The Team A.R.C. pairing of Lee Crawford and Scott Hardie had a near perfect start to their 2018 A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship campaign. They secured two convincing race wins, the aggregate result landing the team the "Mac Hobson Trophy" for the fourth consecutive year, and they can look forward to heading to Cadwell Park for the second round of the series with a ten point cushion in the standings over reigning champions Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley.
Lee counts Croft amongst his favourite venues, and he has enjoyed much success there in the past - having made a winning debut in the British Championship in 2014 as a "Wild Card". However, Scott had only visited the circuit previously as a spectator. The Friday test sessions were invaluable, allowing Scott to learn the circuit in dry (but breezy) conditions, along with identifying a mechanical issue which saw an engine change that evening.
Saturday dawned overcast and following an uneventful free practice session the heavens opened just prior to qualifying, with rainfall which did not relinquish whatsoever. A fifteen minute grace period was offered for teams to change to suitable tyres, thereafter the session duly got underway. Lee and Scott set a scintillating pace in the early stages, with a gap of just over three seconds over Conrad Harrison / Andy Winkle being established. With their wet tyres being well past their best, Team A.R.C. opted to end their session early, with what seemed like little threat of pole position being taken from them. This was not to be the case, though. In the dying moments, Founds / Walmsley (in their first outing on their newly acquired D.D.M. machine) set a lap time which demoted Lee and Scott. In fact, several teams set their best laps at the close of the session, indicating perhaps that the circuit conditions were improving.
Unfortunately, conditions were far from improving, and the rain worsened as time passed by. An early lunch break was called in the hope that the rain may pass, but unfortunately this was wishful thinking! Standing water (as seen at this same event in the previous year) was a major problem, particularly at Sunny In / Out and Clervaux (with two inches said to be on the apex of the corner). Circuit staff and marshals worked hard, and with a sweeper and tanker out assisting with the clear-up, and the rain easing, a track inspection took place, with the sidecar race to resume proceedings just after 3pm.
After two sighting laps the twelve lap encounter was underway. Lee and Scott made an excellent start, leading the pack, while Founds / Walmsley had been passed by Harrison / Winkle, the latter pair holding them off in the opening laps before a spin which dropped them down the order. Lee and Scott rode impeccably, pulling away from the pack to establish a winning margin of over 21 seconds over Founds / Walmsley, with Sean Hegarty / James Neave completing the podium. The Team A.R.C. duo also set the fastest lap of the race, over two seconds faster than their nearest rivals, and faster than in the qualifying session earlier that day, arguably in far more inclement weather.
With the "noise curfew" at Croft confining on-track action until after midday on Sunday, hazy sunshine allowed the circuit to dry out prior to a ten minute warmup session, opening the programme for the day. Race two was held just after 2pm, and this season a new format is being employed by the F.S.R.A. (voted on and approved by members at last December's A.G.M.) which sees the top six finishers in race one being placed in reverse order in the first six gridslots for the next outing. This meant Lee and Scott would start sixth, with Harrison / Winkle and last year's Cup F2 winner Mike Jackson / Harry Payne heading up the grid.
Jackson / Payne led the charge through Clervaux and Hawthorne - however Lee and Scott had by this time already charged through the pack onto their tail - Steve and Matty Ramsden had endeavoured to keep their outfit as wide as possible, but were unable to replicate some of their trademark moves seen at the likes of Oliver's Mount as Team A.R.C. surged through! With a faster exit from the Chicane Lee and Scott passed the Manx pairing on the run to Tower, and took charge at the front.
It was a fairly uneventful race for Lee and Scott, who eased out a margin of seven seconds over Founds / Walmsley who had moved into second place just before half distance. As the final lap got underway, Team A.R.C. eased their pace, with the intention of not risking having an incident or mechanical failure - as well as negotiating the backmarkers. At the end of lap twelve, they were 4.1 seconds clear of Founds / Walmsley - however, at this point there was confusion between the team members on pitwall, as well as the competitors on circuit, as the chequered flag was not displayed, and the last lap flag was still being shown. Mistakes can and will happen from time to time, and the result was declared after the intended twelve laps - despite most competitors carrying on to do thirteen! Completing the podium were Harrison / Winkle, who had been having a race-long battle with Hegarty / Neave. Once again, Lee and Scott had the honour of taking the fastest lap of the race (and indeed the weekend), 0.7 seconds faster than the next best.
Team A.R.C. were presented with the "Mac Hobson Trophy", for the fourth consecutive year (the first time this has been achieved), forty years on from the tragic events at the 1978 Isle of Man T.T.
The winter months have been extremely busy preparing for the 2018 season, and Lee and Scott would like to express their thanks to: 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; P.M.H. Promotions; Dirk Wharton Photography and Elite Meat for all their input. The team are also very grateful to all those who took the time to come and support at Croft, and to all at the F.S.R.A. and N.E.M.C.R.C. for organising an excellent event.
The next round of the championship is at Cadwell Park, on the 28th and 29th April. However, before that the Spring Cup at Oliver's Mount, Scarborough takes place on the weekend of the 21st and 22nd April - Lee and Scott will be hoping to replicate their form from last year's International Gold Cup which saw them win both sidecar races at the North Yorkshire parkland venue.
Stuart Davison of N.E.M.C.R.C. Presenting Lee & Scott with the Mac Hobson Trophy (Photo Kindly Supplied By Mark Dennis)