Fresh from double victory in the German national championship in which they defeated main rivals Tim Reeves and Markus Schlosser, Todd Ellis and Emmanuelle Clement had every reason to feel buoyant ahead of this home series round. In free practice, it became clear this would be a renewal of the battle between the Santander Salt pairing, and the Haith Honda of Ben and Tom Birchall. They had edged free practice by seven one-hundredths of a second.
Qualifying – The weather brightened up just in time and was much warmer as the session began. With the first race later in the day, and no warm-up prior, this sole twenty-minute qualifier was essential on all counts.
The 2019 British Champion went straight out to the top of the timesheets, with the Birchalls playing a waiting game.
Lewis Blackstock and Paddy Rosney continues their rich vein of form from Cadwell missing out by just seven tenths from the early leaders.
Four laps in and the Birchalls were third but looking fast and safe as they moved up a gear to find the missing one second. Behind these top three, there was a real fight between Biggs/Schmitz and Holland/Christie.
Next came a similar scrap involving Holden Senior, Scott Lawrie, Rupert Archer and Phil Bell.
Holland and Lawrie shared row three, with Archer/Bell making up row four. Ellis was well inside his own lap record pace, as Ben Birchall eclipsed that time with five minutes left. Ellis pitted, and when he resumed he was looking to find almost half a second. Biggs moved fourth pushing Ben Holland back, as Blackstock grimly sat third with a good cushion.
That’s how it finished, with the two rivals sharing the front row three tenths apart.
Race One – Lights out and the Birchall Honda flew off the line chased by Ellis/Clement. Lewis Blackstock put his nose between them on the run to turn one, but he was denied second place by a determined Ellis.
These three teams quickly established their place at the front, with Ellis climbing all over the back of the race leaders. The Santander Salt Yamaha had the sidecar wheel across the grass and into the dust on lap two, such was his eagerness to get on terms.
Sadly, on lap three the Santander Salt Yamaha was out of the running with a loose final drive sprocket. This was an unusually rare occurrence, and one which was infinitely better confined to this event, rather than a World Championship round.
That left Ben and Tom Birchall to clear off into the distance compounding their advantage by almost two seconds each lap.
Blackstock and Rosney were never threatened in runner-up spot and once Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz established third, that is where they stayed, Ben Holland/Tom Christie ran strongly early on but were to hit problems and drop right down the order.
There was drama aplenty behind though, with Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies taking to the rough stuff with their Yamaha, Andy Peach/Ken Edwards pitting with mechanical problems and Brian Gray shedding passenger Rick Lawrence at the Murrays left-hander.
The most interesting battle raged all race between Phil Bell and John Holden for fourth. Bell and Connell prevailed for a strong finish and best result of the year so far. A recovering Craig Currie/Justin Sharpe backed up Ben Birchalls victory with a strong seventh on their first outing for several weeks.
1/ Ben/Tom Birchall (Haith Honda)
2/ Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney (DHR/Express Tyre Service Yamaha)
3/ Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz (Santander Salt Yamaha)
4/ Phil Bell/Jimmy Connell (Marin Motorsport Yamaha)
5/ John Holden/Jason Pitt (Barnes/Silicone Adolf RS Yamaha)
6/ Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde (Hannafin Adolf RS Yamaha)
7/ Craig Currie/Justin Sharpe (Birchall Racing Yamaha)
8/ George Holden/Oscar Lawrence (Holden Racing Suzuki)
9/ Kevin Cable/Lee Watson (L&W Contractors Yamaha)
10/ Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies (SLR Yamaha)
Race Two – The reverse grid always throws up excitement, and there was some of that on the opening laps. The Birchall brothers started from row five, and Ellis/Clement from the back of the grid. Pole sitter Scott Lawrie and Shelley Smithies had a great start into the lead and held that place until the Birchalls caught them up on lap three. Sadly, Lawrie was to retire close to the end of the race, but he and Shelley Smithies showed what they could do once again. They have had a good season – if a somewhat eventful one.
Ellis/Clement were less fortunate than the Birchalls, getting bogged down in traffic, one of which was Ben Birchalls’ team-mates Craig Currie and Justin Sharpe. Considering his recent confinement with Covid, Craig held up well and was strong until the closing stages claiming eighth at the flag.
The TV cameras focussed on several individual battles, one of which was a really good scrap between Blackstock/Rosney and Biggs/Schmitz. It would be a tough task to get the better of the DHR/Express Tyre Yamaha, but Biggs was determined and stuck to his guns. The result was a second podium, just three tenths ahead of his rival.
John Holden and Jason Pitt had another good solid ride, keeping Phil Bell at bay this time and moving to third in the standings ahead of a fighting Ben Holland. The gap at the front was slightly less than three seconds going into the final lap, but Birchall had enough up his sleeve to bring it home with a safe margin ahead of Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement and a new lap record to boot. Both Birchall and Ellis smashed the record with lap times, just four one hundredths apart. It was therefore a double podium for Santander Salt with Ellis and Biggs all smiles. Despite the two at the front clearing off, the scraps further down the order were entertaining and did the image of sidecar racing no harm at all.
The only other retirement was Andy Peach who took an early bath on lap two.
1/ Ben/Tom Birchall
2/ Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement (Santander Salt Yamaha)
3/ Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz
4/ Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney
5/ John Holden/Jason Pitt
6/ Phil Bell/Jimmy Connell
7/ Ben Holland/Tom Christie
8/ Craig Currie/Justin Sharpe
9/ Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde
10/ Kevin Cable/Lee Watson
J Holden 138
G Holden 87
The next round comes from Donington Park 1-3 October.
Photo credits: Jenny “Triker” Wells