Words – Tim Langham (F.S.R.A. Press Officer) / Photographs J.T.W. Motorsport Photography
Four-time champions Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley (LCR Honda) took a fine brace of wins in the opening round of this year’s British F2 Sidecar Championship at Brands Hatch – but were made to work particularly hard in race two as they had an enthralling tussle with reigning title holders Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie (LCR Suzuki). Meanwhile, Rob Atkinson / Mark Middleton (Bellas Yamaha) made a perfect start to their F2 Cup campaign, taking both class wins in dominant fashion.
The majority of teams took advantage of two optional test sessions on Friday afternoon in dry conditions. With significant sections of the “Indy” configuration being resurfaced only in the days immediately leading up to the event it was a chance for circuit familiarisation and optimising settings ahead of Saturday morning’s free practice.
An unfortunate incident at Graham Hill Bend for wild-card entrants Alan Founds / Jake Lowther (LCR Yamaha) in Saturday free practice saw the session brought to a halt while medics attended to the crew. All at the F.S.R.A. wish Alan and Jake well for a fast and full recovery.
With a fairly short break between practice and qualifying, many teams found that time was against them as they made changes to their outfits – none more so than Crawford / Hardie who had suffered a mechanical failure and were unable to change their motor in time, resigning themselves to starting race one at the rear of the twenty two outfit line-up.
Returnees to the series John Holden / Jason Pitt (LCR Yamaha) set the early pace in qualifying, although Founds / Walmsley were quietly progressing their way up the leaderboard, their outfit sporting an eye-catching new livery this season. Also on front running pace were the two LCR Honda machines of Wayne Lockey / Ben Binns and father and son pairing Steve & Matty Ramsden. A change to Yamaha power over the winter months saw Rob Atkinson / Mark Middleton heading up the charge of the F2 Cup teams, with their pace looking capable of threatening the overall Super F2 podium as well as that of the Cup.
As the session neared a conclusion, Founds / Walmsley went quickest to take the coveted pole position, just a quarter of a second ahead of Holden / Pitt. The Ramsdens got the better of Lockey / Binns by a mere 0.2s, while Atkinson / Middleton were an impressive fifth, ahead of Mike Jackson / Jake Roberts (DMR Suzuki). In just their second ride on an all-new CES Suzuki, Gary Gibson / Tom Christie were seventh, ahead of Brian Ilaria / Arlo Brown (DDM Suzuki) – the second fastest of the F2 Cup teams, while Conrad Harrison / Andy Winkle (Bellas Honda) were ninth. Third in the Cup and rounding out the overall top ten were another father and son combination – Roger & Bradley Stockton (LCR Suzuki).
The first race of 2022 got underway in the early afternoon, with the two teams occupying the front row making textbook starts, particularly Founds / Walmsley who made the most of their qualifying position to lead the field through Paddock Hill Bend and up to Druids. There was some slight contact further down the pack, with significant fibreglass damage to the rear of Richard Hackney / Dave Ryder’s CES Suzuki which saw them retire to pitlane at the end of lap one. Chris Schofield / Shane Colbrook (Baker Honda) were also caught in the chaos, being clipped by another outfit, breaking their gear-lever and seeing them too make an early exit.
Founds / Walmsley were hounded in the early laps by Holden / Pitt, while a close battle for third was shaping up between the Ramsdens and Lockey / Binns. Crawford / Hardie were making rapid progress through the field, running ninth at the end of lap one, seventh as they started lap three and were into the top five by the fifth lap. Atkinson / Middleton were once again spear-heading the F2 Cup charge, initially battling with Jackson / Roberts, but settled back into a safe sixth on the road, easing a gap from Harrison / Winkle – who were working hard to fend off the attentions of Gibson / Christie and Ilaria / Brown, the latter pair running second in the Cup. Initially David Schofield / Josh Smith (Windle Suzuki) had been running strongly in the charge for the F2 Cup podium, but spun at Clearways, losing them several places.
Other early retirees were Paul Riley / Jody James (MRE Suzuki) with a broken wheelarch, whilst wild-cards Rob Handcock / Shaun Parker (Shelbourne Suzuki) pulled into pitlane with an electrical issue. Stuart Anderson / Rian Saunders (Lumley Kawasaki) also ended their race with a retirement.
Founds / Walmsley broke the tow to Holden / Pitt, and began to open a comfortable gap to second. Meanwhile, Crawford / Hardie had battled through to third, with the fight for fourth still raging between the Ramsdens and Lockey / Binns as the race progressed. As the fifteenth and final lap began, Crawford / Hardie were within striking distance of Holden / Pitt, setting up a thrilling climax to a race which had seen an abundance of action all the way down the field.
Founds / Walmsley took the chequered flag with a winning margin just short of eight seconds from Holden / Pitt who made no mistake in fending off the determined Crawford / Hardie. The Ramsdens took fourth, less than half a second ahead of Lockey / Binns. Jackson / Roberts finished in a relatively lonely sixth, whilst seventh placed Atkinson / Middleton were the F2 Cup winners.
Less than 1.5s separated the teams placing eighth to tenth – Harrison / Winkle were chased over the line by Gibson / Christie, with Ilaria / Brown taking tenth overall and the Cup runners-up slot. The Cup podium was completed by the Stocktons, who crossed the line in eleventh, after a close and entertaining battle with former double champions Gary Horspole / Kenny Cole (Baker Suzuki).
Race two saw the top six line up in reverse formation, with Jackson / Roberts on pole and Lockey / Binns alongside them. While both teams made respectable getaways, it did not take sixth placed starters Founds / Walmsley long to hit the front in an impressive opening lap. While by their own admission Crawford / Hardie made a lethargic start, they made a series of impressive passing maneouvres to move into second, giving chase to the leaders at the end of lap one.
Holden / Pitt had progressed through to third at the expenses of the Ramsdens and Lockey / Binns whom had resumed their race one rivalry with more close action. At the front, Founds / Walmsley and Crawford / Hardie were constantly exchanging places, with both crews seemingly having strengths and weaknesses in differing areas of the circuit, making for an intriguing battle. All the while, Holden / Pitt were capitalising on the situation and were looking to make it a three-way fight for the victory. Sadly, their charge came to an end on lap five when forced into retirement of a technical nature.
While the lead was disputed all the way to the chequered flag, so too was the battle for the final podium step. Founds / Walmsley held on for the win, with Crawford / Hardie having the consolation of setting the fastest lap of the race. The Ramsdens took third, with Lockey / Binns fourth. Atkinson / Middleton were fifth, taking the second Cup win of the weekend at a canter. Jackson / Roberts again finished sixth, with a delighted Ilaria / Brown seventh overall and second in the Cup – an excellent result having endured a nightmare start to the season with their outfit having to undergo major repairs prior to this event following an incident earlier in the year.
Harrison / Winkle were eighth, with Horspole / Cole ninth. After the disappointment of Saturday, Schofield / Colbrook had a spirited ride from the very back of the grid to finish tenth, and grab the final podium place in the Cup. In all, twenty teams finished race two, with only two retirements. Coupled with some excellent racing right down the field, this bodes well for a fascinating and unpredictable season ahead.
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 14th and 15th May, where the sidecar race winners on Sunday will be presented with the Bill Boddice Trophy. Entries for this event are looking encouraging, with some confirmed “wild card” attendees joining the fray.
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