British F1: 2020 Season almost ready for blast-off
It has been a long, wet winter, but the wait is almost over. Before the teams assemble at the Oulton Park Circuit in Cheshire for the opening round, most of them will have spent an exhausting off-season building new machinery, and many will also have taken the annual pilgrimage to Val de Vienne for pre-season testing.
The registered number of teams for the series at the time of going to press, sits at twenty-five, with virtually all of those indicating a full season. Add to those numbers any late entries, and the inevitable wild-cards from overseas, and it is a very promising line-up for British Championship honours.
Whilst reigning World Champions Tim Reeves and Mark Wilkes once again are placing sole focus on the FIM World Championship, now also promoted by RKB-F1, the former World Champions and multiple TT winners Ben and Tom Birchall have announced their intention to stay here in the UK to concentrate on their LCR chassis business, the Isle of Man TT, and the Molson Group series.
This is good news for British fans, and will give the Mansfield based brothers a real chance to lift the title with consistent UK appearances. Apart from 600cc Cup success in 2016, the British premier sidecar championship has hitherto not been high on their list or priorities.
The increased profile of sidecar racing in the UK, and the wide exposure given by the live Eurosport TV coverage, has resulted in a far greater sense of achievement and reward for those crews who aspire to be champions.
There is however, an ever-increasing number of crews lining up to claim the prize. Among them, the Santander Salt sponsored outfits of reigning champions Todd Ellis and Charlie Richardson, and 2018 champion Steve Kershaw, who is breaking in a new passenger in the shape of the very enthusiastic and capable Jason Pitt. Both these teams will be combining the domestic challenge with a full onslaught for FIM World honours.
The same is true of the Silicone Barnes Racing outfits of John Holden/Jake Lowther and Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney. The distinctive blue and white livery of these crews was omni- present at the sharp end of the British Championship last season, so expect nothing less in 2020.
A second consecutive season following a year out with injury is very much on the cards for Chris Walker and Ashley Hawes. The TAG Racing Yamaha duo were really in the groove at the end of last year, and Chris is hungry for victory. The former Superbike and solo star has yet to climb to the top step of the podium, but the signs are all there that 2020 could be the year that happens. Walker and Hawes will also be targeting selected World rounds, so the British presence on the FIM stage will be a strong one.
Former double champions Ricky Stevens and Ryan Charlwood have ended any speculation about their future together, by once again lining up in Kawasaki colours as part of the Massingberd Mundy official Green Team. They are keen to reclaim the titles they won on the 1000cc bike, being strong advocates of the successful move to 600cc power. Expect also to see them doubling up with World Championship rides where they see fit. Team-mate is once again Ben Holland, who this year is joined by Jed Pilmoor-Brady. A former regular at the front, Ben has lost none of his speed, and shows a real passion to get back in the winning groove.
Young talent comes in the form of Tommy Philp, now partnered with Tom Bryant. Sponsored by Roberts Construction and Tops Autos, the Yamaha pair showed their worth as newcomers towards the end of last season, and will almost definitely be among the front runners from the word go this year.
Rob Biggs and Jeroen Schmitz are another young pairing with huge potential, and are now well accustomed to each other and the Taurus Tools outfit, although they are now favouring Yamaha power over the tried and trusted Honda CBR 600.
There is now strength in depth all down the field with a strong blend of experience and youthful talent. Thirty crews on most grids will indeed be a spectacle, and as the final plans are put in place for the new season, it is truly a mouth-watering prospect lying ahead of us.
We will be previewing the opening round at Oulton Park shortly, and updating you with any last- minute changes and rider additions.
Meanwhile, work goes on behind the scenes to fine-tune and tweak what will undeniably be a stellar year for sidecar racing both here and on the world stage.