Words – Tim Langham / Photographs – Dirk Wharton
Exactly a year had passed since the last “real road race” for sidecars in the U.K., and it was the Oliver’s Mount International Gold Cup meeting, hosted by 243 Racing which had the honour of being the only such meeting to run in 2020.
A full grid of sidecars had entered, and some excitement prior to the event had been generated with the news that multi world champions and TT winners Ben and Tom Birchall had entered, and were to make their racing debut around the 2.43 mile North Yorkshire parkland circuit aboard their LCR Honda. However, they were to face stiff competition from regulars Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie (LCR Suzuki); Conrad Harrison / Andy Winkle (Bellas Honda) and Steve and Matty Ramsden (LCR Honda).
A combination of a large solo entry, and an increased requirement for “social distancing” meant the sidecars found themselves in a new paddock area. This was located on the top of the circuit, close to “The Esses”. Whilst there was some initial scepticism, this did work out reasonably well, and the promoters listened to concerns, and addressed these issues appropriately.
With a shortened season, due to the global pandemic, the organisers were able to extend this meeting to run over three days rather than the usual two, as they had an excess of available days to close the roads. Two free practice sessions were held for each class on Friday morning, with a further brace of timed qualifying sessions in the afternoon to decide the grids for the Saturday races. Newcomers laps for several debutants were run behind the Ramsdens, and these proved eventful two of the crews. Stewart Lithgow / Brian Stephen (Shelbourne Honda) had a misdemeanour on the run to Mountside Hairpin, scraping the bank and going straight on into the slip road. Meanwhile, Chris Schofield / William Moralee (Ireson Honda) made an interesting detour at the Cafe, and went grass tracking, going behind the Memorial and emerging back at the other side before rejoining the circuit!
Free practice also did not go without incident. Some fibre glass repairs had to be made to the fairing of Paul Riley / Jody James (MRE Suzuki) after they ran wide on the exit of Memorial. While Crawford / Hardie were almost three seconds clear of the Birchalls in the opening session, an inspection of the front end of the machine revealed a crack in the fork legs. Sam Christie of C.E.S. rushed the forks back to Beverley, and while Crawford / Hardie sat out practice two, they were able to return to action in qualifying. Unfortunately the same could not be said for the Birchalls, who suffered a mechanical failure in second practice, and their repairs went long into the evening, forcing them out of both qualifying sessions.
Crawford / Hardie topped the timesheets in both qualifying outings, with Harrison / Winkle second and the Ramsdens third on both occasions. Mike Russell / Karl Schofield (Shelbourne Honda) shaved five seconds off their time in the second run to leapfrog from ninth place to fourth in the combined standings, with Bruce and Ashley Moore (Ireson Honda) in fifth, Richard Hackney / Dave Ryder sixth, and completing the order were Shaun and Ben Chandler (Baker Honda); Schofield / Moralee and Riley / James. The Birchalls were moved to third on the grid on “known ability” due to setting the second fastest overall time of the day in the practice sessions.
Harrison / Winkle got the better of Crawford / Hardie from the lights, and immediately cut across to take the inside line into Mere Hairpin, however, Team A.R.C. managed to regain the lead by riding round the outside of their rivals! The Birchalls were holding station in third, ready to capitalise on any mistake. The Moores got the better of Russell / Schofield, while Riley / James were early retirements, joined a lap later by Schofield / Moralee with mechanical problems. By lap three, Crawford / Hardie had made a significant break from Harrison / Winkle, who still had the Birchalls right in their wheeltracks. The Ramsdens were having a very lonely race in fourth, while there was still little to separate the Moores from Russell / Schofield. Hackney / Ryder were in contention with these pairings but settled back into a safe seventh place ahead of the Chandlers.
Crawford / Hardie set the fastest lap of the race on the fourth lap, then eased their pace to cruise home 8.6 seconds ahead of Harrison / Winkle. The Birchalls gave away some ground to the second placed crew on lap five, then put in a charging lap on the final circulation to come home only 0.2 second behind in third. The Ramsdens were a further 18 seconds in arrears, and a further 27 seconds ahead of the Moores, followed home by Russell / Schofield; Hackney / Ryder and finally the Chandlers.
Again Harrison / Winkle got the better of Crawford / Hardie off the line, and as these pairings were squabbling over track position at Mere Hairpin, the Birchalls took advantage and led the pack up Quarry Hill. The wily veterans Harrison / Winkle kept their outfit wide, allowing the Birchall brothers to take command at the front, until Crawford / Hardie found a way through to second, and immediately set about chasing them down. On lap two, Crawford / Hardie set their fastest ever laptime around Oliver’s Mount – 1:54.225 – to make them the third fastest crew ever around the undulating circuit. By the third lap they were right with the leaders, and all was set for a thrilling finale.
The unfortunate Schofield / Moralee were retirements to the paddock at the start of lap four, and it looked like Crawford / Hardie were in trouble too, as they were having issues with their brakes fading. The Birchalls rounded Mere Hairpin on lap five with a comfortable three second advantage over the Team A.R.C. pairing, but then, disaster struck as they were forced out at the top of Quarry Hill with a technical problem that was to end their weekend. Crawford / Hardie were able to nurse their machine back for their second win of the weekend, 3.5 seconds ahead of Harrison / Winkle, with the Ramsdens in closer company this time around in third. Russell / Schofield had an incident free run in fourth, with the Moores coming in just ahead of Hackney / Ryder, while the Chandlers were seventh, and Riley / James completing the finishing order.
Teams awoke to strong winds on Sunday morning, and in a consultation with the Clerk of the Course, competitors opted to forego the warmup early in the morning. Fears of an outfit going airborne over the jumps and catching a gust of wind was a potential problem, and with the forecast for calmer weather as the day went on, it was straight into racing in the late morning for the sidecar class.
Harrison / Winkle were again the fastest off the line, but Crawford / Hardie regained the lead almost instantly. The Ramsdens were holding onto the second place pairing, while Russell / Schofield were running fourth on the road, but were penalised 10 seconds for “anticipating the start”.
Crawford / Hardie charged hard in the early laps, and built up a ten second cushion over Harrison / Winkle, who dropped the Ramsdens off at half distance. Suffering from a slightly over-heating motor, Crawford / Hardie eased their pace to come home nearly seven seconds ahead of Harrison / Winkle, with the Ramsdens a further four seconds back. Russell / Schofield crossed the line fourth, but their ten second penalty dropped them back a place behind the Moores. Hackney / Ryder survived an un-nerving moment of grass tracking at The Esses and regained their composure to finish sixth, three seconds ahead of the Chandlers. It was third time lucky for Schofield / Moralee, who were delighted to see the chequered flag for the first time this weekend, while Riley / James continued to improve their laptimes, placing eighth.
There was immediate disappointment for Russell / Schofield, as they were forced out with a mechanical problem at Mountside Hairpin on the warmup lap. The outfits went under orders, and Crawford / Hardie soon took charge at the front from Harrison / Winkle. The Ramsdens outfit seemingly was not running quite right, and they slipped to seventh place, while the Moores were running in a strong third place.
Schofield / Moralee had an unfortunate end to an eventful weekend, with an incident at Farm Bends at the end of lap one. Their outfit smashed through a fence, luckily without too much damage to crew or machine.
Crawford / Hardie again set their fastest lap early on, once again having to ease their pace due to the frustration of an overheating cooling system. The Ramsdens struggled to make headway, and pulled into the paddock on lap three, suffering from a lack of power. The six outfits circulating completed something of a processional affair, with Crawford / Hardie taking the chequered flag from Harrison / Winkle, who were 42.5 seconds ahead of the third placed Moores. The Chandlers came home fourth – their best result to date at Scarborough, with Hackney / Ryder and Riley / James completing the order.
Crawford / Hardie took the overall victory, with four immaculate wins, and retained the “Ian Bell Trophy”, which was presented by Carl Bell. Harrison / Winkle were runners up, and consistency and reliability rewarded the Moores, who were delighted to take the aggregate third place.
243 Racing put on a well run and enjoyable event, and in 2021 their intention is to return to the usual format of four meetings, each held over two days, and all will include sidecars on the programme.