The 2023 A.C.U. / F.S.R.A. British F2 Sidecar Championship – Round Two Report – Donington Park 13th & 14th May
Supported by :- A.V. Craine & Sons; Hegarty Plant Ltd.; Pagid Racing;
Whitby Cottages; Rowtec Engineering Maintenance & Tingle Windows
Words – Tim Langham (F.S.R.A. Press Officer) / Photographs – Bryan Gough
Championship leaders Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley (LCR Honda) continued their good form from the opening round at Croft to extend their championship lead, however it was not a straightforward weekend for them, and were forced to play “second fiddle” to team-mates Alan Founds / Jake Lowther (LCR Yamaha), who took the victory in race one. As with Croft though, the unexpected stand-out performance of a wild-card entry generated as much interest as the winners themselves!
Meanwhile, in the F2 Cup, Brian Ilaria / Arlo Brown (DDM Suzuki) opened up a nineteen point advantage at the top of the standings, taking a win and a runners-up placing, with series newcomers James Saunders / Sarah Stokoe (Baker Honda) mirroring these results to jump up the table to displace former leaders Charlie Morphet / William Reilly (LCR Honda), who endured a frustrating weekend with a minor incident on Saturday afternoon ruling them out of the remainder of proceedings.
Despite reasonably decent weather conditions and a dry circuit, opening practice was a fairly steady affair for most teams. Daryl Gibson / Rhys Gibbons (CES Suzuki) having their final outing prior to the T.T. following an intense early season schedule topped the timings, from Sean Hegarty / James Neave (Baker Honda). Steve & Matty Ramsden (LCR Honda) were a further second back in third, ahead of the leading F2 Cup combination of Ilaria / Brown. Founds / Lowther had a miserable outing, with a lack of throttle response, leaving them languishing at the foot of the standings, while Founds / Walmsley were struggling to get their new fairing to fit, and were forced to miss the session in it’s entirety!
Moving onto qualifying, and it was another unfortunate “no show” from Founds / Walmsley, who were frantically working on their fibreglass modifications, resigned to gaining dispensation to start race one from the back of the grid! Again, it was Gibson / Gibbons who set the pace, and were not topped throughout what was a closely contended top four. The revelations were 2021 Championship victors Lee Crawford / Scott Hardie (CES Suzuki), competing as a wild-card. They were running second for much of the session, until being displaced to fourth in the dying stages after returning to the paddock. They were delighted, and surprised many – including their own team – with this being the first ever time the brand new outfit had ever turned a wheel, immediately proving to be competitive at National level – and additionally being almost 12 months since Scott had last competed.
Founds / Lowther placed second, and had been running only 0.002s shy of the pace set by Gibson / Gibbons until the latter put a lap to place them a full second clear, rewarding them with their first pole position in the British Championship together. Hegarty / Neave were only 0.008s down on Founds / Lowther in third, with Crawford / Hardie 0.017s further in arrears. Continuing their strong start to the weekend, Ilaria / Brown were fifth, the Ramsdens sixth and the Manx team of Mike Jackson / Jake Roberts (DMR Suzuki) seventh. Lining up eighth, and the second of the Cup teams were Bob Dawson / Matt Sims (LCR Honda), ahead of reigning Cup Champions Rob Atkinson / Shane Colbrook (Bellas Honda) – Shane once again deputising for regular passenger Mark Middleton who is currently sidelined due to work commitments. The top ten was rounded out by veteran wild-card campaigner John Saunders / Ben Stell (Shelbourne Honda).
Finally the sun shone, as the opening ten lap race got underway on Saturday afternoon. Something of a raggy start saw Founds / Lowther storm off to an enviable early lead, while Gibson / Gibbons led the rest of the pack. There was a torrid start for Crawford / Hardie, with the driver inadvertently hitting the kill switch. Thankfully, while they avoided being hit by faster starting outfits, they did drop to the very back of the field – this was a stark contrast to a flying start from the very back for Founds / Walmsley who were immediately up inside the top ten at the start of lap two!
With clear air and no pressure, Founds / Lowther were stretching away at the front, and Gibson / Gibbons were also in a relaxed second place, as the Ramsdens began to fade slightly with something of an intermittent misfire. By lap four, Founds / Walmsley had moved inside the top six, and similarly Crawford / Hardie had overcome the midfield traffic, to move into the top ten where the F2 Cup podium battle was raging between the likes of Dave Schofield / Josh Smith (Bellas Yamaha); Saunders / Stokoe; Saunders / Stell; Morphet / Reilly and Dawson / Sims.
Unfortunately, there was a retirement for the 2022 F.S.R.A. F2 Pre-Injection Championship winners Andy Bingham / Steven Dalton (Shelbourne Suzuki) on lap five, joined shortly thereafter by Atkinson / Colbrook and fellow series newcomers Paul D’Henin / Gary Wheeler (DDM Suzuki). Lap eight saw frustration for Schofield / Smith, whilst running second in the Cup they were forced to pull out as they were bumped by another outfit, compromising the integrity of the back of their fairing, whilst Dawson / Sims suffered mechanical failure at the same time. Morphet / Reilly were also forced out of proceedings on the penultimate lap.
At three-quarter distance, all eyes were on the top four machines, with lap times not quite telling the story of track position! Founds / Lowther were still leading the way, but elder sibling Founds / Walmsley were on the move, having displaced Gibson / Gibbons to third, they were now lapping around a full second quicker than the leaders, and indeed broke their own lap record to a new best of 1:12.390 on lap eight. As the last lap flag came out, Crawford / Hardie set their personal best time of the race, although they still had a margin of around three seconds to gain on Gibson / Gibbons – surely not a possible task in 1.957 miles?
The Founds outfits crossed the line astern – Alan & Jake just holding on from Pete & Jevan to the delight of their sizable entourage! Meanwhile Crawford / Hardie had managed to get the better of “CES Stablemates” Gibson / Gibbons, outbraking them at The Esses to take the final step on the podium. With their misfire worsening, the Ramsdens were just happy to cross the line ten seconds further back in fifth, while less than 0.2s was the gap between Jackson / Roberts and seventh placed Gary Horspole / Kenny Cole (Baker Suzuki). Ilaria / Brown took 25 points for the Cup win, placing eighth overall, ahead of Saunders / Stell in ninth, with Saunders (jnr) / Stokoe completing both the overall top ten and the Cup podium. It had been an enjoyable and unpredictable race all the way down the field, with battles and permulations to keep competitors and spectators interested throughout!
With a top-six grid reversal for Race Two, pole-sitters Jackson / Roberts and fellow front row starters the Ramsdens blasted away side-by-side. However, leading into Redgate were Founds / Walmsley, who had started fifth, audaciously driving round the outside of all those in front of them! Slotting into second on the approach to Craner Curves were Crawford / Hardie, with the Ramsdens third. Coming from the back of the grid into the midfield were Hegarty / Neave, while there was a decent getaway for Wayne Lockey / Ben Binns (LCR Honda), who were looking to improve on their finish of eleventh on Saturday.
At the end of lap one, there was a slender margin between leaders Founds / Walmsley and Crawford / Hardie – the latter crew being delighted having set their fastest ever time around Donington Park in the morning warm-up. Founds / Lowther overcame the outfits of Jackson / Roberts and the Ramsdens to find themselves third on the road, but had some work to do to close a gap of almost four seconds to the leaders.
Attrition rates had been high in race one, however the second outing saw seventeen teams make it to the chequered flag, with only three forced out with mechanical gremlins. Sadly, despite showing good pace, Dawson / Sims were retirements to pit lane on lap four, with Gibson / Gibbons – who had been running fifth – ruled out with a dropped valve, and Bingham / Dalton were the final retirement as the race drew onto its final lap.
Crawford / Hardie tried everything to make a move on Founds / Walmsley, and with these two crews doing close battle, Founds / Lowther were making the most of a clear circuit to pull the gap back to the leaders to little more than a second as the last lap flag flew. However, the five times champions had just enough power exiting The Esses as they charged towards the finish line to keep Crawford / Hardie at bay with a margin of 0.359s to land the prestigious “Bill Boddice Trophy”. Founds / Lowther came in third, with the consolation of setting the fastest lap of the race.
The Ramsdens were happy with fourth, this consistency seeing their championship points tally increase to 65, into a safe third place for the time being. Hegarty / Neave pulled through the field to place fifth, with Horspole / Cole taking sixth, their best result of 2023 to date. Jackson / Roberts took seventh, while Lockey / Binns were happy with eighth – four finishes from as many starts being a huge relief following the torrid luck they endured during the latter part of their campaign last season. Ninth overall, with their first ever win in the F2 Cup were Saunders / Stokoe, with Ilaria / Brown second in class and tenth overall. Schofield / Smith were only 0.435s in arrears, completing the Cup podium and taking eleventh position.
On behalf of the F.S.R.A., I would – as always – like to express thanks to our loyal series sponsors: The A.C.U. for awarding the official “British Championship” title, along with A.V. Craine & Son; Hegarty Plant Ltd; Pagid Racing (Breitenbach Rennsport); Rowtec Engineering Maintenance; Whitby Cottages and Tingle Windows.
Finally, the F.S.R.A. would like to thank N.G.R.R.C. for hosting, and to all their dedicated officials, marshals, medics and all the other volunteers involved in running the event. There now follows a short six week break to accommodate the Isle of Man T.T. Races. All involved with the F.S.R.A. wish all competitors and teams involved at the T.T. a safe and successful fortnight. Round three of the series will be held on Saturday 24th June at Oulton Park, hosted by Wirral 100 Motor Club.
Super F2 Points
F2 Cup Points