Team A.R.C. enjoyed an immensely successful end to their 2018 campaign, with fruitful visits to Castle Combe, East Fortune and Oulton Park in a year which Lee Crawford and Scott Hardie have enjoyed their best performances to date in the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship.
After taking a double win back on the August bank holiday weekend at Croft in what is considered to be the team's "home circuit", the following weekend saw the longest distance travelled this season - Castle Combe. Lee had only competed at the Wiltshire venue on one previous occasion - 2015 - a weekend which had been plagued with mechanical and handling problems, and this was to be Scott's debut on the fast and bumpy 1.85 mile former airfield circuit.
The pair were the third fastest team in free practice, just behind wild card entrants John Holden / Lee Cain, and championship leaders Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley. These teams had a significant buffer in excess of two seconds over the next competitors. The same outfits also took the top three slots in qualifying - albeit in a different order. Founds / Walmsley took pole, from Lee and Scott, with Holden / Cain third. Less than 0.4 seconds covered these evenly matched pairings, and all was set for two entertaining encounters.
Under a sunny sky, Lee and Scott made a blistering start to lead race one, and took charge at the head of the field in the early stages, however at the end of the second lap, Founds / Walmsley edged through at the Chicane. Shortly after, it seemed the leaders may have missed a gear as the leading outfits "backed up", allowing Holden / Cain to take advantage and demote Lee and Scott to third. The order remained the same to the flag, with all three outfits lapping under or close to the previous lap record, however, Lee and Scott took the points for second place as "wild card" entrants - whilst entitled to trophies - cannot claim championship points.
Race two saw the starting order of the top six finishers in race one "reversed", so Lee and Scott started fourth on the grid. Making yet another fantastic getaway, they found themselves in second place as the pack peeled into the first corner, shortly before passing the early leaders John and Jake Lowther. Lee and Scott led the way for the first four laps, however, they were suffering what was seemingly an intermittent electrical fault. The motor began to misfire badly in the latter stages, losing huge amounts of times to the leaders. As the last lap began, Team A.R.C. had lost over twelve seconds to Founds / Walmsley and Holden / Cain, and inevitably were overtaken easily by the Lowther brothers. Immediately after passing the chequered flag, Lee brought the outfit to an immediate stop as something underneath the outfit was clearly dragging on the road.
All members of Team A.R.C. were happy to have finished in what had been a frustrating outing. In taking points for third, they secured the runners up position in the championship with a round to spare, while Founds / Walmsley deservedly retained their crown after a consistent campaign. Examination of the outfit after the race revealed the alloy undertray which holds the battery in place had been damaged (most likely by the relentless stresses of the bumps at Castle Combe), and had finally broken from it's mounting. Had the race been more than a few hundred metres longer to run, then the likelihood would have been a "dnf".
Castle Combe incorporated a number of fascinating elements, including displays and parades of classic solo machinery. One such enthusiast attending was Les Saunders, who had brought a plethora of rare machinery with him, which attracted the interest of Team A.R.C. when they were walking through the paddock. Speaking to Les on several occasions over the weekend also revealed he had an interest in sidecars - being the owner of an outfit with great racing heritage. Les joined the pit crew to take in the action from race two, and we are delighted to welcome his company "Saunders Complete Waste Management" of Swindon on board as a team sponsor, who we are extremely grateful to in assisting us completing the 2018 campaign, and with whom we look forward to continuing this partnership in 2019.
The next event was for testing purposes, at East Fortune with the Melville Club on the 22nd and 23rd September. Despite being a weekend chiefly to ensure the problems from Castle Combe had been eradicated, Lee and Scott were in determined form. They had some thrilling rides against World Championship runners Scott Lawrie / Mick Fairhurst (who were competing on a long F600 outfit), taking a brace of wins (one being from the back row of the grid). Over the weekend, Team A.R.C. broke the long standing lap record no less than three times (held previously by the late Ian Bell and his son Carl), finally lowering it to 1min02.631.
The final round of the British Championship was held at Oulton Park on Saturday 6th October. Team A.R.C. did a handful of laps at the circuit the day before at a test day, but chose to return to the paddock early in both sessions as changeable weather conditions were making the track a little unpredictable. This was to continue the following day. Rain had fallen steadily all night, and although stopped around 6.30am, had left the circuit damp, but drying under autumnal sunshine.
Qualifying was held early in the day, and much debate was going round the paddock with regards to tyre choice, and the general concensus seemed to be that wets were by far the best option. However, after a discussion Team A.R.C. decided that as the weather looked set to stay dry (for the time being), they would fit slicks, with thoughts that the circuit may dry in the latter stages. As the machines queued in pit lane, it seemed only a small handful of others had made the same choice, and there was some trepidation as the session got underway.
Lee and Scott quickly got into a rhythm, and even early in the session they found themselves at the "sharp end" of the leaderboard. Although after the first lap they were four seconds off the pace of (wild cards) Holden / Cain, they still slotted into fifth place. A dry line was beginning to be established, but with Oulton being such a long lap, and only fifteen minutes available, it looked like perhaps a mistake had been made. The times improved, and Team A.R.C. made their way up to second, and parts of the circuit were favouring slicks and others wets. As the front running teams completed five laps, Lee and Scott went fastest, but Holden / Cain also improved their personal best - however it was just 0.2 seconds off that of Team A.R.C.
Just as these outfits disappeared out of Old Hall corner, the red flags came out, with only two minutes of the session remaining. It emerged the reason for the stoppage was to allow the medical helicopter to safely take off (carrying a rider injured in an earlier solo session). Obviously, there was not enough time remaining to restart the session, and Lee and Scott were delighted to take their fourth pole position start of the year.
Another sharp shower of rain about forty minutes before race one left teams facing the same quandary as earlier in the morning. A few more took the chance on slick tyres, although some remained faithful to the wet option. Lee and Scott made their trademark flying start, and took an early four second lead over Holden / Cain at the end of lap one. Fellow wild card entrants Dave Molyneux / Harry Payne were mixing with series regulars Steve and Matty Ramsden, and John and Jake Lowther - both of whom were firmly focused on taking third place in the championship standings. However, quickly making their way through to third were Sean Hegarty / James Neave, who were closing on Holden / Cain at half distance.
Team A.R.C. had a commanding twelve second advantage by the end of lap five, and shortly after Holden / Cain retired to the pitlane. Lee and Scott took a dominant win of almost seventeen seconds from Hegarty / Neave, with Molyneux / Payne third, a further fourteen seconds in arrears. The Lowthers recovered very well from a spin at half distance to take fourth place, while the Ramsdens came home in eighth - putting the Scunthorpe brothers into third in the overall standings.
Unfortunately race two was beset with problems, and eventually was cancelled. As the outfits formed up on the grid, it began to drizzle with rain, which delayed the start. The rain stopped, and the warm up lap began, but then a further heavy shower fell, and with another delayed start, some teams returned to the paddock. Eventually, on a damp track, the race got underway. Lee and Scott led until the start of lap three when the red flags came out, with reports of the outfit of Conrad Harrison / Andy Winkle upside down at one of the chicanes (both ok). The machines returned slowly to the paddock, and while there was a chance there may have been time at the end of the day for a shortened outing, after consultation with the teams, race two was void (having not gone a great enough distance to declare a result).
Lee and Scott were awarded the Steve Norbury Memorial Trophy as winners of the Oulton Park event, which was presented by members of the Norbury family at the conclusion of the day's racing. (This would have been awarded to the overall winner over both legs, but obviously this was not possible on this occasion).
Team A.R.C. made the short trek across country to Darley Moor, for the annual "Stars At Darley" event immediately after Oulton Park. Waking to one of the first frosts of the autumn, it was expected times in the opening qualifying session might be a bit "off the pace". However, this was not to be the case - Holden / Cain set a pole time of 1min00.93, while Lee and Scott were just two tenths behind. This was the fastest time Lee had done at the circuit (at which he was a regular competitor in 2014 and 2015), whilst this was Scott's debut at the Derbyshire venue.
All was looking set for a thrilling race, with the outfit of Hegarty / Neave and the F1 of Gary Knight / Andrew Gibson also in contention for honours. However, Team A.R.C. were almost immediately forced out of proceedings, as an ignition amplifier failed, causing the machine to drop onto three cylinders on the warm up lap.
2018 has proved to be another year of improvement in terms of pace and more importantly, reliability for Team A.R.C. The team took four pole position starts and seven race wins in the British Championship events - exactly the same number as the title winners. Lee and Scott's race finishes (discounting the positions of wild card runners) have not been lower than third place in what has been a hard fought campaign. Other season highlights include a successful debut at the Southern 100 Races and retaining the Mac Hobson Memorial Trophy for the fourth successive year. 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; Dirk Wharton Photography and Elite Meat - all of whom we look forward to hopefully working with again in 2019.
Owing to family commitments, Lee will not be competing in any more events this season - many of you know Lee and his partner Ellie are expecting the arrival of their first child in the very near future (which of course I, and the rest of the team, wish them all the very best for). Scott will be competing as passenger to Matty Ramsden at the Mallory Park Race of the Year, and the Cadwell Park Sidecar Bash later in the month. 2019 will see the team continue racing at the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship and the Southern 100 Races, with other events confirmed over the winter months.