British F1: Tricky weather at Donington Park provides thrilling racing, as Kershaw/Charlwood extend lead
The weather felt wintry at this late stage in the season, with Steve Kershaw and Ryan Charlwood (Santander Salt Quattro Group Yamaha) needing to keep out of trouble and score solid points. There were three F2 outfits also joining in the fun, and these were to add huge colour and flavour to the proceedings.
Qualifying – The timed session late on Friday afternoon proved to be extremely interesting, everyone sensing there were big opportunities to be had with a good grid slot.
Ben and Tom Birchall after recording just a couple of free laps earlier, hit problems and did not make it out, so it was an early bath for them. The championship leaders were somewhat eclipsed to fifth fastest, with pole position going to the F2 Suzuki of Lee Crawford and Scott Hardie. This crew are in a rich vein of form currently, having had two good finishes at Knockhill, and four victories at the recent Oliver’s Mount meeting. Second fastest and delighted to be on the front row were Ben Holland and Tom Christie. Row two comprised an impressive Tommy Philp and Tom Bryant, alongside another short F2 of Pete Founds/Jevan Walmsley.
Race One – From the lights, the pole men made no mistake, taking Tommy Philp with them into Redgate. Track conditions were slippery, and Crawford/Hardie revelled in them. The bellowing Suzuki was both fast and nimble, with the long outfits unable to make best use of their superior cornering ability.
Tommy Philp and Tom Bryant never let the leaders out of their sights and were in touch throughout, making several attempts to get past. It was truly thrilling at the front as the pair scrapped it out. Championship leaders Kershaw/Charlwood were in the mix further back, seemingly unable to make ground in the way they would like.
A rejuvenated Ben Holland, now with Tom Christie alongside, was having a brilliant ride fighting his own battle with the very experienced Pete Founds/Jevan Walmsley. The Kawasaki of Holland was to eventually claim the final step on the podium, proclaiming to the rest of the field that Ben Holland is back.
Kershaw and Phill Bell/Jimmy Connell were also having their own scrap, with Kershaw doing enough to keep a respectable score in the absence of rivals Todd Ellis and Charlie Richardson. The latter pair were in Germany chasing Superprix honours but will be returning for the Brands finale.
Sam and Adam Christie were also mid-pack and fighting through, but track conditions were not easy, so caution was the watchword for everyone. Everyone that is except Crawford and Philp who were at it hammer and tongs up front.
Into the final couple of turns and Philp took the lead at the Melbourne hairpin, only for Lee Crawford to grab victory on the sprint to the line. This was a great example of long bike versus short bike with very impressive results.
1/ Lee Crawford/Scott Hardie (ARC Suzuki)
2/ Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant (Roberts Construction/Tops Autos Yamaha)
3/ Ben Holland/Tom Christie (Massingberd Mundy Kawasaki)
4/ Pete Founds/Jevan Walmsley (Team Founds LCR)
5/ Steve Kershaw/Ryan Charlwood (Quattro/Santander Salt Yamaha)
6/ Phil Bell/Jimmy Connell (Marin Motorsports Yamaha)
7/ Sam/Adam Christie (Christie Engineering Services Yamaha)
8/ Simon Gilbert /Paul Thomas (Draper Racing Adolf RS1 Yamaha)
9/ Andy Peach/Ken Edwards (Life Safety Yamaha)
10/ Brian Gray/Kenny Cole (Yamaha).
Race Two – Late in the afternoon the track was dry, and the sun was out. This would be different scenario, and with the top ten reversed on the grid, veteran Brian Gray sat on pole and made the best of it. The High Wycombe motorcycle dealer had recently celebrated his seventieth birthday, but he was to show he had lost absolutely none of his commitment and ability. He was born on the same date as Barry Sheene, hence the number seven he carried most of his career. Alongside him were Andy Peach/Ken Edwards, so these were two vastly experienced crews who would be hard to pass.
Kershaw/Charlwood flew through from row three and once past Brian Gray, never looked back. Behind them though, the entire pack had one of the most frantic and spectacular battles witnessed in modern times. No fewer than ten outfits were dicing for the same bit of tarmac lap after lap, and the picture changed every few yards.
Slowly but surely teams fought through, with Brian Gray stubbornly holding his own and refusing to give ground easily. Up front with them was the F2 outfit of Founds/Walmsley, giving a good account of themselves in fast company on long bikes.
One by one the fast men made it through, with the Christie Brothers breaking clear into second place. Lewis Blackstock and Paddy Rosney took the Silicone Barnes Yamaha into third, making up for a race one retirement.
Tommy Philp’s progress was hampered this time around, and after locking horns with Phil Bell for several laps he broke free into fourth with Blackstock still in sight. After running very strongly all race in third and fourth place, swapping and fighting all the time, Pete Founds/Jevan Walmsley were to retire on the final lap. Theirs had been a performance to equal that of Crawford in race one, and it was heart-breaking to see them go out. Rob Biggs and Jeroen Schmitz had a fine ride chasing down Phil Bell at the end, with Crawford/Hardie following them home in seventh.
8/ Martin Kirk/Shelley Smithies (MK Racing Yamaha)
The final round comes from Brands Hatch 16th-18th October.