their Donington dominance on the F2 Cup, controlling this section. Kirkup / Brown had another frustrating outing, in what had been a contrast to their clean sweep at Snetterton. Robinson / Fairhurst; Lumley / Whitnall and Ilaria / Lace were all looking to stake the remaining podium places, while the likes of Giles and Jen Stainton (LCR Suzuki) and Richard Hackney / Dave Ryder (CES Suzuki) were in contention to pounce should there be any mistake from the “rostrum chasers”. Unfortunately Dukes / Moralee; Craig Melvin / Stuart Christian (LCR Suzuki) and Dave Schofield / Guy Pawsey (Windle Suzuki) were all retirements in the F2 Cup.
Founds / Walmsley extended their lead each lap, indeed setting a new record in a time of 1:14.147, taking half a second off their previous best. Crawford / Hardie and Founds / Lowther were having an enthralling tussle, exchanging the lead numerous times, and providing fantastic entertainment for the spectators. Meanwhile, Molyneux / Payne had started to lose pace, seemingly with mechanical issues, and dropped down the order to sixth, while the Ramsdens had made some progress through the field, passing Jackson / Binns and Harrison / Winkle.
Founds / Walmsley took the win by just over six seconds, landing themselves the Bill Boddice Trophy in style. Founds / Lowther fended off Crawford / Hardie for second. Hegarty / Neave repeated their previous days fourth place finish, with Lowther / Christie fifth, and Molyneux / Payne taking sixth. The Ramsdens were seventh; Jackson / Binns eighth and Harrison / Winkle ninth. Taking their second F2 Cup victory of the weekend, Atkinson / Dawson were tenth overall. Next up were Robinson / Fairhurst and Ilaria / Lace, who took second and third in the F2 Cup. Thirteenth place went to Lumley / Whitnall, while a relatively lonely ride to fourteenth place went the way of Hackney / Ryder, with the Staintons taking the final Super F2 championship point in fifteenth.
Donington Park certainly lived up to the high standards set in 2018, with some more first class racing, in what was a well run and enjoyable meeting. In the two A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship meetings held so far – Snetterton 200 and Donington Park – there have been new lap records set, as well as new F2 records at Oulton Park and Knockhill in non-championship events. Coupled with full grids and close racing the championship is looking set to be a fascinating one. Thanks as ever go to N.G.R.R.C. for hosting the event, 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 for their continued support.
The next round of the series will be in just under six weeks time at the “Sidecar Revival” meeting at Cadwell Park, over the weekend of Friday 21st – Sunday 23rd June, hosted by B.M.C.R.C. This meeting is eagerly anticipated by all sidecar racing enthusiasts, with not only A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecars in attendance, but also Molson Group British Sidecars (RKB-F1); Camathias Cup Classic Sidecars and G.P. Legends Parades being other highlights of the weekend.
On behalf of the F.S.R.A., may I wish all competitors and their teams heading to the Isle of Man T.T. Races in the coming fortnight a safe and successful event, and look forward to seeing you all at Cadwell Park.