Words - Tim Langham
Photographs - Ste McNorton
The 2019 A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship came to a close at a very soggy and Autumnal Oulton Park, with optional testing on Friday and qualifying and two races on Saturday to decide the final standings. While the Super F2 series had been secured almost a month earlier at Castle Combe, going the way once again of Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley (LCR Suzuki), there was still the matter of the championship top three to decide. Meanwhile, a battle in the F2 Cup has raged all year between Simon Robinson / Mick Fairhurst (LCR Suzuki) and Rob Atkinson / Mark Middleton (Bellas Suzuki), providing some excellent, clean competition between the teams – neither of which had accrued enough points prior to Oulton to land the title.
Friday testing saw conditions similar to those five days before at Mallory Park, with persistent rain, resulting in a few spins and slides for those taking part. If anything, Saturday had been forecast to be a better day, but overnight rain ensured that the circuit remained damp for the duration of the event, with heavy rain making a return later in the day.
Unfortunately, a number of regular crews were missing from this event, however, a good number of “wild-card” teams had submitted entries, and nineteen outfits posted a time in the qualifying session, on what was most definitely a drying track.
Founds had called upon the services of former Isle of Man T.T. lap record holding passenger Ben Binns to deputise for Walmsley, who is still nursing a shattered heel following an incident at Croft back in August. This combination quickly bonded, setting pole position on their final lap, as a definite dry line began to emerge. Founds / Binns were over five seconds clear of the 2018 F2 Cup champions, Daryl Gibson / Ashley Moore (Shelbourne Suzuki), who were a further second ahead of Robinson / Fairhurst. John Shipley jnr / Milo Ward (LCR Suzuki) put a relatively disappointing weekend at Mallory Park behind them, qualifying fourth, just ahead of the first of the wild-card entrants, Wayne Lockey / Mark Sayers (LCR Honda). The top ten was completed by Atkinson / Middleton; Sean Hegarty / James Neave (Baker Honda); wild-cards Dean Lindley / Rob Bell (DMR Suzuki); Brian Ilaria / Olly Lace (DDM Suzuki) and the father and son wild-card pairing of Roger and Bradley Stockton (DSCR Suzuki).
Conditions were changeable throughout the morning, and as race one approached, it became something of a gamble with regards to tyre choice. Founds / Binns quickly began to make a break from their pole position start, opening up a two second gap at the end of the opening lap. Atkinson / Middleton made an excellent start from sixth, and picked up several places to run third as they looked to keep the pressure on F2 Cup rivals Robinson / Fairhurst. However, this was not to be – cruel luck saw Atkinson / Middleton sidelined early on when a jubilee clip failed, unceremoniously dumping the water from their cooling system and putting an end to their race and ultimately their push for championship supremacy. Another early retirement was that of John Shipley snr / Andy Haynes (LCR Honda), with an engine problem which put a premature end to the event for them.
Shipley jnr / Ward inherited the lead in the F2 Cup, and third overall, however, Hegarty / Neave were on a charge and overtook them on lap two, whilst Founds / Binns stretched their advantage over Gibson / Moore, who in turn were pulling away from the rest of the pack. Ilaria / Lace had moved ahead of Robinson / Fairhurst, who were running fifth and sixth overall, and second and third in the F2 Cup. However, Lockey / Sayers were closing on the latter crew, finding a way through a lap later.
Lap five saw an early end to the race for Charlie Morphet / Paul Halliburton (LCR Suzuki), who had moved inside the top ten, with a minor incident at the Chicane, both were ok, suffering minor bruising. Shipley jnr / Ward had come under pressure from Ilaria / Lace, and dropped to second in the F2 Cup, and fifth overall. While Founds / Binns had built up a significant lead of around two seconds each lap over Gibson / Moore – who themselves were over thirty seconds over Hegarty / Neave, in the closing two laps all eyes were on Ilaria / Lace, who were relishing the conditions, and were within touching distance of their first Super F2 podium. However, Hegarty / Neave held on by a slender 0.2 seconds at the flag to hold onto third, 38 seconds behind second placed Gibson / Moore, who in turn were 13.5 seconds in arrears of race winners Founds / Binns.
Shipley jnr / Ward were fifth – their best Super F2 finish of the year – and second in the F2 Cup, just ahead of Lockey / Sayers. Robinson / Fairhurst were delighted to finish in a lonely seventh place, taking points for third place in the F2 Cup – enough to land them the championship in their first season at this level. Lindley / Bell took eighth, Giles and Jen Stainton (LCR Suzuki) ninth, and circuit debutants Michael Boak / Brian Jukes (Baker Suzuki) were tenth.
With the weather continuing to cause disruption through the afternoon, and a number of stoppages (including one requiring a lengthy clean up operation following a fluid spillage), the organisers had little option other than to shorten the race lengths to ensure that the remainder of the programme could be accommodated. Founds / Binns were non-starters, owing to the fact that time was running short for Binns to check in for his return crossing to the Isle of Man, and with no bookings available the following day on an alternative ferry, the pairing decided to call it a day. Joining them on the sidelines were Atkinson / Middleton; Morphet / Halliburton and Shipley snr / Haynes all of whom had misdemeanours in the opening race.
There was disappointment for Lindley / Bell, who went off on the warm up lap at Cascades. Dean has been a regular competitor in sidecar racing for over fifteen years, but his machine is up for sale, as he looks to perhaps explore another branch of motorsport in the future – the F.S.R.A. wish him well with this new adventure, and hope he will return to sidecars some time in the future.
The reverse grid should have seen Lockey / Sayers on pole, however they were non-starters, so the sole outfit on the front row was Shipley jnr / Ward, as the shortened six lap race got underway on a drying track.
It was Hegarty / Neave who controlled and led the race from start to finish, to land their second British F2 race win of the year, from Gibson / Moore, who made it a brace of runners-up places for the day. Taking their third Super F2 podium in as many events were Robinson / Fairhurst, who passed Shipley jnr / Ward at half distance, with these two teams holding station to take first and second in the F2 Cup, with Ilaria / Lace third in class, and fifth overall.
Wild-cards Matt Dix / Shaun Parker (Baker Honda) came home sixth, ahead of Chris Schofield / William Moralee (Ireson Honda); David Schofield / Guy Pawsey (Windle Suzuki); the Stocktons; the Staintons; Pete Millington / Kez Hughes (MRE Suzuki) and Boak / Jukes. A sole retirement saw Ste Pawley / David Hammond (Shelbourne Suzuki) retire on lap two having made the wrong tyre choice.
The F.S.R.A. would like to thank all at North Gloucester Road Racing Club for organising the event, in what were very unpleasant conditions. As always, we also express our appreciation for the 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.
Finally, as another successful British Championship season comes to an end, the organisation would like to thank all competitors, teams and followers of the series for their support through this season. We look forward to welcoming you all – and hopefully some new faces – in 2020. A reminder that the F.S.R.A. Annual General Meeting is being held on Saturday 23rd November at the Radisson Blu Hotel, East Midlands Airport at 12.00pm. The dinner & dance and presentation of awards will be held at the same venue at 7.00pm – further details and tickets are available now from Pat Hamblin.