Lee Crawford and Scott Hardie, representing "Team A.R.C." on their 600 LCR Suzuki, returned to winning ways over the August Bank Holiday weekend, dominating proceedings at their local circuit, Croft. They took pole position and two convincing wins in the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Championship races, firmly consolidating their second place in the current championship standings.
This was the second visit of the year to Croft, with the championship opener having been hosted there back in April. Lee and Scott had taken both wins on that occasion, and followed this with a win and a "dnf" at the following meetings - Cadwell Park and Mallory Park (the latter being particularly impressive after starting on the back row of the grid to take victory).
The championship then took a break of twelve weeks while the T.T. and Southern 100 events were contested by a good number of the British F2 regulars. A further none-finish in the first outing at Anglesey forced Team A.R.C. out of contention after leading for eleven of the scheduled twelve laps. This was followed the next day with a solid third place finish.
Further frustration was to follow at Donington Park. Lee and Scott were having a fantastic wheel to wheel encounter with Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley, with the pairings exchanging the lead on numerous occasions (many spectators enthused that it was one of the best sidecar races they had ever seen). However, in the closing stages, Team A.R.C. suffered a blown relay, bringing them to a standstill while Founds / Walmsley cantered to another win. An excellent drive in race two saw Lee and Scott progress through the field from the back row of the grid to take a well deserved second place.
So onto Croft, where a typical bank holiday weather forecast was on the agenda, with a mixture of sun and heavy rain was predicted and we duly experienced exciting racing in both wet and dry conditions. The meeting was the annual "Battle Of Britain" event, with classes for cars, motorcycles and sidecars. It was an excellent weekend, hosted jointly by the Darlington Motor Club (cars) and Auto 66 Club (bikes). The latter organisation has not had an easy year, and it was good to see them running an efficient meeting, which will hopefully bode well for the "Sidecar Bash" in October.
Saturday started sunny and dry, and the times in free practice and particularly qualifying were impressive. Lee and Scott set the fastest time of the session to record their third pole position starting place of the year. They were the only pairing to set a laptime under 1min30 - which they achieved twice, firstly on their third circulation, then set a session best of 1min29.842 on lap five. This was particularly impressive as Lee decided to come back to the paddock after only six laps, with thoughts of conserving tyres - most other teams continued to do either nine or ten laps, setting faster times as the session went on.
Joining Lee and Scott on the front row were to be Founds / Walmsley, 0.461s in arrears, with Steve and Matty Ramsden third. The top six was completed by Daryl Gibson / Ashley Moore; John and Jake Lowther; and Michael Jackson / Ben Binns. Team A.R.C. made an excellent start, and established a safe margin in the early stages over Founds / Walmsley. Lee and Scott pushed hard in the opening laps, setting the fastest of the race - 1m29.631 on lap three - which is their fastest ever around Croft. Riding to their signals, Lee and Scott maintained a gap of between two and three seconds over Founds / Walmsley. The battle for third was closely fought between Jackson / Binns; the Lowthers and the Ramsdens, but this trio was over fifteen seconds back as the race passed three-quarter distance.
At the end of lap nine, the outfit of Simon Robinson / Phil Gravel came to a stop with a mechanical failure. However, being in a very difficult place to make the machine safe (on the entry to the Jim Clark Esses), the red flag came out little more than a lap later, with the result declared at the end of the tenth lap. Lee and Scott took a winning margin of 2.327s over Founds / Walmsley. The battle for third went in favour of the Ramsdens, some 20 seconds behind the leaders, from Jackson / Binns; Gibson / Moore and the Lowthers rounding out the top six.
As always at Croft, on-track activity could not begin until after 12pm, owing to noise regulations. Clouds had gathered during the morning, and just as the "warm up" sessions got underway the rain began to fall, setting in for the afternoon. While this failed to dampen the spirits of the competitors, the numbers of spectators around the circuit was certainly down on those who had been in attendance on the previous day.
The rainfall was showing no signs of relinquishing as the second British F2 Sidecar race of the weekend formed up on the grid. With the top six finishers from race one being reversed on the grid, this meant Team A.R.C. would be starting from sixth position, whilst former team-mates the Lowther brothers were on pole position.
In conditions that Lee and Scott excel in, few would have bet against them doing well in this race. However, everyone was surprised by their fantastic start, passing the five outfits in front of them to lead the pack into Clervaux (the first corner)! The Lowthers fought hard to defend from Gibson / Moore, although they were unable to keep the impressive F2 Cup leaders behind them. Spray and surface water was making riding conditions difficult, and seasoned runners such as the Ramsdens and Founds / Walmsley lost time in the early laps, which they fought to pull back later in the race.
Lee and Scott led by two seconds at the end of the first lap, and from then on continued to ease a gap on each successive lap. They set the fastest lap of the race on their third circulation, 1.5 seconds quicker than the next best. Observing their pit signals, the pairing rode a sensible and mature race, easing their pace in the latter stages, eventually taking victory by just over fourteen seconds from Gibson / Moore, with the Lowthers completing the podium. Founds / Walmsley worked back up the order to fourth; Sean Hegarty / Sarah Stokoe - racing the Ryde F2 outfit - were fifth, while the Ramsdens came home sixth.
Although it is mathematically possible to still take the championship title, consistency is key to success, and there are now only four races remaining. Lee and Scott took seventeen points out of Founds / Walmsley at Croft, however with only 100 points up for the taking, they sit some 68 points in arrears, so it would require a huge element of good fortune for the Team A.R.C. camp to take the title. As in the previous years, both teams will be going out and aiming for the top step of the podium at the last two events - Castle Combe (2nd and 3rd September) and Oulton Park (6th October).
As always, Lee and Scott were quick to thank their pitcrew and team members, and of course their loyal sponsors: 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; Sheryl Coleman; Dirk Wharton Photography and Elite Meat.