MALLORY Park was a weekend of two halves as the ACU FSRA British F2 Sidecars rolled into town for their penultimate round of the season.
After a dominant win under the Saturday sun for Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie (LCR Suzuki), the Team A.R.C. duo aquaplaned off the circuit in race two in spectacular fashion as heavy rain set in over the Leicestershire track.
It was then a popular win after the restart for John Lowther / Tom Christie (LCR Honda) – their first victory at this level following numerous podiums over the last few seasons.
But the F2 Cup title will not be decided until next weekend’s season finale, with contenders Simon Robinson / Mick Fairhurst (LCR Suzuki) and Rob Atkinson / Mark Middleton (Bellas Suzuki) sharing the points equally with a win and second place each.
While Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley (LCR Suzuki) had already secured the title at Castle Combe (with Jake Lowther deputising), the race for the remaining top three places were still wide open prior ahead of Mallory.
With Walmsley still sidelined nursing a heel injury from Croft, Founds recruited the services of Mark Stone to assist him on Saturday and teamed up with Sarah Stokoe on Sunday.
Saturday’s early qualifying pace was set by Lowther / Christie, although Crawford / Hardie put in a blistering lap of 55.269sec to unofficially break the 12-year-old lap record by 0.1sec. The Team A.R.C. pairing were returned to the paddock by their pit crew midway through the session, confident in making it two consecutive pole position starts.
Christie / Lowther clocked a fastest of 56.090sec – their best to date at Mallory Park, and this was enough to see them land a front row place. Founds / Stone were an impressive third with a 56.765 for Stone’s British championship debut. Conrad Harrison / Andy Winkle (Bellas Honda) lined up fourth, 0.1sec behind and a further tenth ahead of the leading F2 Cup pairing of Robinson / Fairhurst.
Reigning Cup champions Daryl Gibson / Ashley Moore (Shelbourne Suzuki) rounded out the top six as Sean Hegarty / James Neave (Baker Honda) Atkinson / Middleton Howard Baker / Mike Killingsworth (Shelbourne Honda) and Brian Ilaria / Olly Lace (DDM Suzuki) completed the top ten.
While 18 teams lined up for race one, it was immediate disappointment for John Shipley jnr / Milo Ward (LCR Suzuki) as their outfit cut out on the warm up lap with an electrical fault, forcing them out of action.
Lowther / Christie got the initial holeshot, but Crawford / Hardie had the inside line into Gerards and took charge at the front. Founds / Stone had dropped a couple of places, while Harrison / Winkle, Gibson / Moore and Hegarty / Neave had gained places on the opening lap. Already Crawford / Hardie were opening a modest gap over the chasing pack. Sadly, Chris Schofield / Arlo Brown were out of contention and retired after a single lap.
Crawford / Hardie had opened a gap of around three seconds by lap four – setting the fastest lap of the race at this point in a time of 55.465 – just 0.1sec shy of the existing record while Founds / Stone put the pressure on Lowther / Christie to move into second place.
As Harrison / Winkle were circulating third, Founds / Stone took a couple of tenths out of the race leaders, but their pace began to drop as they fell into the clutches of Lowther / Christie.
In the F2 Cup, Robinson / Fairhurst were running in the lower reaches of the top six overall, but had championship rivals Atkinson / Middleton in close company. Unfortunately, race one became something of a battle of attrition soon after.
Hegarty / Neave retired on lap nine, and were joined by Richard Hackney / Dave Ryder (CES Suzuki) shortly after. Then, Founds / Stone returned to the paddock at the end of lap 11. Harrison / Winkle came to an abrupt halt on lap 13 with a radiator problem, which put them out of a podium place, while David Schofield / Guy Pawsey (Windle Suzuki) also retired on the same lap.
Crawford / Hardie were then in a commanding lead from Lowther / Christie, with Gibson / Moore comfortably in third position as the laps wound down, but the latter crew suffered an engine failure on the final lap and at the chequered flag, Crawford / Hardie took the win by just over nine seconds from Lowther / Christie, with Robinson / Fairhurst taking third overall and first in the F2 Cup.
Atkinson / Middleton took fourth, Ilaria / Lace fifth and Baker / Killingsworth sixth in their first British appearance of the year. Giles and Jen Stainton (LCR Suzuki) Charlie Morphet / Paul Halliburton (LCR Suzuki), John Shipley snr / Andy Haynes (LCR Honda) and wild-cards Maria Costello / Sarah Stokoe (LCR Kawasaki) completed the finishing order.
Following a scramble for wet tyres ahead of race two, reverse-grid polesitters Baker / Killingsworth made a clean getaway from the front, but it was Lowther / Christie who came through from fifth to edge out fellow third row starters, Crawford / Hardie as the outfits peeled into Gerards. With huge amounts of spray and little room to move, several outfits touched, with Ilaria / Lace flipping – thankfully without any damage to riders or machine.
Lowther / Christie and Crawford / Hardie were having a furious battle as they accelerated up through Lake Esses and towards the Hairpin. But both teams were caught out by standing water in the braking zone – Lowther / Christie managed to slow up enough and spin their outfit back round on the grass to maintain the lead, whilst Crawford / Hardie were less fortunate. On a wider line and carrying more speed, they had to take evasive action as Hardie parted company and slid under the Recticel fencing, while Crawford minimised the impact, putting the wheelarch into the air fence. Fortunately, both competitors were relatively unscathed.
The incident brought out red flags, and the race was restarted, again over ten laps as Lowther / Christie took the lead early on, and began to open up a buffer over the pack. In the early stages, Robinson / Fairhurst, Baker / Killingsworth and Atkinson / Middleton were all in contention for the podium places. But Founds / Stokoe had powered through the field, and got themselves well inside the top three until they tumbled right back down the order with a spin at the Hairpin.
Hegarty / Neave set the fastest lap of the race as they moved through to second and began to close on the leaders – but a well-managed race eventually gave Lowther / Christie a maiden win. Gibson / Moore avenged their disappointment of Saturday with third place, while Founds / Stokoe recovered to take fourth, three seconds clear of Baker / Killingsworth. Sixth overall, and taking their seventh F2 Cup win of the year were Atkinson / Middleton as Robinson / Fairhurst and Hackney / Ryder completed the Cup podium in seventh and ninth.
*Main and action images: Dirk Wharton
*Podium image: FSRA