SERIES leaders Lee Crawford and Scott Hardie shared the spoils with Pete Founds and Jevan Walmsley this weekend as the FSRA F2 sidecars hit Mallory Park.
With packed grids of nearly 25 outfits on track for round three, the pairs split wins as the British championship points battle heated up.
Crawford/Hardie (LCR Suzuki) quickly set the initial pace, and were lapping in the high 55sec margin. However, four-time champions Founds/Walmsley (LCR Honda) were in determined form and topped the leaderboard half way through the session, proving their switch to Honda power from Suzuki after several successful years was no mistake.
Also in the mix were the charging F2 Cup pairing of Harry Payne/Mark Wilkes (GP Yamaha), who briefly relegated Crawford/Hardie to third, putting in a time of just 0.026sec in arrears of Founds/Wilkes with eight minutes remaining. However, as qualifying drew to a close, Crawford/Hardie went fastest, with a time of 55.196sec to take their third pole position on the trot, just 0.139sec clear of Founds/Walmsley, with Payne/Wilkes only another 0.1sec back.
Alan Founds/Jake Lowther (LCR Yamaha) were fourth fastest, having run an engine in during morning practice, over a second clear of Cup runners Rob Atkinson/Mark Middleton (Bellas Suzuki). Conrad Harrison/Andy Winkle (Bellas Honda) completed the top six, whilst the third fastest of the F2 Cup teams – Brian Ilaria/Matthew Sims (DDM Suzuki) – lined up 11th.
As the lights went out for race one, both front row starters made strong launches, running side by side into Gerards as Founds/Walmsley yielded to pole sitters Crawford/Hardie. Just behind, both Payne/Wilkes and Founds/Lowther made clean starts from the second row as they joined the leaders in a four-bike breakaway.
With little separating the quartet, Crawford/Hardie appeared strongest in the first sector, stretching a gap from the entry of Gerards to The Esses. But the others impressed through Devil’s Elbow to make big gains with increased exit speed onto the start and finish straight. By lap three, quick times were dropping in as Payne/Wilkes set a new F2 Cup lap record of 55.196ssec, dropping Tony Elmer and Darren Marshall’s 16-year-old record by nearly a second.
Crawford/Hardie reacted with their fastest lap of Mallory to date with a 55.068sec in a bid to break the chasing back, but there was no respite as Payne/Wilkes were making headway with a move up to second, less than 0.2sec down by lap seven with the Founds pairs tailing.
Harrison/Winkle had settled into fifth place, and were easing away from Atkinson/Middleton who had Wayne Lockey/Mark Sayers (LCR Honda) in close company. John Lowther/Matthew Rostron (LCR Yamaha) were enduring another frustrating outing, having been plagued with overheating problems this season, and were suffering similar issues in the race.
Gary Horspole/Kenny Cole (Shelbourne Honda) were having another strong showing on their older carburetted motors, running inside the top 10, whilst Roger & Bradley Stockton (LCR Suzuki) were heading the charge for the final F2 Cup podium slot from Chris Schofield/Shane Colbrook (Baker Honda), Bruce Moore/Amy Dodd (Ireson Honda) and David Schofield/Guy Pawsey (Windle Suzuki).
Unfortunately, Ilaria/Sims were involved in an incident on the approach to Edwina’s on the seventh lap as their machine flipped, luckily escaping relatively unscathed as the race was red-flagged.
Founds/Walmsley took the lead on the restart from Crawford/Hardie, with Founds/Lowther slotting into third. Payne/Wilkes were again running strongly in fourth. On lap two, Founds/Lowther had taken the lead from Founds/Walmsley, with Crawford/Hardie third, but the series leaders made a move for second at the hairpin.
Their back wheel was struck by another machine, and they were forced out wide as they struggled to regain position. But stewards deemed them to be in a dangerous position and the red flags were brought out again, with Founds/Lowther leading from Payne/Wilkes and Founds/Walmsley.
What followed was much confusion and with no option of another re-run due to time constraints, and the result of a combined aggregate being declared invalid due to incorrect grid positions in the restart, the results were taken from the first red-flagged outing as Crawford/Hardie were declared winners from F2 Cup winners Payne/Wilkes in second overall and Founds/Walmsley, while Atkinson/Middleton and the Stocktons completed the Cup rostrum.
The reverse grid for race two on Sunday put Atkinson/Middleton on pole, but Founds/Walmsley quickly took control at the front from Harrison/Winkle as Crawford/Hardie moved to third, with Founds/Lowther and Payne/Wilkes both snapping at their heels at the end of lap one.
Founds/Walmsley were setting a fast pace as they established a lead of about 1.5sec from Crawford/Hardie, setting the fastest lap of the race as Founds/Lowther were a similar distance behind the second place, fighting with Payne/Wilkes.
But there was drama on lap six as Founds/Walmsley crossed the line with a lead of around three seconds over team-mates Founds/Lowther. It appeared that Crawford/Hardie were out of contention, but an issue with the clutch as they exited the Hairpin made the machine stall, refusing to fire up on the starter motor. Hardie managed to push the outfit back into life as they dropped to the dead last, some 35sec down, and immediately set about in a bid to salvage points.
Race two quickly became a battle of attrition as Charlie Morphet/Paul Halliburton (LCR Suzuki) entered the paddock after the warm up lap, while series returnees Dean and Ben Dickinson (Baker Suzuki) were forced out after lap one. Lockey/Sayers retired on lap five, while Shaun and Ben Chandler (Baker Honda) returned to pitlane moments later, before Lowther/Rostron continued to face gremlins.
Harrison/Winkle were also consigned to a DNF after Winkle was ejected from the platform at Edwina’s. Steve and Matty Ramsden suffered a blown engine on lap 10 while running fifth, just as Atkinson/Middleton went out with overheating issues.
At the front, Founds/Walmsley continued to lead while Founds/Lowther were battling closely with Payne/Wilkes all the way to the chequered flag before finishing in that order with just 0.137sec between second and third in a thrilling battle for podium honours.
A remarkable surge through the field gave Crawford/Hardie fourth ahead or Horspole/Cole as they salvaged an impressive 13 points to keep their championship aspirations on course. On their newly acquired ex-Sean Hegarty outfit, Schofield/Colbrook took fine sixth place overall, and second in the F2 Cup, whilst The Stocktons were seventh, and took yet another third in the F2 Cup.
The next round of the championship is scheduled for August 7-8 at Cadwell Park for the International Sidecar Revival meeting.