Scunthorpe brothers John and Jake Lowther had an excellent weekend at the "Barry Sheene Road Races" on the 22nd and 23rd July, taking four podium places from the same number of starts, including their maiden win as a pairing at the famous Oliver's Mount Circuit. However, their team mates, Lee Crawford and new passenger, Scott Hardie endured a frustrating event, unable to replicate their dominant form they had enjoyed the previous weekend at East Fortune in the Scottish Championship meeting, where they had won all four sidecar races.
Rain was promised for the early part of Saturday, ensuring a wet circuit for opening practice. In conditions that Lee tends to excel in, it was no surprise to see him and Scott at the top of the timesheets, just ahead of Greg Lambert / Julie Canipa (GLR Honda). Dave Wallis / Tony Belsey (LCR Suzuki) were third, with the second Team A.R.C. machine of John and Jake fourth.
Qualifying sessions for the various solo classes got duly underway following sidecar practice. However, there then followed a series of delays, the lengthiest one being caused by a major oil spillage, which covered much of the Memorial to Mount Hairpin section of the course. The seriousness of the situation became apparent when it was made clear that the fire brigade were in attendance assisting with the clean up operation. There were rumours of an abandonment of the Saturday programme, until at around 3pm some parade bikes were sent out to entertain the crowds. However, they rode on only half of the circuit - using the access road at the top of Quarry Hill, rejoining the circuit at Mount Hairpin, while the clean up continued on the remaining part of the track.
Much to the surprise of many, qualifying did finally get underway at around 4.15pm, to the relief of teams who had been left rather frustrated by the lengthy stoppages. As expected, the lap times were not quite as close to those usually seen, due to the greasy conditions - despite the rain having long since stopped, the track was still damp in places - not least where the oil had been deposited!
Steve / Matty Ramsden (LCR Honda) topped the timesheets at the close of the three lap dash, a second clear of Lee and Scott. John and Jake were a mere 0.1 seconds behind them, and 0.7 seconds ahead of Lambert / Canipa. The remaining qualifiers were: Wallis / Belsey; Andy Wilby / Paul Lowther (Shelbourne Honda); Mark Saunders / Karl Schofield (GLR Honda) and circuit debutants Richard Hackney / Andy Mitchell (CES Suzuki). Classic sidecars were also invited to take part at this event, but sadly there were only two participants - Rod Bellas / Glenn Dawson (BLR Imp) and Tony Thirkell / Trevor Johnson (MRE BMW). They slotted into the overall timesheet half way down the order - proving their older machinery was still more than competitive against the midfield F2 runners.
There was something of a confusion after qualifying, as the organisers, keen to get racing underway in the two hour window they had remaining were forced to change the running order of the events - during which time the paddock tannoy system chose to inconveniently break down! The final solo qualifying session was held, then racing was set to begin. However, the sidecar race was brought forward from race five to the opening event. Only the unfortunate Wallis / Belsey were unable to get to the grid owing to a wheel bearing problem - this being rectified overnight. Sadly, joining them almost immediately on the sidelines were Lee and Scott, with the motor dropping onto three cylinders on the warm up lap.
The race saw what might have been considered by many as a "routine win" for the Ramsdens. However, they were pushed hard throughout by John and Jake who finished only 0.16 seconds behind them at the chequered flag. It was a closely fought and fair encounter, with the wily Ramsdens keeping the determined brothers behind, no matter how hard they tried to find a way through. Lambert / Canipa were third, and a delighted Wilby / Lowther took fourth, their best finish at Oliver's Mount to date. The classic machines of Bellas / Dawson and Thirkell / Johnson were next across the line, with Saunders / Schofield and Hackney / Mitchell completing the finishers list.
The cause of Lee and Scott's gremlins seemingly soon became apparent - a broken spark plug being the culprit! A thorough check over of the outfits took place, with the promise of three races the following day, after a slick re-scheduling of the Sunday timetable took place by the Auto 66 Club.
The opening race of Sunday morning saw both Team A.R.C. machines return to the grid - Lee and Scott being placed some way back on the grid owing to the "start where you finished the previous race" system which is a new regulation at Oliver's Mount this year. The opening laps saw a repeat of the previous outing, with John and Jake hounding the Ramsdens who were controlling the race from the front. Lee and Scott were in close company with Lambert / Canipa, finding a way through to third in lap three. John and Jake were experiencing a slight drop in performance of their motor, and eased off slightly - letting the Ramsdens pull out a gap while they maintained a safe second place over the sister machine of Lee and Scott.
Unfortunately, the race came to a premature end, with the results rolled back to the end of lap five. A nasty looking incident for Hackney / Mitchell on the approach to Mere Hairpin brought out the red flags - thankfully they both suffered only very minor injuries and were both able to return to the paddock shortly afterwards.
The Ramsdens took the win from John and Jake, with Lee and Scott completing the podium. Lambert / Canipa; Wallis / Belsey and the sole classic finishers, Thirkell / Johnson filled out the top six in a race which saw the remaining crews recorded as non-finishers.
Taking no chances, John and Jake opted to change their motor - the problem appearing to point to being a head gasket issue. This immediately paid dividends as they charged from the line to head the field into Mere Hairpin in race three, with the Ramsdens hot on their heels. Lee and Scott slotted into third place and were in touching distance for the first three laps - but then once again a frustrating loss of power saw them fall behind significantly. Despite trying everything they could, the Ramsdens were unable to find a way past the Lowthers, who recorded their first win together at Oliver's Mount - Jake having also taken a double win at this year's Spring Cup with Lee. The gap at the chequered flag between the two front running outfits was only 0.29 seconds. Lee and Scott were third, nine seconds behind the leaders, but over eighteen seconds ahead of fourth placed Lambert / Canipa. Wilby / Lowther; Thirkell / Johnson and Saunders / Schofield were the remaining finishers, with the unfortunate Bellas / Dawson sidelined on the warm up lap with an ignition problem.
Lee and Scott opted to change motor for the last outing of the weekend, and the team did an excellent job in getting the machine ready in good time. Just as the outfits were called to the holding bay, the sky darkened and the temperature fell - the weekend's sidecar action was to end as it had started - in wet conditions.
As with many Oliver's Mount events which had gone before, it had been a weekend of attrition, and only four F2 outfits, coupled with the pair of classic machines lined up for the final race. The Ramsdens made their trademark fast start - with both Team A.R.C. machines in hot pursuit. This time it was Lee and Scott who were heading the charge, seemingly enjoying the inclement weather, with the rain now falling steadily. John and Jake settled into third, looking to capitalise should either outfit in front of them make a mistake, which would have been easily done, with all F2 crews running on slick tyres.
Lee and Scott got a good run on the Ramsdens coming out of The Esses, but just as they were about to challenge for the lead, their terrible run of luck continued, with the outfit going onto three cylinders. They proceeded, before the machine cut out altogether coming over the Jumps, before then "chiming back in". Moving out of the way of all the other teams, including the classics, they were able to limp round to take fourth place in the F2 class, and some valuable championship points. John and Jake looked set to take second place, but a spin saw them drop to third behind Lambert / Canipa on the final lap, as the rain was now gathering force.
Thanks as ever go to everyone associated with the team, and to the following for their assistance (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; Dynobike (Malton); Dirk Wharton Photography; Elite Meat; Avenue Fisheries (Scunthorpe) and A.R.C. Newton Aycliffe / Binchester.
Following a break of eleven weeks, Team A.R.C. pick up the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship campaign trail this coming weekend at Anglesey for round four, with round five only a week later at Cadwell Park. Consistent podium finishing has seen John and Jake establish themselves as championship contenders this year, lying joint second in the points table at present. Lee is the only driver, other than championship leaders Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley to take a win this year in the series, so he and Scott will be keen to put their troubled Scarborough weekend behind them and add to this tally at the earliest opportunity.