I was reminded why we do not race beyond October as the weekend dawned on Friday. Cold, damp conditions prevailed, but the mood in the paddock was upbeat and buzzing.
A record entry, including the top three International crews, all former World Champions, were set to do battle for points and big money prizes in the Superprix category.
Meanwhile, the Molson Group regulars were intent on maximising the points opportunity with Steve Kershaw and Ryan Charlwood (Santander Salt Quattro Group Yamaha) within touching distance of the title.
Qualifying – Ambient temperature had plummeted by late afternoon, and with it, any heat the track might have had was vanishing fast. It was important therefore, for early times to count. Todd Ellis and Charlie Richardson set a good time early on, and then sat back with only six laps completed. Tim Reeves/Kevin Rousseau bided their time and circulated steadily before attacking the pole position. Steve Kershaw and Ryan Charlwood went second fastest, with Ellis/Richardson the only team in the 1m.32 sec. bracket.
That is how it stayed for most of the session, with Reeves edging ever closer grabbing second with two minutes left on the clock. Blackstock/Rosney and Streuer/de Haas duked it out for rows two and three, ahead of Pekka Paivarinta/Emmanuelle Clement. Into the final lap with the dying seconds ticking away, Kershaw who had kept his powder dry, played his hand, stealing pole position from his Santander Salt team-mate.
Just one and a half seconds split the top ten on the grid.
Grid – 1/ Kershaw/Charlwood, 2/ Ellis/Richardson, 3/ Reeves/Rousseau, 4/ Blackstock/Rosney, 5/ Streuer/de Haas, 6/ Paivarinta/Clement, 7/ Holden/Lowther, 8/ Philp/Bryant, 9/ Christie/Christie, 10/ Stevens/Allum
Race One – From the lights the championship leaders made the most of their start and led the pack into Paddock Hill Bend from Ellis/Richardson and Reeves Rousseau.
Very quickly, Ellis showed his intent and shot past Kershaw just as Reeves made a similar move. The main threat to Kershaw in this position were the Christie Brothers, but they were in eighth place on the opening lap.
Benny Streuer and Ilse de Haas came next and moved past the series leaders. Kershaw did not panic; he knew that in this position he would do enough, even with double points available in race two.
Tommy Philp and John Holden had a coming together on lap one, as Philp took the outside line at Paddock Hill Bend getting his nose ahead before he turned in. John Holden and Jake Lowther kept the power on hoping to beat Philp into the turn, but it was not to be.
The resultant contact put them both in the gravel trap, with the SBR outfit of Holden/Lowther suffering a severely dented nose. Both were firmly stranded, and it was an early bath for both crews.
Ricky Stevens and Jonny Allum WPS Racing Kawasaki) had a good ride after a race-long scrap with the Christies and a hard charging Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney.
Also in the top ten were a rejuvenated Ben Holland/Tom Christie and the short Suzuki of Lee Crawford/Scott Hardie. On a dry track, against the long bikes, the Barnard Castle pair showed once again they have what it takes to run well at the front. Meanwhile, as Streuer went wide, Kershaw regained third with a watching brief.
Reeves and Ellis were fighting for victory, unaware that a savage blow about to befall the title hopefuls. With one lap remaining, Ryan Charlwood’s hand was in the air signalling a mechanical problem. It appeared to be a cooling issue caused by a faulty battery terminal interrupting water pump flow. Taking nothing for granted, they changed the entire system ahead of race two. It was nothing short of a personal disaster for the Santander Salt/Quattro Yamaha duo, leaving them to do it all over again with a reduced series lead and the prospect of fighting through from the back of the grid.
Race Result – 1/ Reeves/Rousseau (Bonovo Action Yamaha), 2/ Ellis/Richardson (Santander Salt Honda), 3/ Streuer de Haas (Bonovo Action Yamaha), 4/ Blackstock/Rosney (Silicone/Barnes Yamaha), 5/ Stevens/Allum (WPS Racing Kawasaki), 6/ Christie/Christie (CES Yamaha), 7/ Holland/Christie (WPS Racing Kawasaki), 8/ Crawford/Hardie (Team ARC Suzuki), 9/ Peach/Edwards (Lifesafety Motorsport Yamaha), 10/ Bell/Connell (Marin Motorsport Yamaha).
Race Two – With a reverse grid for the top ten, and Kershaw/Charlwood even further down the order, this was going to be a humdinger of a finale.
Add to this the fact that Reeves, Ellis and Streuer were chasing big money for the International Superprix aggregate result, and the air was thick with anticipation.
The drama which unfolded made for a hugely entertaining race. Once more the traditional reverse grid gave Phil Bell and Jimmy Connell the tools for a good job. They flew from the lights chased by Lee Crawford (Team ARC Suzuki) who shot through the middle gap from row two. They almost unbelievably had Todd Ellis and Chaz Richardson for company at the end of the opening lap. Ellis’s Gary Bryan prepared CBR600 Honda was running beautifully, and Ellis was not going to miss a chance like this.
He had gained a huge margin over Tim Reeves/Kevin Rousseau who simply did not get through the traffic as smoothly as Ellis. Phil Bell proved a hard nut to crack and fought tooth and nail in the top six for the opening laps. Eight times World Champion Reeves was to spend the early part of the race battling through, only to encounter Ricky Stevens and Jonny Allum on lap four. They were flying, but sadly capsized in a big way with six laps completed. It was good to see the green WPS Racing Kawasaki pairings of Stevens/Allum and Holland/Christie so much more in the mix. Both crews are clearly enjoying their racing again.
Tim then met up with former World Champion Benny Streuer and took a lap getting by his team-mate in the Bonovo Action camp. Despite Reeves now being in second position, Ellis was a long way down the road, and that would prove a step too far for the maestro.
Meanwhile, there was a championship to be won for Kershaw/Charlwood, and they were very aware that a safe finish would secure it. By half distance they had done enough, but not content they pushed on, making it to a safe fifth by lap twelve, and an eventual fourth when a red flag signalled the end of proceedings.
Simon Gilbert/Paul Thomas had gone out on lap two, Paivarinta/Clement on lap five, Stevens/Allum crashed on lap seven, George Holden and Oscar Lawrence had a big moment on lap twelve, and Ken Edwards was thrown heavily from Andy Peach’s outfit one lap later. The red flag was to safeguard Edwards who was concussed in the incident and was still on the track. Kershaw/Charlwood were crowned champions, Ellis and Richardson runners-up and Superprix victors, with Sam and Adam Christie rounding out a great season with third overall.
Race Two Result – 1/ Ellis/Richardson, 2/ Reeves/Rousseau, 3/ Streuer/de Haas, 4/ Kershaw/Charlwood (Champions), 5/ Blackstock/Rosney, 6/ Bell Connell,7/ Biggs/Schmitz, 8/ Holland/Christie, 9/ Philp/Bryant, 10/ Crawford/Hardie.
Molson Group Final Standings – Kershaw/Charlwood 193, Ellis/Richardson 170, Christie/Christie 130, Reeves/Rousseau 115, Bell/Sharpe/Connell 103, Blackstock/Rosney 101, Philp/Bryant 92, Stevens/Allum 83, Biggs/Schmitz 78, Holland/Pilmoor-Brady/Christie 60, Holden/Lowther 58, Kirk/Smithies 54.
Final 2020 Molson Group championship standings >>
Santander Salt International Superprix Overall result – Ellis/Richardson 99, Reeves/Rousseau 98, Streuer/de Haas 84, Schlosser/Fries 50, Cable/Masters 50, Archer/Chandler 45, Holden/Lowther 37, Nicholls/Mahl 30, Paivarinta/Clement 21.
Final 2020 International Sidecar Superprix standings >>