A busy ten day period has seen Team A.R.C. competing in the first two rounds of the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship, at Oulton Park and Cadwell Park respectively. Fielding Lee Crawford / Patrick Farrance on their LCR Suzuki, and John / Jake Lowther on their LCR Honda, there have been high and low points for both combinations.
The format of the season opener at Oulton Park had changed this year to incorporate (optional) morning testing, along with official practice and qualifying in the afternoon on Friday. Two races on the Saturday, following a morning "warm up", made for an improvement over the past few years where the entire programme has been squeezed into a single day.
Most teams took advantage of the extra test sessions, although the problem which affected all but a small minority of teams was an issue with machines exceeding the "drive-by" monitoring equipment exiting Lodge Corner. While all outfits on circuit had passed the static testing in the paddock prior to the session, the problems on circuit continued throughout the weekend. It seems that this more of a quandary for sidecar teams than solo motorcycles (and cars) due to the proximity of the exit of the exhaust, and positioning of the apparatus used to measure noise.
Lee and Patrick had a rather disappointing morning, with the machine cutting out midway through the second session. It was assumed this was a mechanical fault, with nothing else to suggest anything otherwise. John and Jake were using the tracktime to set up the outfit, in only their second outing of the year, the previous one being some weeks earlier at Cadwell Park. Unfortunately, they and a number of others were shown the "black flag" due to breaching the noise regulations and returned to the paddock. While they sourced a baffle in an attempt to quieten their exhaust, Lee and Patrick were changing their motor in readiness for qualifying. After a frantic couple of hours, both outfits were prepared and ready for action on a pleasantly sunny spring afternoon.
Qualifying duly got underway, and it was the "wild card" team of John Holden / Lee Cain who set the early pace, although they were soon headed by reigning champions Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley. Both Team A.R.C. pairings built up their speeds as the session went on, with Lee and Patrick moving ahead of Holden / Cain in the latter stages. Steve / Matty Ramsden slotted into third as the session came to a close, with no one having an answer to Founds / Walmsley, who qualified over a second clear of the field. John and Jake qualified sixth, one place behind Conrad Harrison / Andy Winkle, and half a second clear of last years "F2 Cup" champions, Gary / Daryl Gibson.
The opening race of the season got underway on the hottest day of the year (so far), and no one could match the red hot pace of Founds / Walmsley, who also broke the lap record and won the race by a margin of thirteen seconds. In the early stages, Lee and Patrick came under pressure from Holden / Cain, although they eased a gap of nearly three seconds over the former champion and TT winner, who had to fight off the attentions of the Ramsdens in the closing laps. John and Jake had arguably the most entertaining battle of the race with Harrison / Winkle, who finished only 0.1 seconds ahead of the determined brothers. Most encouragingly, though, following the rather disappointing end to 2016, when entries for F.S.R.A. events had dwindled dramatically, Oulton Park had seen twenty one finishers in race one, from an entry of twenty six teams.
Founds / Walmsley dominated race two in a similar fashion, although Lee and Patrick got the holeshot from the line, and led until they were passed on the approach to Lodge Corner at the end of lap one. While they pulled away in the early laps from the chasing pack of Holden / Cain; the Ramsdens and Harrison / Winkle, things were starting to go wrong. Lee was struggling to change gear, as the kneeler tray had moved (owing to a broken probe), although he and Patrick were able to proceed, but soon came under pressure - succumbing to Holden / Cain on lap three. However, while still in contention for second place, the outfit cut out on the run towards Cascades, in something of a repeat from the aforementioned test session. John and Jake were having a more lonely race this time around - placing fifth - nine seconds behind Harrison / Winkle, and ten seconds ahead of the Gibsons. The race ended prematurely, after a spin for Paul Downes / David Hainsworth (both o.k.) brought out the red flag.
The following day, John and Jake headed for Mallory Park, where they took two excellent F2 wins with the E.M.R.A. club. Lee and Patrick returned home, however, to attempt to rectify their problems in readiness for Easter weekend at Cadwell Park, for the second round of the British Championship.
Typical Bank Holiday weather set the scene for the weekend - a mixture of sunshine, with the addition of occasional torrential rain! Practice and qualifying were held in dry and reasonably sunny conditions. Free practice was a short-lived affair for Lee and Patrick, suffering an engine problem, which saw them successfully change to their spare motor in little more than an hour. While John and Jake completed practice without any issues, unfortunately the same could not be said for the timed qualifying session. In the holding bay, their machine seemed to be misfiring, and they made it only as far as the Hairpin where they were forced to spectate - low battery voltage being the culprit, which thankfully was reasonably easy to remedy in preparation for the race later in the day. Lee and Patrick scrubbed new tyres in for the opening laps, but headed the timesheets, before stopping to save their tyres and energy. Founds / Walmsley went slightly faster in the closing stages to record their second pole position in as many weeks. The second row was to comprise of the Ramsdens and Harrison / Winkle.
With rain forecast, the skies dulled over the lunch break, however, there was no significant precipitation until only a few minutes before the race! With rain clouds clearly moving quickly from the north, both Team A.R.C. crews opted to put on wet tyres, as did a number of other teams. A number of others had already headed to the holding bay, with the race having been called. Lee and Patrick were relegated to the back of the grid (along with Dave Wallis / Scott Hardie and Harrison / Winkle), with the warm up lap underway when they were allowed on circuit.
The rain was falling steadily as the race started, and it was clear for all to see that slick tyres would not be suitable for the conditions. Lee and Patrick charged from the back row to take the lead by the end of Park Straight! Harrison / Winkle and John and Jake followed similarly, as did Wallis / Hardie, who slotted into fourth. By the end of lap one, Lee and Patrick held a lead of over seven seconds from Harrison / Winkle.
Lee and Patrick continued to build their lead, with John and Jake snapping at the heels of Harrison / Winkle, eventually passing them at mid-race distance, themselves pulling clear of those following. The race became somewhat difficult for the casual observer to follow, with everyone up to fourth place being lapped at least once! It was a resounding "one-two" finish for Team A.R.C., with second place being the best finish in a Super F2 event for John and Jake, who finished exactly twenty three seconds behind their team mates, but had opened a margin of over forty seconds over Harrison / Winkle, who completed the podium.
Once again, local sidecar enthusiast Bill Barrowcliff was in attendance at his local circuit to present trophies for the "Performance Of The Day", which Lee and Patrick were the deserved recipients of. Both Team A.R.C. machines set their fastest times on the final lap, unbelievably only 0.02 seconds apart! The fastest being John and Jake, who received the award from Bill for this accolade, to make it a Team A.R.C. dominated event.
Race two was a longer, fourteen lap affair, held on Monday afternoon under blue skies. Founds / Walmsley got the best start, after Lee and Patrick had, by their standards, a rather more lethargic getaway. Slotting into second, they began to ease away from the Ramsdens; Harrison / Winkle and Gordon Shand / Phil Hyde, and by the end of lap two were visibly closing on Founds / Walmsley. On lap three, Lee and Patrick had closed the gap significantly, setting the fastest lap of the race, and were in a position to make a move on the leaders. Unfortunately, their race came to an end at the Hairpin on lap four when the motor cut out once again, in a re-occurence of the Oulton Park troubles.
Meanwhile, John and Jake had threaded their way through the field, and had settled into fifth place following the retirement of Lee and Patrick. They began to ease away from Wallis / Hardie, and Howard Baker / Mike Killingsworth, and set about chasing the top four. Harrison / Winkle and Shand / Hyde were having a close encounter on the road, and this distraction allowed John and Jake to make in-roads into the machines in front of them, lapping quicker than both. Although the Lowthers set their fastest time of the day on the final lap, Shand / Hyde rode defensively, holding off the sole Team A.R.C. representatives by a mere 0.21 seconds at the chequered flag.
Thanks as always go to all sponsors and supporters of the team: Katy's Home Tanning; P.G. Legal; KC Computer Repairs; Walker Tyres; Motul; Pagid Rennsport; Dean Banks Engine Management; Happy Dog Image Solutions; PMH Promotions; Tony Baker; Dynobike (Malton); Dirk Wharton Photography; Elite Meat and A.R.C. Newton Aycliffe / Binchester. An extended thanks go to all team members and supporters who have shared a turbulent fortnight of highs and lows!
The next round of the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship is in three weeks time at Donington Park. However, this coming weekend (22nd & 23rd April), Lee will be teaming up with Jake for the first "real road race" meeting of the year at Oliver's Mount.