Lee Crawford and Scott Hardie have had a fruitful fortnight of racing. Over the weekend of 29th and 30th June they made their debut in the Molson Group British Sidecar Championship, held alongside B.S.B. They placed well in all sessions, and led the second race for seven laps until a clutch problem saw them retire at half distance. A week later, they found themselves on the Isle of Man for the Southern 100 Races, and incredibly in only their second attempt they took a podium place and achieved a lap time which puts them as the seventh fastest team around the 4.25 mile public road circuit.
Team A.R.C. used a club event at Knockhill back in April for testing purposes, and on that occasion they had lowered the F2 lap record to 54.744s. However, while competing as the only conventional F2 machine against a full grid of long F600 machines, they smashed their existing record by a second, to lower the benchmark time to 53.748s in the opening fifteen lap race.
Having placed sixth fastest in opening practice, Lee and Scott found themselves half way down the order at the close of qualifying in tenth position. An excellent start in race one saw them overtake several machines in the early stages. By half distance they had settled into a safe sixth place. The S.B.R. team-mates of Lewis Blackstock / Paddy Rosney and John Holden / Lee Cain were within sight ahead, and a safe four second gap had been built over Gary Bryan / Phil Hyde in seventh. However, in the closing stages, Lee and Scott were promoted to fifth as Holden / Cain lost the best part of a lap when they hit a problem before proceeding in the lower reaches of the pack.
A second race had been scheduled for Saturday evening. However, it would not be a typical weekend at Knockhill without the weather having some input into proceedings, and a torrential thunderstorm (which lasted the best part of an hour) meant that organisers had no option other than to suspend racing for the day. With no time to reschedule, there would be a single race as planned on Sunday afternoon.
Sunday dawned damp, and sidecars took to the circuit for a short warm up session first thing in the day. Team A.R.C. impressed, setting the fastest time - over a second clear of the championship regulars!
Race two saw the top ten finishers from the opening encounter line up in "reverse order" on the grid - with Lee and Scott starting sixth. They made another fantastic getaway, and slotted into second place at Duffus Dip as they hounded pole sitters Chris Walker / Ashley Hawes on the opening lap, making their move early on to lead at the end of the first circulation.
Walker / Hawes pressured Team A.R.C. in the early laps, while further back in the pack it was "all-action" with 2018 series champions Steve Kershaw / Stuart Clark pitting for a new wheelarch after contact with another outfit. By lap four, Lee and Scott had eased out a gap of just under two seconds, with several outfits vying for the remaining podium slots. Unfortunately, the clutch was beginning to cause concern, and by lap six, Team A.R.C. were under pressure from series leaders Todd Ellis / Chas Richardson; Holden / Cain and Walker / Hawes. Lee no longer had a functioning clutch by the time they had exited Taylor's Hairpin on lap seven, and took the wise decision to retire to the pitlane. Whilst a disappointing end to what looked like a rostrum finish, the team were delighted with their performances over the weekend, and look forward to returning to do more events with this series later in the season.
There was a short turnaround period before the team took the journey across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man later in the week. Lee and Scott made their Southern 100 debut in 2018, taking a best finish of seventh, and a fastest lap time of 2:39.416. The aim this year was to improve on both of these feats, with an emphasis on getting more road racing experience - with no action at Scarborough for almost two years it was now a full year since Lee had competed in a road race (Scott having raced at this year's T.T. with John Lowther).
After a weekend of hot sunshine, in something of "deja-vu" circumstances for those who had attended the T.T. Races last month, the Manx weather took a turn for the worse as Monday evening practice got underway. Fortunately, it is rare for weather to disrupt action on the Billown circuit, so it was a case of equipping the machines with wet tyres as the sidecars brought the curtain down on the first evening's action. Practice began five minutes early with light fading fast under the murky skies - and with several crews waiting for a last minute decision on tyre choice, some were still queuing for scrutineering as the first outfits were leaving the holding area.
Fortunately Team A.R.C. were ready to go, and were amongst the first crews onto the Castletown Bypass, and once again proving their capabilities in wet conditions, they quickly topped the timesheets. On their third lap, Lee and Scott put in a time of 2:53.971 which put them four seconds clear of Tim Reeves / Mark Wilkes, with current A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Championship leaders Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley hot on their heels in third. In the subsequent laps, Team A.R.C. encountered a lot of traffic - and with a huge speed difference - wisely took things a little more steadily. Reeves / Wilkes improved their time, but insufficiently enough to demote Team A.R.C., who returned to the paddock with a couple of minutes remaining. Founds / Walmsley found space on the track to top the timesheet at the end of the session. Lee and Scott were delighted to be on the front running pace - albeit in the wet - and changes were made for the second qualifying session the following evening.
Tuesday was supposedly to be an even less pleasant day, however the prophecies of torrential downpours proved incorrect, and earlier drizzle cleared up well in time for a completely dry evening of qualifying. Unfortunately, the sidecar session was stopped for some time early on following an incident at Ballawhetstone. Only seven crews had put in a timed lap before the red flags came out - however once the incident had been dealt with, there was sufficient time to completely re-run the session, and the pace of the leading five teams promised for some fantastic racing later in the week. Setting a time of 2:36.061, Lee and Scott were delighted to not only be starting fifth, but were within touching distance of the four world-class teams ahead of them, and five seconds clear of the sixth placed qualifiers.
Wednesday evening sadly saw the race red flagged on the opening lap, with an incident on the approach to Ballabeg Hairpin between the machines of Steve and Matty Ramsden and Estelle LeBlond / Frank Claeys. Thankfully the news is that all involved are making their recoveries, and we look forward to seeing them back in the paddock soon.
A re-run over a shortened distance of four laps was arranged for late morning on Thursday, and this proved to be a fantastic spectacle. The leading five outfits from practice were all in close company throughout, with Reeves / Wilkes; Alan Founds / Jake Lowther and Founds / Walmsley in particular trading places several times a lap. Indeed on the opening lap at Castletown Corner, the aforementioned trio were three-a-breast! John Holden / Lee Cain and Team A.R.C. were both keeping a watching brief, ready to capitalise on any mistake from the leaders. On the final lap, Lee and Scott set their fastest time to date at Billown - 2:33.295 (a speed of 99.808mph) - and there is no doubt that one of the aims in 2020 will be to break the 100mph barrier. Such was the pace of the top five, that they pulled out a gap of over twenty three seconds over sixth placed Conrad Harrison / Andy Winkle. Reeves / Wilkes took the win from Alan Founds / Lowther, with brother Pete Founds / Walmsley completing the podium. Lee and Scott were fifth, a couple of seconds in arrears of Holden / Cain.
The final race of the week was the Southern 100 Sidecar Championship, which had been intended to be run over eight laps, but was shortened to six owing to a knock on from delays earlier in the day, and a necessity to adhere to road closure orders.
Pole sitters Reeves / Wilkes eagerly anticipated the start lights, and set off enthusiastically - realising they had jumped the start they immediately stopped and pulled aside and let the field pass - however they were still penalised by ten seconds and had lots of work to do to get on terms with the leaders. At the end of lap one, the Founds brothers were in a three way battle with Holden / Cain, while Lee and Scott were comfortably in fourth ahead of Harrison / Winkle and John Lowther / Rob Child. Reeves / Wilkes were already up to eighth on the road and by the end of the second lap had moved to fifth, chasing Lee and Scott.
Founds / Lowther lost their slender lead, and a whole chunk of time as they suffered an over-shoot at Ballakeighan on lap three, which dropped them to fifth on the road. Holden / Cain and Founds / Walmsley were exchanging the lead at the front numerous times a lap, rewarding the huge crowd with a fitting end to four days of racing. Reeves / Wilkes were visibly catching Lee and Scott, and although they were able to make a move half way through lap four, they still would have to find ten seconds to take third place on corrected time. Try as they did, a mechanical failure whilst passing the last lap flag put paid to their efforts, ensuring an ecstatic Lee and Scott took third place in only their second Southern 100. Founds / Walmsley took the win from Holden / Cain. Founds / Lowther were fourth, seven seconds down on Team A.R.C., with Harrison / Winkle fifth and newcomers Mike Russell / Tom Bryant rounding out the top six.
Thanks as always go to the whole support team - and of course the assistance of our loyal sponsors: Saunders Complete Waste Management; A.R.C. Binchester / Newton Aycliffe; P.G. Legal; MOTUL U.K.; K.C. Computer Repairs; Pagid Rennsport; O.T.C. Dyno (Pete Alton); S.J.H. Bodyworks; Bds Motorcycles and Dirk Wharton Photography. There is now a little under two weeks until Oliver's Mount is relaunched, and Team A.R.C. look forward to returning there, having taken both wins at the last event held back in September 2017. August and September see a busy schedule in the second half of the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship, in which Lee and Scott currently occupy second position in the standings.