British F1: Birchalls lead the way in Cheshire thriller with double top
For the first time in the modern era, the sidecars were treated to two races in the Oulton Park opener. After such a long lay-off, everyone was itching to get going, and the size of the entry reflected that enthusiasm.
A clash with the FIM World Championship in Hungary took three or four top crews out of the equation, but that did nothing to detract from the quality of the on-track action.
Qualifying – Early Friday morning and the sidecars were on track at eight-thirty. Initial times had the Christie brothers looking strong ahead of Ben and Tom Birchall, with Blackstock/Rosney and Holden/Pitt very much in the hunt.
A red flag and a shortened session due to Phil Bell/James Connell crashing spectacularly, with the Scottish passenger breaking a toe. Simon Gilbert/Paul Thomas also hit problems on the same lap. The stoppage resulted in the Birchalls claiming pole position from Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney and Sam/Adam Christie. These three crews were less than seven tenths of a second apart, with Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant a fine fourth fastest.
Race One – The lights were out, and it was game on as Blackstock/Rosney led the initial charge towards Old Hall, with two sets of brothers climbing all over them. There was a great start by a returning Scott Lawrie with Shelley Smithies alongside. They were to have a terrific race at constant speed displaying all the aggression and flair of the Scott Lawrie we know. That became the pattern of the race at the front with the added attraction of a flying Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant making their intentions clear moving into serious contention. They were to be right in the mix at the front throughout the race with a podium to show for their efforts. The young newcomers have a bright future and they meant to put that on show.
The Birchall brothers had quickly moved to the front, but they were hassled all the way lap after lap. The sight of the multiple TT winners and World Champions back on the long bike, this time Honda powered and carrying several experimental modifications was great to see. Despite numerous challenges from Blackstock/Rosney, several spirited lunges from Philp/Bryant, the ever-present Scott Lawrie, and a calculated attack by the Christie boys, the Mansfield duo raised their game, claimed a new lap record, and took an impressive victory.
Sadly, Lewis Blackstock was to retire the DHR/Express Tyres Yamaha with gremlins on lap six, just as Ben Holland/Tom Christie pitted their Kawasaki with problems of their own. The Christies made the most of the opportunity and consolidated their position.
While all this was going on at the front, there were equally fierce scraps in the chasing pack between John Holden/Jason Pitt and Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz. They were to claim fifth and sixth respectively with George Holden/Oscar Lawrence very impressive ahead of seasoned veterans Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde and Andy Peach/Ken Edwards. Credit must go to newcomers on long bikes Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst and Paul/Tom Kirby who scored points, and total sidecar virgin Craig Currie who with Justin Sharp, brought his Birchall Racing Yamaha home in eleventh place.
1/ Ben/Tom Birchall (Birchall Racing Honda LCR)
2/ Sam/Adam Christie (Christie Engineering Services Yamaha)
3/ Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant (Roberts Construction/Tops Autos Yamaha)
4/ Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies (SLR Suzuki)
5/ John Holden/Jason Pitt (Barnes Racing Adolf RS Yamaha),
6/ Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz (Santander Salt Yamaha)
7/ George Holden/Oscar Lawrence ( Holden Racing Suzuki)
8/ Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde (Hannafin Adolf RS Yamaha)
Race Two – The reverse grid always throws up exciting action, but how Ben and Tom Birchall managed to be in the lead half-way round the opening lap from tenth on the grid defies belief. Even before the race got underway, there was drama and some confusion on the grid. Simon Robinson and Mick Fairhurst had to push their failed outfit onto the grass from pole position. George Holden’s hand was in the air, and he was pushed into pit lane from where he was obliged to start. Tommy Philp used the three minutes grace to remove his fairing and tweak a problem, and all before the lights went out for a reduced ten-lapper.
Once away though, mayhem ruled for half a lap before the quick men worked through the pack. Phil Bell and James Connell were quickly to retire, joining Simon Gilbert and Simon Robinson as spectators. As stated, the Birchalls hit the front half-way round the lap, with Blackstock and Rosney following them through, albeit a few places back. John Holden/Jason Pitt, Sam/Adam Christie and Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz all did a good job fighting through, with Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies having another fast, consistent ride.
Mid-race distance and the Birchall Honda moved away, opening a gap which was to be ten seconds at the flag and set yet another lap record in the process. Tommy Philp was to retire two laps from the end, having got really mixed up in the traffic, but the twelve finishers included a strong seventh for Andy Peach/Ken Edwards, solid eighth and important points for Holland/Christie, and an extremely good ride for newcomers Craig Currie/Justin Sharp. Paul/Tom Kirby who entered as wild cards, did themselves proud but took no points. Craig Clarke and Peter Ensor, from being upside down in practice, can also be proud of their two points scoring rides, as they came home in tenth.
1/ Ben/Tom Birchall
2/ Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney
3/ Sam/Adam Christie
4/ John Holden/Jason Pitt
5/ Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz
6/ Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies
7/ Andy Peach/Ken Edwards,
8/ Ben Holland/Tom Christie
9/ Craig Currie/Justin Sharp,
10/ Craig Clarke/Peter Ensor
Championship standings –
The next round comes from Brands Hatch 23-25th July.