It goes without saying that the 2020 motorcycle racing season was hugely disrupted by the ongoing “Covid-19” pandemic, with the postponement and cancellation of events from grass roots to International level. While there was huge disappointment for Team A.R.C.’s Lee Crawford and Scott Hardie with the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship, the Isle of Man T.T. and Southern 100 Races all falling victim to the global crisis, Team A.R.C. still had much to celebrate once a shortened campaign got underway in August.
Hot and humid conditions at Mallory Park over the weekend of the 1st and 2nd of August saw a huge entry of sidecars from various classes, with teams of all abilities – from World Champions to first time novices taking to the 1.35 mile Leicestershire circuit. Lee and Scott won all four races with ease, and in a theme which was to continue as the year progressed, improved their personal best time and speed at the venue to date.
Just four days later, the team travelled to Cadwell Park to contest the opening round of the Molson Group British Sidecar Championship. The Friday test sessions were held once again in sweltering heat, and the team suffered a frustrating issue with the machine running too hot – which they worked hard to overcome, losing them valuable setup time.
With the short wheelbase F2 outfit at a disadvantage in most scenarios against the long F600’s over a full lap, the aim was to enjoy competitive racing, and where possible finish within the top ten, and work on improving times and bike setup. A best lap in qualifying of 1:38.707 saw the team line up eleventh, however, the races yielded two excellent finishes – seventh in the opening encounter and eighth in the second – after a fantastic effort to snatch the place from Phil Bell / Justin Sharpe in the closing stages. Race two saw Lee and Scott set their best time to date at Cadwell with a lap of 1:37.552 to complete a successful weekend’s racing.
There then followed a three week break before resuming activities at the “Battle Of Britain” meeting at the team’s local circuit, Croft. Lee and Scott had won four British Championship races at the North Yorkshire track in recent years, and were once again favourites for success. However, they were to face challenges from the current RKB-F1 champion Todd Ellis – who had teamed up with Jevan Walmsley on an F2 outfit, F600 competitors Gary Bryan / Chas Richardson and Rupert Archer / Ben Chandler, and several front running F2 teams including Lewis Blackstock / Patrick Rosney, Conrad Harrison / Andy Winkle and Steve and Matty Ramsden.
Team A.R.C. immediately made their mark on the event, qualifying over three seconds clear of the second placed pairing, and only 0.3s outside the existing lap record. Unfortunately an electrical fault at Tower whilst leading race one saw Lee and Scott consigned to the sidelines. A problem-free run in the second outing, saw them cruise to the win, breaking the lap record twice, lowering it to a time of 1:27.604. Sunday was a less settled day weather-wise, and an epic duel with Ellis / Walmsley saw Team A.R.C. take the opening win on slick tyres on an ever-changing circuit as rain fell intermittently.
Lee and Scott totally dominated the International Gold Cup event at Oliver’s Mount. Despite having to miss the second practice session on Friday after discovering a crack in the left fork leg, Sam Christie made repairs at his workshop in Beverley, and the outfit was back out in the afternoon where Team A.R.C. opened up a 3.3 second gap to land pole position from Harrison / Winkle, with the Ramsdens lining up fourth, as debutants Ben and Tom Birchall were seeded third after their impressive free practice performance was unfortunately unable to be replicated in qualifying while they made repairs to their machine.
Team A.R.C. took four immaculate wins, seeing them win the “Ian Bell Memorial Trophy” for the second consecutive year. In Saturday’s second race, while chasing the Birchalls, who had got the holeshot from the line, Lee and Scott set a laptime of 1:54.225 – by far their fastest time around the parkland road race circuit, and in doing so became the third fastest team ever at Oliver’s Mount.
Making their second appearance of the year in the Molson Group British Sidecar series, Team A.R.C. visited Fife’s Knockhill circuit – where they had led last year’s race in damp conditions before being forced out with a clutch issue. Qualifying tenth, they finished seventh in race one, taking 0.1s off their existing lap record, while in race two they improved further, placing sixth, taking yet another tenth off their best time to lap in 53.558s.
The first weekend of October saw Team A.R.C. head for Donington Park to race in the penultimate round of the Molson Group British Sidecar Championship, with hopes high for top ten finishes with the promise of some damp weather which potentially could favour their F2 outfit. Rain was duly delivered in time for qualifying, and Lee and Scott found themselves at the top of the timesheet early in the session. Despite a threat from Ben Holland / Tom Christie who briefly went fastest, Team A.R.C. reacted and increased their pace to land their first pole position at this level, with an impressive 1.3s advantage over the second placed qualifiers.
Saturday unfortunately saw conditions deteriorate as the morning went on, and most of the programme was cancelled, including the sidecar race – although a revised timetable saw two outings on the Sunday instead. Race one was held on a damp circuit – and unusually – Lee and Scott made a lethargic getaway from pole, dropping to third behind Tommy Philp / Tom Bryant and Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley. However, making a bold move at Craner Curves, they briefly led, before making a more decisive move to take charge on lap two, opening up a three second cushion. However, on what was a quickly drying circuit, they saw their lead cut, and on the final lap, Philp / Bryant made what looked like a decisive race-winning move to relegate Team A.R.C. to second at the Melbourne Hairpin. All was not lost, however, as Lee and Scott fought back at Goddards, sweeping to the outside, then cutting back underneath the F600 to out-accelerate them to the line to take a fantastic maiden victory in one of the most captivating races of the year.
Race two saw the traditional “reverse grid” B.S.B. format for the top ten, so Team A.R.C. found themselves halfway down the field on what was now a fully dry track. They fought through to seventh place, having some close and exciting racing with many of the F600 outfits who were now able to fully utilise their faster cornering capabilities in these conditions. On lap eight, Lee and Scott set their fastest lap of the weekend, in a time of 1:39.721 – another F2 lap record – taking an incredible 1.8 seconds off the previous best.
The last event of the year was a debut visit for the team to Brands Hatch, to compete in the final round of the Molson Group Championship on the G.P. circuit. Lee and Scott quickly got to grips with the circuit, qualifying thirteenth overall, in a twenty-six strong field which also featured top world championship runners competing in the “Sidecar Superprix”. Their time of 1:35.789 was well under the existing F2 Sidecar lap record, although they would have to wait until race conditions to replicate this and “make it official”.
Team A.R.C. took two very credible finishes – eighth in race one – and tenth in race two – on both occasions breaking the lap record to continue their fantastic run of form and end the year on a positive note. They reduced the record to a time of 1:35.568 – just over a second faster than the previous best which had stood for around a decade.
2020 will not generally be remembered for the right reasons in the wider world, but Team A.R.C. were grateful to be able to capitalise on the events which were put on, and to the organisers and volunteers involved, they are most appreciative. Thanks of course go to sponsors: A.R.C. Newton Aycliffe / Binchester; Saunders Complete Waste Management; Marin Motorsport; Pagid; P.G. Legal; K.C. Computers; Leeds Parcel Company; M.H. Engineering Ltd.; B.D.S. Motorcycles; Miller Composite Moulds; Exhaust Mania; S.J.H. Bodyworks; Christie Engineering Services; Walker Tyres; and MOTUL UK. Their assistance this year has – more so than ever – been appreciated in what are hugely difficult times for businesses.
Plans for 2021 are as yet undecided for the team. With uncertainty in the short term future over which events will go ahead with the ongoing global pandemic, we are unable to announce our schedule. Ideally, the focus will be on the Manx-based events (T.T. and Southern 100), and to continue the progress and development made this year on the short circuits.