Lee Crawford and Scott Hardie enjoyed a welcome upturn in fortunes at Cadwell Park in the fifth round of the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship, following a visit to Anglesey for round four the previous weekend which had proved somewhat frustrating. Their team mates, John and Jake Lowther had a more productive trip to North Wales, but less so at their "home circuit" in Lincolnshire.
Following an eleven week break to accommodate the Isle Of Man TT, Southern 100 and Oliver's Mount road races, the British Championship resumed; Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley had an almost perfect points score in the opening rounds. A sole win for Lee, and former passenger Patrick Farrance at the Cadwell Park Easter meeting, being the only occasion Founds / Walmsley had not found themselves on the top step of the podium to date. John and Jake, tied on points with Steve and Matty Ramsden, were the leading challengers in the points table - consistent finishing in the top four being the key to these pairings successes.
Anglesey was blessed with pleasant sunshine for much of the weekend (a welcome respite from the torrential rain on the previous two visits), but also strong winds throughout. This meant setting up the outfits (particularly gearing) was not a simple task, and several changes were made to both machines over the course of the event.
The circuit was busy in the opening free practice session, which saw approximately forty outfits sharing the tracktime (the British F2 sidecars, Wirral 100 club sidecars and the F.S.R.A. F350 / Post Classic / Pre-Injection class), meaning lap times were modest! However, following a memorial lap, held for the late Roy Hawkins, who recently passed away, the serious business began, with a fifteen minute qualifying session, exclusively for the British F2 competitors.
It was a fairly disappointing outing for both Team A.R.C. pairings. Lee and Scott placed fourth, with the machine struggling through the fast left handers. John and Jake were down in seventh, encountering traffic several times whilst on fast laps. Founds / Walmsley took pole, by a narrow margin from the Ramsdens - who are renowned "Anglesey specialists". Conrad Harrison / Andy Winkle edged Lee and Scott out by only 0.039 seconds to place third. Sean Hegarty / James Neave were fifth quickest - clearly getting to grips now with the F2 after many seasons racing in the F1 class. The top six was rounded out by the first of the F2 Cup teams - Michael Jackson / Callum Crowe, who have certainly impressed and surprised many of their peers this year, particularly as the F.S.R.A. newcomers are aboard one of the oldest chassis competing in the series.
Onto race one, and fourth place on the grid almost instantly became third for Lee and Scott, as Harrison / Winkle retired at the end of the warm up lap after their rear tyre came off the rim. However, it was Hegarty / Neave who took advantage, slotting into third as the outfits rounded Target on lap one. The Lowthers were shadowing their team mates through Church, and took advantage, passing Lee and Scott who were forced to shut off down the back straight as the Ramsdens closed the door on the approach to Rocket.
Lee and Scott managed to pass John and Jake shortly after, and set about chasing down Hegarty / Neave, eventually catching and passing them on lap five. At the front, Founds / Walmsley and the Ramsdens had edged away, but were already amongst the backmarkers - which had very much come into play in 2016, when the Ramsdens race had been ended with a collision with an outfit they were lapping. While it initially looked like Lee and Scott were making in-roads into the teams ahead of them, it soon became evident that there was a problem with the bike, as Hegarty / Neave caught and took third place from them. Lee and Scott retired with an engine problem on lap sixteen, elevating John and Jake into a safe fourth place, almost twenty seconds clear of Dave Wallis / Ashley Moore.
What looked like being a routine win for Founds / Walmsley was to be cruelly denied on the final lap, when their front trail plates broke - somehow they managed to limp home to finish sixth. The Ramsdens inherited the lead, taking the win from Hegarty / Neave, with a welcome third place for John and Jake. Wallis / Moore were fourth, with Jackson / Crowe fifth, also taking the F2 Cup honours.
An overnight engine change for Lee and Scott saw them back on the grid for race two - however they once again had a rather lethargic start, dropping down to sixth. They recomposed themselves, passing John and Jake to slot into fourth place on lap two. However, the charge to the race leaders was once again cut short, as they cursed the second terminal mechanical failure of the weekend, retiring to the paddock at half distance. John and Jake had a relatively lonely, but sensibly controlled race, finishing fifth - fourteen seconds behind Hegarty / Neave, and twenty five seconds clear of Gordon Shand / Phil Hyde. This time, Founds / Walmsley took the win without any drama, the Ramsdens were runners up, and Harrison / Winkle put their deflating encounter of the previous day behind them to complete the podium.
A short week diagnosing and repairing faults was assured, as the team headed to Cadwell Park with only a four day turnaround. The F.S.R.A. were being hosted by the Auto 66 Club, whom were running a round of their "U.K. Super 2 Sidecar Masters" series, meaning both Team A.R.C. combinations would be kept busy, with numerous outings over the weekend.
Lee and Scott qualified second for the British Championship race, despite pulling into pit lane half way through the session in order to try to keep their tyres reasonably fresh for the remainder of the event. Founds / Walmsley had returned to their almost unbeatable dominant selves, taking pole position by nearly 1.5 seconds. John and Jake lined up fourth, immediately behind their team mates, narrowly edged out to a small margin by Harrison / Winkle who placed third. The Ramsdens were fifth, and Hegarty / Neave sixth.
In the first club race, it was a perfect "1-2" finish for the Team A.R.C. outfits, with Lee and Scott taking the win by just under two seconds from John and Jake. The Ramsdens were third, and Greg Lambert / Julie Canipa twenty seconds back in fourth.
The ten lap F.S.R.A. race saw the top four outfits finish where they had qualified, with only some changes of position in the early laps. Hegarty / Neave took fifth place from the Ramsdens. While only five seconds covered the outfits finishing second to fifth, Founds / Walmsley had eased a gap of eight seconds out over this pack in the ten lap encounter.
While the second club race of Saturday did not count for championship points, it was almost essential to take part, as the finishing positions were used to determine the starting grid for Sunday. Lee and Scott rode steadily (again conserving their tyres), following Lambert / Canipa for the opening laps, before easing to a win. John and Jake finished third, after opting to start from the back of the grid as they decided to use their F1 LCR Kawasaki outfit. Their charge through the field was hampered somewhat with a gear selection problem, although they thoroughly enjoyed the experience, with the intention of competing in the remaining Hyundai Heavy Industries British Sidecar Championship (B.S.B.).
Sunday morning saw both F2 outfits back out in the third club race, with Lee and Scott taking the win from John and Jake, the latter making a rather slow start - having to thread through from sixth place on lap one. The Ramsdens were third once again - all three teams scoring valuable points in the championship, which is now headed by the father and son duo. The Team A.R.C. pairings are lying equal second - with four races at the Oliver's Mount Gold Cup meeting, and the Auto 66 Club's "Sidecar Bash" hosting two races - this looks like being an enthralling inter-team battle right to the end of the season.
A longer, fourteen lap race for the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British Championship was an action-packed affair. A flying start for John and Jake saw them challenging for the lead into Coppice on lap one. However, their machine began to spin as they got to the top of the hill. Almost luckily, the outfit of Hegarty / Neave hit them (albeit unintentionally, having nowhere to go), pointing them back the right way! However, the brothers dropped down to twelfth position, and after re-composing, set about riding through the field in a determined fashion.
Lee and Scott had fallen to fourth place, circulating behind Hegarty / Neave, and looked as if they were losing ground to them in the early stages, this despite their best time being set on only lap two! However, by lap seven, they found a way through, and mounted the chase to Harrison / Winkle. It was something of a surprise that Lee and Scott caught them in a short space of time; however, for the remaining laps, these outfits put on an excellent display, exchanging positions (but not paintwork) on numerous occasions. Lee and Scott took second place by a margin of only 0.338 seconds. Meanwhile, the Lowthers had battled up to sixth position, but ran out of time to catch the Ramsdens, who were fifth, a further thirteen seconds behind Hegarty / Neave, whom had closed in onto the battle for second in the closing stages.
As always, there has been a big effort from the support team and sponsors, without whom this success would not be achievable. Thanks to them all (in no particular order): 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; Dirk Wharton Photography; Elite Meat; Avenue Fisheries (Scunthorpe) and A.R.C. Newton Aycliffe / Binchester.
There is now a five week break until the penultimate round of the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship, which will be returning for the first time in a number of years to Mallory Park. However, this coming weekend (12th and 13th August), Lee and Scott will be contesting the Scottish Championship meeting at East Fortune. John and Jake are intending to compete at some events in the coming weeks on their F1 machine, having not had time to concentrate on that outfit in recent weeks.