TEAM Founds tore up the record books at Castle Combe as they clinched their fourth consecutive ACU FSRA British F2 Sidecar Championship.
Pete Founds along with Jake Lowther, the latter deputising for injured regular passenger Jevan Walmsley, took another convincing double win and smashed Founds’ existing lap record twice over the weekend to complete the title hunt in style.
The chase for second in the Super F2 Championship could not be any closer, though, with John Lowther / Tom Christie (LCR Honda) now only a single point ahead of Sean Hegarty / James Neave (Baker Honda).
The gap at the top of the F2 Cup series remains unchanged, with Simon Robinson / Rob Child (LCR Suzuki) – who was standing in for Mick Fairhurst – maintaining a 19-point margin over Rob Atkinson / Mark Middleton (Bellas Suzuki). Both teams took a win and a second place over the weekend and were well amongst the Super F2 top six throughout.
A heavy downpour of rain fell shortly before the scheduled qualifying session but with standing water rapidly disappearing amidst delays, wet-weather specialists Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie (LCR Suzuki) quickly set the early pace, but were struggling, stopping on-track to adjust their brake bias which allowed Founds / Lowther to briefly top the times.
With changes proving positive, Team A.R.C. took their first pole-position start of the campaign, 1.2sec clear of Founds / Lowther, thus breaking Team Founds monopoly on being the fastest in every qualifying session so far this season. Lowther / Christie were third, just 0.3sec clear of John Shipley jnr / Milo Ward (LCR Suzuki), who put in an impressive performance to be fastest of the F2 Cup runners. Brian Ilaria / Olly Lace (DDM Suzuki) and Atkinson / Middleton completed not only the top six overall qualifiers, but the leading trio of F2 Cup contenders.
The afternoon programme was interrupted on several occasions due to a number of incidents in the solo classes, including one for the air ambulance, and with the curfew drawing near organisers were forced to shorten all races.
Crawford / Hardie made the most of their qualifying performance and led the pack into Folly and up Avon Rise. Founds / Lowther were being pressured by Lowther / Christie, allowing the leaders to pull out several bike lengths in the opening lap. Hegarty / Neave had made some progress through the field, while Shipley jnr / Ward began to lose ground to the leading pack, allowing Atkinson / Middleton to take charge of the F2 Cup order.
An early retirement due to a faulty lanyard saw Ralph Remnant / Sam Tilley (Lumley Kawasaki) sidelined – a disappointment for the local pairing who had not been able to attend the last two rounds.
Crawford / Hardie were coming under increasing pressure from Founds / Lowther, who took 0.3sec off Founds’ own lap record, to be the first team to go under the 1:15 barrier around the current Combe layout. Founds / Lowther took the lead at half distance and while Crawford / Hardie fought back valiantly, they eventually had to succumb to Team Founds and settled for a safe second place.
Richard Lumley / Ray Whitnall (Lumley Kawasaki) had a minor incident, touching the recticel fencing at the hairpin, but luckily both they and their machine escaped unscathed. On the final lap, wild-cards Andy King / Alun Thomas (Ireson Honda) were forced into retirement to the paddock, with a puncture ending their race.
Up the road, Founds / Lowther took the win by 1.5sec from Crawford / Hardie. In the closing stages, Lowther / Christie came under increasing pressure from Hegarty / Neave, but just held on for the final podium slot in what was a very close finish. Fifth overall and first in the Cup were Atkinson / Middleton, 0.4sec in front of Robinson / Child.
Completing the F2 Cup podium, and relieved to finish seventh overall were Shipley jnr / Ward, with a misfire hampering their progress, following their hugely promising qualifying performance. Giles and Jen Stainton (LCR Suzuki) managed to coax their outfit to a finish but faced a long Saturday evening fitting their spare engine in readiness for Sunday’s action.
With the top six from race one forming up in reverse order on the race two grid, Cup contenders Robinson / Child and Atkinson / Middleton headed up the front row. However, making a blistering start from fifth were Crawford / Hardie, who charged through to take the lead. Lowther / Christie followed them through, with Founds / Lowther making their way past to second position at the end of lap one, about 1.5sec down on the leaders.
Lowther / Christie started falling down the order and by the end of lap one, they found themselves in the lower reaches of the top 10 with a retirement a lap later courtesy of a dropped cylinder. Joining them on the sidelines in the early stages were David Schofield / Guy Pawsey (Windle Suzuki); Paul Riley / Shaun Parker (MRE Suzuki) and Charlie Morphet / Paul Halliburton (LCR Suzuki). The wild-card entrants of Dean Nichols / Kenny Cole (LCR Suzuki) joined the list of non-finishers, as they returned to the paddock at two-thirds distance.
At the front, the battle raged between Crawford / Hardie and Founds / Walmsley. The leaders momentarily held a new lap record of 1:14.818, but Team Founds reacted with time of 1:14.374 whilst giving chase.
But it was to be yet another cruel blow for Team A.R.C. – at half distance, having begun to edge away from Founds / Walmsley, they lost drive as the chain jumped the front sprocket, ending their race at Old Paddock Bend. While Founds / Lowther were able to ease their pace, it was all-action in the fight for second place as Hegarty / Neave having to work hard to keep a determined Robinson / Child behind them in a battle which went all the way to the chequered flag.
Atkinson / Middleton came home in a safe fourth place, and runners-up in the F2 Cup. Ilaria / Lace were fifth (third in the Cup), with Shipley jnr / Ward completing the top six.
*Images: Ste McNorton