PETE Founds and Jevan Walmsley busted the two decade-old lap record at Croft this weekend as they split the spoils with maiden winners Sean Hegarty and James Neave.
The title favourites dominated action on Saturday as they broke Windle Thundercat duo Tom Hanks and Steve Wilson’s 20-year-old mark of 1:28.600, but it was Baker Honda boys Hegarty and Neave who pipped John Lowther and Tom Christie to the win on Sunday as the champions-elect crashed out in an incident that also involved F2 Cup leaders
After a damp start to the weekend with rain during Friday’s test, Lee Crawford and Scott Hardie jumped to the top of the timesheet in Saturday’s qualifying with their fastest ever time around Croft.
But Founds and Walmsley, despite being late onto the circuit, soon began putting in similar lap times. The red flags came out halfway through the session, however, as Conrad Harrison and Andy Winkle (Bellas Honda) beached themselves in the gravel at Hawthorne.
After their recovery, Crawford and Hardie were caught in traffic, and unable to surpass their earlier benchmark – however, Founds and Walmsley improved to a time of 1:27.806 to take their sixth pole position start in as many meetings. Crawford and Hardie were second, ahead of the chasing pack of Lowther and Christie (LCR Honda), Hegarty and Neave, Harrison and Winkle and the leading F2 Cup team of Rob Atkinson and Mark Middleton.
Pole sitters Founds and Walmsley were out-dragged in race one as Crawford and Hardie got the jump with the two close together for the opening laps. Team A.R.C. were the first to officially break the lap record at the end of the second lap, with a time of 1:28.525, but it was clear that open track could drop the time even more.
With the leading outfits making a break from the rest of the field, Lowther and Christie were beginning to move clear of Hegarty and Neave and Harrison and Winkle. Robinson and Fairhurst were keeping the pressure on the two outfits ahead of them, and the leading F2 Cup pairing were pulling clear of fellow Cup front-runners Atkinson and Middleton. An early retirement to pitlane was the wild-card team of Greg Lambert and Rob Child (GLR Honda).
There was close racing all through the field, including between John Shipley snr and Andy Haynes (LCR Suzuki) and FSRA rookies and wild-cards Michael Boak and Brian Jukes (Baker Honda), who were trading places several times a lap throughout the duration of the race.
Founds and Walmsley found a way past Crawford and Hardie at half distance and began to pull away slightly – improving the lap record to 1:27.888 on lap six. Unfortunately, Team A.R.C. had a major problem as the kneeler tray in the fairing collapsed, meaning Hardie was unable to work right handers fully, and the integrity of the fibre glass was failing with spectacular clouds of smoke pouring from the wheel-arch on several occasions as it fouled the sidecar tyre.
While Founds and Walmsley cantered to another victory, Crawford and Hardie nursed their machine home ahead of Lowther and Christie, who put in a late charge. Hegarty and Neave took fourth, with Robinson and Fairhurst fifth – and first of the F2 Cup runners. Atkinson and Middleton were sixth, and Brian Ilaria and Olly Lace seventh – the latter with their seventh F2 Cup podium in the last eight outings.
With the top six finishers from Saturday’s race in reverse formation on the grid for race two, Crawford and Hardie made a strong getaway as they snatched the lead into Clervaux. However, behind them, Founds and Walmsley and Robinson and Fairhurst both took to the gravel trap, with the reigning champions’ machine flipping over. Thankfully, all involved were relatively unscathed.
Further drama had unfolded in the meantime as the leaders came through the chicane onto the back straight. Crawford and Hardie’s chain jumped the front sprocket and tore through their crankcases. After circuit staff and marshals had recovered the three stricken outfits, it was a shortened 10-lap re-run.
Lowther and Christie took the initiative in the early stages, from Hegarty and Neave, with Harrison and Winkle within touching distance in third. Mechanical problems sidelined Boak and Jukes on lap three, and fellow wild-cards Lambert and Child returned to the paddock two laps later. Also making an early retirement were Chris Schofield and Adam Nix who suffered their first non-finish of the season – they pulled out with a handling problem, and later discovered their front forks were the culprit.
Hegarty and Neave were pressuring Lowther and Christie as the race moved into the second half. With a lap of 1:30 flat, they set the fastest lap and took the lead soon after. But the scrap continued to the chequered flag as Hegarty and Neave held on to take their first British F2 win by just 0.584sec from Lowther and Christie.
Harrison and Winkle had a relatively lonely second half of the race, coming home third some 17sec clear of F2 Cup winners Atkinson and Middleton. Ilaria and Lace were fifth overall and runners-up in the Cup. Taking their best result to date in sixth were Richard Hackney and Dave Ryder (CES Suzuki), who snatched the final podium slot in the F2 Cup.
*Images: Dirk Wharton