Words – Tim Langham (F.S.R.A. Press Officer) / Photographs – Dirk Wharton
Another faultless display saw Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie (LCR Suzuki) take pole position, a double race win and a lap record, on a weekend which finally landed them the A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Championship – a prize the team has been chasing for seven seasons. While Harry Payne / Mark Wilkes (GP Yamaha) had a slightly more problematic weekend, second place in the opening race and other results going in their favour saw them accrue enough points to secure the F2 Cup in their debut year in the series.
However, there is still much to play for at the final round of the year at Knockhill, with all other positions to be decided in both series – the battle for second in the Cup looks especially like going all the way to the final lap of the season!
An all too familiar weekend of wet weather was promised for what seems like an almost staple ingredient at Croft when the championship visits! Saturday morning did indeed see rain gather force, and while a wet practice went without incident, heavier rain fell as qualifying got underway, with the session red flagged as wild-cards Tony Baker / Jack Laidlow (Baker Suzuki) slid off the circuit at Hawthorne, requiring a recovery vehicle to pull the stricken machine from the gravel.
A re-started session got underway shortly after, and Crawford / Hardie quickly asserted their authority in conditions they thrive in. In the early proceedings they had opened a five second advantage over Steve & Matty Ramsden (LCR Honda), who were firstly relegated to third by a resurgent John Lowther / Matthew Rostron (LCR Yamaha), and then to fourth as Payne / Wilkes put in a charge to post a time only 1.2s in arrears of Crawford / Hardie.
However, on the closing lap, Crawford / Hardie reacted and put in a time of 1:38.784 to land the fastest time, 2.5s clear of Payne / Wilkes. Lowther / Rostron, the Ramsdens, Conrad Harrison / Jake Lowther (Bellas Honda), and second of the F2 Cup teams, Brian Ilaria / Matthew Sims (DDM Suzuki) completed the top six. In seventh, and third of the Cup runners were Rob Atkinson / Mark Middleton (Bellas Suzuki), whilst making a welcome return to the series as a wild-card were Mike Jackson / Jake Roberts (DMR Suzuki), with Gary Horspole / Kenny Cole (Shelbourne Honda), and Bruce Moore / Amy Dodd (Ireson Honda) making up the top ten.
There was a wait of around four hours until race one, with conditions taking a turn for the better as the rain eased. However, the circuit remained greasy and while the majority of crews favoured slicks, a minority chose to run wets with the threat of rain remaining on the agenda.
There was drama at the end of the warm up lap as Payne / Wilkes peeled into pitlane, with their wheelarch missing their securing “dzus fasteners” and flailing around. Their team quickly sorted the issue, and they joined at the back as the field charged into Clervaux. Almost immediately there was a stoppage, as Chris Schofield / Shane Colbrook (Baker Honda) were beached in the gravel trap in the opening lap melee into the first corner, and once recovered, the race re-started with Payne / Wilkes back in their front row starting slot.
Crawford / Hardie made no mistake, and charged away at the head of the field, opening a gap of around one second a lap over Payne / Wilkes. Harrison / Lowther made perhaps the best start from row three and slotted into a strong fourth place behind the Ramsdens, while Lowther / Rostron and Ilaria / Sims had more leisurely getaways, dropping back from their initial starting places.
A first lap retirement for Paul Riley / Jody James (MRE Suzuki) at The Chicane – meant their weekend came to a premature close having been plagued throughout by electrical faults. Meanwhile on lap two, the Ramsdens who were charging hard and attempting a move for second on Payne / Wilkes down the back straight suffered a misfire, and retired – seemingly the earlier wet conditions were causing issues with their electronics.
It quickly became clear that slicks were without doubt the correct tyre choice as Crawford / Hardie began to establish a lead, setting the fastest lap of the race on their second circulation, just two seconds shy of the lap record. Following their disappointing start, Lowther / Rostron were making up places, and had moved up to fourth by half distance, although Harrison / Lowther appeared to be in a very safe third place at this point.
Crawford / Hardie began their last lap with a healthy ten second margin over Payne / Wilkes, who in turn were almost twenty seconds ahead of Harrison / Lowther, who were now fending off Lowther / Rostron who had just set their personal best time of the race, and were able to make a decisive move at Sunny Out to take the final podium place.
There next followed something of a confusion as Roger & Bradley Stockton (LCR Suzuki) and David Schofield / Guy Pawsey (Windle Suzuki) who were embroiled in a close battle for ninth were shown the chequered flag at the end of the penultimate lap. Realising a mistake, this flag was withdrawn, and Moore / Dodd who were running tenth continued to race and results had to be amended by timekeepers to reflect the error.
Crawford / Hardie took the win by 10.325s from Payne / Wilkes, with Lowther / Rostron taking their first podium of the year in third. Harrison / Lowther were fourth, with Jackson / Roberts fifth. Atkinson / Middleton were sixth (second Cup), while the remainder of the top ten comprised of Horspole / Cole; Ilaria / Sims (third Cup); Schofield / Pawsey; the Stocktons; and Moore / Dodd.
Heavy rain on Sunday morning gave way to milder, brighter conditions, and the circuit was dry for race two, with the usual top six finishers from race on lining up in reverse order. Atkinson / Middleton took the lead, but the fast starting Crawford / Hardie immediately slotted into second and had a three second advantage at the front by the end of the opening lap. Meanwhile there was huge disappointment for Payne / Wilkes who nursed their machine back to retirement at the paddock with a clutch problem.
On the second and third laps, Crawford / Hardie broke their own existing record to improve to a time of 1:27.050 – over half a second quicker than the previous best.
Lowther / Rostron moved through to second, with Harrison / Lowther sidelined in the early stages owing to a blown motor. The Ramsdens were making rapid progress through the field and were into the top six by half distance, and were lapping as quickly as the team running second on the road – whilst the leaders had now established a lead of over ten seconds.
Whilst the leading outfits were largely having relatively lonely races, there were plenty of entertaining battles further down the field. Jackson / Roberts were in close company with the Stocktons contesting the lower reaches of the top six, while a four way battle between Wayne Lockey / Stuart Ramsay (LCR Honda); Moore / Dodd; John Shipley snr / Andy Haynes (LCR Suzuki) and Charlie Morphet / Paul Halliburton (LCR Honda) was shaping up nicely. Meanwhile, Baker / Laidlow and Mick Alton / Keith Brotherton (LCR Suzuki) both lad little company on the road – but were none the less – having strong rides.
Electrical problems sidelined Ilaria / Sims at half distance, whilst wild-card entrants Maria Costello MBE / Vicky Cooke (LCR Kawasaki) were ruled out of contention with gearbox issues on lap nine.
Crawford / Hardie made it a double with another impressive win, their margin over second placed Lowther / Rostron being 14.6s. The Ramsdens took third, an excellent performance from the back of the grid. Atkinson / Middleton were winners of the F2 Cup and fourth overall, with the Stocktons fifth (second Cup) only 0.5s ahead of Jackson / Roberts. Schofield / Colbrook were third in the Cup, and seventh on the road to make up for their Saturday disappointment, with the top ten rounded out by Horspole / Cole; Schofield / Pawsey and Richard Hackney / Dave Ryder (CES Suzuki).
Some quick “number crunching” took place immediately after the race, and despite their non-finish, results elsewhere in the F2 Cup meant that a delighted Payne / Wilkes had secured the title. However, with fifty points still available at Knockhill, any one of five teams could take the runners-up slot, with even more who could come home third!
The F.S.R.A. would, as always like to offer our continued appreciation to the A.C.U. for their assistance and awarding the official “British Championship” title. Thanks also to our series sponsors: 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. Our thanks also go to Wyn Wiltshire – who as ever at Croft – put up a £100 raffle prize in the annual “Pot Of Gold” draw, which this year was gratefully received by Steve Ramsden.
Finally, on behalf of the F.S.R.A. and our teams, I would like to thank D.D.M.C. and N.E.M.C.R.C. for hosting an excellent event, and extend this to all their dedicated staff, officials, marshals, medics and all the other volunteers who were involved in organising and conducting this fantastic event.
The final round of the championship is scheduled for the weekend of the 4th and 5th September at Knockhill, the first visit north of the border for the series in almost two decades. This meeting will also feature Scottish Championship Sidecars, and a feature invitation race for the “Jock Taylor Memorial Trophy”.