The 2021 A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship (Incorporating The F2 Cup)
Round One – Brands Hatch Indy – N.G.R.R.C. – Saturday 17th & Sunday 18th April
Words – Tim Langham / Photographs – Jenny Wells
Brands Hatch was blessed with blue skies and warm sunshine for the duration of N.G.R.R.C.’s three day opening event of the 2021 season, hosting the first round of this year’s A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship.
The majority of teams took advantage of two optional test sessions on Friday afternoon, and whilst untimed, it was evident that Team A.R.C.’s Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie (LCR Suzuki) were on front running pace, this crew having taken the longer Brands Hatch G.P. lap record last October. However, most impressively, series debutant Harry Payne – with the experienced Mark Wilkes alongside him (GP Yamaha) were matching the fastest times.
Unfortunately the afternoon was not as productive for some, with several teams having mechanical issues which saw them work late into the evening with a variety of engine changes, brake bleeding and much head-scratching and frowning as engine management data was analysed and modified.
Saturday morning free practice saw Crawford / Hardie set the pace with a 51.070 being their best time. Again Payne / Wilkes were giving chase and impressing, posting the next quickest time. The third fastest team was the 2015 Super F2 champion, Alan Founds with passenger Jake Lowther (LCR Yamaha), while the top six was completed by Sean Hegarty / James Neave (Baker Honda); Steve and Matty Ramsden (LCR Honda) and Brian Ilaria / Matt Sims (DDM Suzuki).
At this point the weekend took a disappointing turn for Payne / Wilkes. Nearing the end of the session as they made the uphill approach to Druids, without warning both they and the outfit were “barrel-rolled” down the circuit. Unfortunately, Mark suffered a hand injury which was to require hospital treatment, whilst Harry was shaken but otherwise unhurt. Upon inspection of the outfit, their team set about making repairs, and a stand in passenger – Ryan Anderson – was drafted in for the Sunday programme.
Qualifying saw a total of fourteen crews post a time, and again it was Crawford / Hardie at the top of the order – their time of 50.778 going under the twelve year old F2 lap record held by Ben and Tom Birchall – as always though, unless set in race conditions this is not recognised as official data.
Founds / Lowther were 1.3s in arrears to make up the front row, with Hegarty / Neave in close company. The Ramsdens edged out John Lowther / Matthew Rostron (LCR Yamaha). Brands Hatch was the first event that John and Matthew (who despite feeling very much under the weather with illness) had competed together, and despite one or two teething issues with their new outfit, they put in some solid performances. In sixth, and first of the F2 Cup teams were Ilaria / Sims.
The opening race of the 2021 campaign got underway in the mid afternoon in perfect conditions. Crawford / Hardie made a fast, clean start from pole, and were followed through by Hegarty / Neave who had a look up the inside at Paddock Hill Bend, to no avail. Founds / Lowther were hot on their heels, with a slight gap to the following pack headed by Lowther / Rostron.
Ilaria / Sims had a spin early on, and dropped down the field, and had much headway to make. Meanwhile, a double British F2 Champion no less than two decades ago – Gary Horspole / Kenny Cole – on the same 600 Shelbourne Honda outfit (running carburettors) – were making advances from their initial starting position of seventh. In the hands of this team, this machine looked just as competitive as most of the others around it.
As Founds / Lowther continued to hound Hegarty / Neave, there was an ever-increasing advantage of around one second a lap at the front for Crawford / Hardie. However, there was frustration for Founds / Lowther at half distance as they lost drive, the chain having jumped the sprocket as they exited Graham Hill Bend, forcing them into retirement.
The Ramsdens, who were having a relatively lonely race of their own, were promoted to third, while Horspole / Cole had moved into fourth at the expense of Lowther / Rostron, with the top five order unchanged as the race drew to a conclusion at the end of lap fifteen.
The F2 Cup was a decidedly closer affair, and a well-managed race for father and son duo Shaun and Ben Chandler (Baker Honda) saw them come in sixth overall, and Cup victors. They were both surprised and delighted to have achieved such a result in their British Championship debut. Chris Schofield, with new passenger Shane Colbrook (Ireson Honda), were the runners up – which made amends for a difficult Friday which had seen them suffer an engine failure and brake issues. Completing the F2 Cup podium were Paul Riley / Jody James (MRE Suzuki), having had to overcome some frustrating problems in their last British Championship campaign, they were extremely pleased to open their season with a third place.
Race two, as ever saw the grid form up with the top six finishers from the previous encounter in “reverse order”, while at the back were the Saturday retirees Founds / Lowther, along with Payne / Anderson.
Making a great start from the third row were both Hegarty / Neave and Crawford / Hardie, and in that order they headed the pack through Paddock Hill Bend. However, perhaps the most impressive progress over the opening lap was made by Founds / Lowther, who were up to third, and in touching distance of the leaders. However, Crawford / Hardie made a decisive move on lap two, and began to stretch away at the front.
Once again, the Ramsdens settled into a rhythm, and were circulating with little company, but content to seemingly have more pace and reliability after a couple of years suffering with a variety of issues. Lowther / Rostron were in early contention with Horspole / Cole, but were apparently struggling with a misfire, which eventually forced them into retirement to the pitlane.
Also sidelined were Payne / Anderson with a mechanical issue, while Founds / Lowther found their undertray parting company with the outfit, and they too had to make an early end to their race.
Crawford / Hardie pushed on, yielding some impressive laptimes, their best being a 50.868s, equalling the Birchalls lap record. As they negotiated some of the backmarkers in the latter stages, they eased their pace to take the win by 8.4s from Hegarty / Neave. A perfect weekend for Team A.R.C., topping the timesheets in every session.
The Ramsdens came home third, ahead of Horspole / Cole – a carbon copy of the top four finishers as in race one. Ilaria / Lace had a trouble-free run to fifth overall, and were the F2 Cup winners, while Schofield / Colbrook were sixth on the road, and again took second in the Cup. Roger and Bradley Stockton (LCR Suzuki) – in their first race together at British Championship level were the final F2 Cup podium finishers, with seventh overall.
As always, our thanks go out to the series sponsors: The A.C.U.; A.R.C. (Binchester / Newton Aycliffe); A.V. Craine & Son; Hegarty Plant Ltd; Leeds Parcel Company; Lockside Engineering; Pagid Racing (Breitenbach Rennsport); Rowtec Engineering Maintenance; and Whitby Cottages.
Finally, the F.S.R.A. would like to acknowledge meeting hosts – N.G.R.R.C., who ran an excellent event, and to all their dedicated staff, officials, marshals, medics and all the other volunteers who were involved this weekend.
Round two of the series will once again be hosted by N.G.R.R.C., at Donington Park over the weekend of the 15th and 16th May, where the opening sidecar race winners will be presented with the Bill Boddice Trophy. Entries for this event are looking encouraging, some confirmed “wild card” attendees. Again, this will be held under similar restrictions, with the anticipated next easing of lockdown measures coming in the week following, with the anticipation that our events theron will be able to run with spectators, and indoor facilities will hopefully be more commonplace.
In the meantime, please keep up to date with F.S.R.A. news, including race reports and up to date championship points on the website – www.fsra.org.uk