Photograph Courtesy Of Dirk Wharton
Team A.R.C. had cause for celebration after retaining the prestigious "Mac Hobson Trophy" over the weekend of the 2nd and 3rd April at the N.E.M.C.R.C. meeting at Croft Circuit, becoming the first team for almost a quarter of a century to achieve this feat. Croft has been a happy hunting ground for driver Lee Crawford and passenger Patrick Farrance in recent years, taking a win and a second place at last years F.S.R.A./A.C.U. British F2 Championship meeting, and they have continued this form into 2016.
A full grid of sidecars, including several former British Champions and TT winners, coupled with ever-changing weather conditions promised for some exciting and unpredictable racing. With four races carrying points towards the overall trophy winner over the course of the weekend, consistency and reliability was going to prove to be the key to defending the title.
Persistent rain had set in from the early hours of Saturday morning, and continued as practice got underway for the sidecars. Just as the first of the flying laps were completed, the red flags came out as the classic BMW outfit of Tony Thirkell / Dean Kilkenny had come to a halt at The Chicane and needed immediate recovery from the racing line! This stoppage allowed Team A.R.C. to make some quick adjustments in pit lane before rejoining, only to be faced with a similar red flag situation - again with an outfit needing recovery from the racing line after their brakes had jammed on. With only five minutes remaining the pressure was on, with Lee and Patrick having not yet set a competitive lap time. However, three quick laps were put in - improving each time - snatching pole position from John Holden / Andy Winkle just as the chequered flag came out to bring the session to a close.
There was no respite from the rain as the first sidecar race began in the early afternoon. Lee and Patrick made a textbook start, despite the outfit of Greg Lambert and Julie Canipa seeming to get an even more rapid getaway (although they were penalised five seconds for a jump start). After only one lap, Team A.R.C. had a five second lead, and continued to ease away at a similar rate for the remainder of the eight lap encounter - their winning margin being over 36 seconds from Dean Lindley / Rob Bell's D.M.R. Suzuki, despite having eased off in the latter stages after taking note of signals from pit-wall. Lambert / Canipa were third, and following a rather lethargic start, John Holden / Andy Winkle made some progress up the field to finish fourth. Team A.R.C. set the fastest lap of the race, over 3.5 seconds faster than anyone else!
Numerous stoppages during the day - mainly due to the inclement weather - had seen a large number of races left to run, and little time to do so, due to the 6pm "noise curfew" at Croft, and no option to run events on a Sunday morning, again due to noise issues. There was little option but to cut the race distances to five laps for the second run-through of the programme. Once again, Lambert / Canipa made a blistering get-away, with Lee and Patrick snapping at their heels for a lap, before taking command on the approach to Tower. It looked like being a repeat of the opening race, as Team A.R.C. established an enviable lead, however, on lap three as the outfit powered down the back straight, it slowed somewhat, with the assembled pitcrew fearing an engine failure, or that there had been contact with a back-marker whom had been in close proximity. Lee and Patrick proceeded, with the motor sounding somewhat sick, and were soon overhauled by Lambert / Canipa and Holden / Winkle, and also Rob Fisher / Rick Long who were having a storming ride on their Baker Thundercat. With Holden / Winkle passing Lambert / Canipa in the final lap, and Team A.R.C. holding on for fourth, it saw an incredibly tight points table at the end of day one, tying at the top with Holden, and Lambert only a further point in arrears.
Photograph Courtesy Of Dirk Wharton
A blown (standard Suzuki) head gasket had been the root of the problem, and an engine change took place in readiness for Sunday. With no practice, and an engine which had not yet been run since being built ensured there were a few nervous moments in the run up to the third leg. Sunday was an altogether drier and more pleasant day, meaning the formbook from Saturday meant very little. Lambert / Canipa got the holeshot from the line, but were once again penalised for jumping the start! Team A.R.C. were holding a slender lead of just over a second at the end of lap one, but this time it was the F1 machine of RKB-F1 Championship regulars Gary Horspole / James Connell who were bearing down on them at a rate of knots - the dry circuit allowing the F1 outfits to utilise their power, having been hampered somewhat by the conditions on Saturday. These two outfits had an entertaining battle for the remaining laps, the superior straight line speed of the F1 having just enough to take the win by less than one second, although Team A.R.C. had the consolation of taking the honours for the fastest lap, while Holden / Winkle were a further 7.5 seconds back in third. With a non-finish for Lambert / Canipa, and only a single race remaining it was now a two horse race, the brief for the final outing could not have been more simple for Team A.R.C. - make sure you finish in front of John Holden!
The best track conditions of the weekend were saved for the final sidecar race, and once again it was an exciting exchange at the front between Team A.R.C. and Horspole / Connell. However, at mid-distance, Horspole peeled into the pits, his testing complete for the weekend, and he watched the remaining action from the pitwall. The final few laps were lonely at the front for Lee and Patrick, with nothing but a few backmarkers for company whom they surged past as they pulled out a seventeen second gap over Holden / Winkle. Ian and Carl Bell were the final podium finishers, a further ten seconds behind Holden.
It was certainly a harder-fought event than in 2015, but once again, the "Mac Hobson Trophy" was presented to Team A.R.C., on this occasion by Les Siddle, owner of Lamplas, and long time friend and sponsor of the late Mac Hobson. Les has sponsored a number of North East based riders over the years, including Lee's father Mike - it was quite a poignant moment when Les realised that Lee was continuing the family sidecar racing traditions, having not been aware of the connection beforehand! In the post-race interview, both Lee and Patrick paid tribute to their "fantastic team" and all those who had attended to support them.
Thanks as always go to all those who have assisted Team A.R.C. this year and in those previous. In no particular order: P.G. Legal; Dean Banks Engine Management; KC Computers; Pagid Racing; AM Leathers/Gary Partridge; Dynobike (Malton); Bio-Sport; Christie Engineering Services and ARC Binchester/Newton Aycliffe.
Team A.R.C. have a busy schedule in the coming weeks - Sam Christie will be teaming up with Lee for the B.M.C.R.C. meeting at Donington Park on 9/10 April, then again the following weekend at Oliver's Mount. On Saturday 23rd April, Lee and Patrick will be beginning their assault on the F.S.R.A./A.C.U. British F2 Championship at Oulton Park.
Photograph Courtesy Of Dirk Wharton