The opening races of the 2019 A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship were held at a chilly Snetterton 200 over the weekend of 13th and 14th April. Results throughout the event saw a regular theme, as champions of the last three seasons – Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley – took pole, two wins and shaved a huge 1.9 seconds off the previous lap record. Their intentions to land an unprecedented fourth championship title could not be clearer!
While entries for the event had initially been over-subscribed, unfortunately no less than five teams were forced to withdraw in the days leading up to the event. This was disappointing, given several “wild card” combinations had been declined entries at the closing date. Every effort was made by the championship co-ordinator to offer a ride to these competitors as space became available, although at such a late hour most already had commitments elsewhere. There was, however, a welcome late inclusion of the 2015 champion Alan Founds, with Jake Lowther alongside him, meaning a total of twenty eight outfits would be doing battle over the 1.984 Norfolk circuit.
The majority of teams had been in action at an optional test day on Friday, although a number of stoppages in the solo programme led to the cancellation of the final sidecar session as the organisers ran out of time. To compensate, host club N.G.R.R.C. arranged for an extra “free practice” to be held on Saturday morning, allowing competitors to have two runs to set their machinery up before timed qualifying got underway at around 12.30pm. Track temperatures remained low throughout the morning, and despite a couple of short flurries of snow(!), the front running teams were quickly on the pace, and it was clear that the long running lap record would fall as long as the weather remained dry.
Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley (600 LCR Suzuki) took pole position by a margin of just over 0.5s, from Dave Molyneux / Harry Payne (600 Yamaha). Third went to Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie (600 LCR Suzuki), who brought their session to a premature halt in pitlane with five minutes remaining owing to an engine problem. The top three teams all lapped under the 1min18s margin (the old lap record belonging to John Holden / Andy Winkle in a time of 1min18.670), and these teams were two seconds clear of the middle order, whom were all more evenly matched over a single lap.
Conrad Harrison / Andy Winkle (600 Bellas Honda) were fourth – delighted to be so highly placed on the leaderboard, given they had not ridden anywhere since Oulton Park last October. Fifth place went the way of 2017 F2 Cup champion Mike Jackson / Ben Binns (600 DMR Suzuki), just ahead of the reigning F2 Cup victors, Daryl Gibson / Ashley Moore (600 Shelbourne Suzuki). Next up came John Lowther / Sarah Stokoe (600 LCR Honda), ahead of “wild cards” Alan Founds / Jake Lowther (600 LCR Yamaha).
Ninth overall, and fastest of the F2 Cup crews were Michael Kirkup / Arlo Brown (600 LCR Suzuki), in not only their series debut, but also their first time competing at Snetterton, they were understandably delighted! Tenth went the way of the father and son combination Steve and Matty Ramsden (600 LCR Honda), who had made some changes after a disappointing practice session earlier in the day. Nicky Dukes / William Moralee (600 Baker Honda) were eleventh overall, and second in the F2 Cup, while another series newcomer pairing Simon Robinson / Kez Hughes (600 LCR Suzuki) were the third F2 Cup team.
Unfortunately, Sean Hegarty / James Neave (600 Baker Honda); Paul Riley / Shaun Parker (600 MRE Suzuki) and Andy Wilby / Paul Lowther (600 Shelbourne Honda) had all experienced mechanical problems in the earlier practice sessions, and were unable to take part in qualifying while they frantically made repairs to their machinery.
Race one got underway in the early evening, with Founds / Walmsley making the most of their pole position to lead from Crawford / Hardie. Molyneux / Payne initially got away well, but perceivered with clutch slip early on, which progressively worsened throughout the race. At the end of lap one, the top three order was unchanged. On lap two, Founds / Walmsley briefly gifted the lead to Crawford / Hardie, after making a rare mistake when they outbraked themselves, losing four seconds, which they fought hard to quickly claw back. The top two both officially broke the lap record, with the fastest lap of the weekend going to Founds / Walmsley on their way to the win, in a time of 1min16.778 (93.02mph). Crawford / Hardie eased their pace to come home 9.3 seconds in arrears of the winners, and 10.5 seconds ahead of Molyneux / Payne.
There was some close and unpredictable wheel to wheel racing between Gibson / Moore; Jackson / Binns; Lowther / Stokoe and Harrison / Winkle, with these teams finishing in that order. The highlight of this battle was almost certainly at three quarter distance, while Harrison / Winkle were negotiating one of the backmarkers at “Murrays” chicane, when the opportunist Gibson / Moore “made themselves fit” through an ever-decreasing gap. The outfit of Harrison / Winkle momentarily lifted the sidecar wheel skywards, and the passenger did extremely well to hang on. Later Harrison quipped that the move “reminded him of something he would have done himself twenty years ago”!
Finishing eighth overall, and first of the F2 Cup runners were Kirkup / Brown, again extremely pleased to have won the “race within a race” by over fifteen seconds in their first attempt at this level. The Ramsdens had an uneventful race, coming home ninth, just ahead of Robinson / Hughes, who were tenth overall and second in the F2 Cup. The remainder of the top fifteen was rounded out solely by F2 Cup runners: Dukes / Moralee; John Shipley jnr / Milo Ward (600 LCR Suzuki); Manx pairing Craig Melvin / Stuart Christian (600 LCR Suzuki); Brian Ilaria / Olly Lace (600 DDM Suzuki) and Giles / Jen Stainton (600 LCR Suzuki). Four teams failed to make it to the chequered flag, while the aforementioned Hegarty / Neave had to succumb to an overnight engine change, missing race one; while Riley / Parker were unable to make good their repairs and took no further part in proceedings.
Race two was brought slightly forward in the programme on Sunday, as several delays had led to some anxiety amongst the strong Manx contingent competing in this year's series that they would need to leave the circuit early in order to meet their return ferry passage. With the top six finishers from race one starting in “reverse order”, it was Lowther / Stokoe who led into “Richies” from the front row. However, undoubtedly making the best getaway was Founds / Walmsley, who charged from sixth to second as they entered “Montreal”, before passing the leaders down the Bentley Straight, to establish a commanding lead at the end of lap one.
Molyneux / Payne had moved up to second, and Lowther / Stokoe were quickly under pressure from Crawford / Hardie who eased into the final podium place. Two crews making a charge through the field were the wild cards – Alan Founds / Jake Lowther, and Hegarty / Neave – both of whom had put their mechanical gremlins of Saturday behind them.
By half distance, Founds / Walmsley had opened up a comfortable gap to the chasing field, which extended to just over nine seconds over second placed Molyneux / Payne at the chequered flag. The unfortunate Crawford / Hardie were plagued again by mechanical troubles as their outfit expired at the start of lap nine - they had been nursing an engine problem for much of the race. Founds / Lowther charged up to third, and although as “wild card” entrants they were entitled to trophies, they did not score the points, which instead went to fourth placed Jackson / Binns.
Jackson / Binns had been embroiled in a race long battle with Gibson / Moore – the latter making a brave move on lap seven at “Murrays”, but sadly outbraked themselves, skipping through the gravel, which saw Moore briefly exit the machine. Although they rejoined (losing several places), they were removed from the results, as no competitor may remount and proceed.
Fifth went to Harrison / Winkle, followed by Lowther / Stokoe, Hegarty / Neave and the Ramsdens. Ninth went to Kirkup / Brown, who had made a perfect start to their F2 Cup championship chase, with the F2 Cup podium completed by Robinson / Hughes tenth overall and Shipley jnr / Ward eleventh. The latter pair had been running second in class for much of the race, until one of the hard charging Super F2 teams coming through the pack had made some unintentional contact, which made more of an impact on Ward's backside than the outfit! All three F2 Cup podium finishers in race two were newcomers to the series, so it is encouraging to see more young talent coming through and proving competitive at this early stage.
Rounding out the top fifteen were Chris Schofield / Lee Edwards (600 Ireson Honda), Darren Hope / Lenny Bumfrey (600 LCR Suzuki), Melvin / Christian and Ilaria / Lace. Twenty four machines completed the race, with only two retirements and Gibson / Moore excluded for an infringement.
The F.S.R.A. would like to thank all competitors, team personnel and supporters for attending this opening meeting. The standard of bike preparation and presentation is once again on the whole excellent, and plenty of close and exciting racing was enjoyed all the way down the field. Thanks also go to all at N.G.R.R.C. for hosting the event, and of course the A.C.U., and all the series sponsors: A.R.C. of Binchester, A.V. Craine and Sons (Isle of Man), Yorkshire Engine supplies, Whitby Cottages, Lockside Engineering, Rowtec Engineering Maintenance, Hegarty Plant Ltd and Breitenbach Pagid Racing for their continued support.
The next round of the series will once again be hosted by N.G.R.R.C. over the weekend of the 11th and 12th May at Donington Park, before taking a break of six weeks to accommodate the Isle of Man T.T. Races.