The huge crowd at the Donington Park World SBK round witnessed stunning action from the Superside teams on one of the hottest weekends of the year.
Twelve crews had firm entries for this crucial Donington event, but UK Border Control officials eliminated French father and son team Ted and Vincent Peugeot before they even left France. Young Ted was prohibited from travelling due to his passport not having enough “safety margin”, in that it expired a matter of weeks from his due travel date. Once again, post Brexit legislation dealt a blow to sport, and to a particularly talented but cash-strapped crew.
We were then left with eleven hungry teams including the sole remaining French crew, former National Champion Pierre Leguen and young passenger Leopold Rouby.
Two Swiss and one Dutch team, along with no fewer than seven British teams completed the line-up. Looking at the list, and based on previous showings, we could expect a battle royal between series leaders Ellis/Clement, defending champions Schlosser/Fries, rapidly improving Kershaw/Charlwood, former champions Benny Streuer/Kevin Kolsch and Payne/Wilkes.
Santander Salt’s Rob Biggs/Jake Lowther could well find themselves mixing it with Sam and Tom Christie, and Kevin Cable/Charlie Richardson. Leguen/Rouby and Rupert Archer/Steve Thomas could also be well in touch. Cable had contested every round thus far in the series with noticeable benefits to his form. They arrived at Donington in the top ten of the standings, with every possibility of moving eighth. It remained to be seen if my speculative assumptions would be fulfilled in free practice and qualifying.
Free practice saw Harry Payne/Mark Wilkes (DAO1886 Yamaha) turn in a storming lap to record fastest time ahead of Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement and Markus Schlosser/Marcel Fries. Steve Kershaw/Ryan Charlwood were obliged to sit out the session after their outfit died with a bent valve, on the opening lap.
Two sessions late on Friday set the standard for what was bound to be a great weekend of racing. Early clouds had lifted and apart from a stiff breeze, conditions were warm and perfect for both twenty-minute periods. The temperature was just shy of twenty-two degrees, so all was good.
Todd Ellis set the early standard from Benny Streuer but with a long way to go. Kershaw had a disaster and was back in pit-lane after just one lap. Kevin Cable also hit trouble and he too was in pit lane – fairing off. Kershaw was obliged to go back to base to try to solve the problem which turned out to be a faulty clutch. Cable’s fault was not immediately resolved, so he looked like missing out.
Todd Ellis still sat fastest towards the end of the first session with a time of 1.36.275, but others were scratching their heads. Harry Payne and Mark Wilkes were next just over one tenth adrift, from Schlosser/Fries, Sam/Tom Christie, and Benny Streuer. Rob Biggs and Lukas Wyssen were also split by just one tenth. There was every chance we would see a new lap record set in the race.
Session two and those who were unlucky had a second bite of the cherry. The French duo of Leguen/Rouby had work to do to make the grid. This they did, albeit some seconds off the lead pace. Kevin Cable would be obliged to start at the back of the grid. His mysterious electrical fault not completely diagnosed but apparently resolved by changing a sensor.
Schlosser started well, clearly realizing he needed to get cracking this time around. He continued the momentum, sharing the front row with Ellis who then got very close to the magic number with a 1.36.087. This was well inside lap record pace and would be hard to beat.
Kershaw/Charlwood did well, given they had not completed a full lap before this session, moving fourth fastest. At this rate, the Santander Salt team of Ellis/Clement could feel optimistic, with a time almost three tenths ahead of the defending champions. Payne/Wilkes headed row two in third, with the Christie brothers a strong fifth ahead of Streuer/Kolsch.
The wind had subsided with the ambient temperature in the mid-twenties as the lights went out. The track was significantly hotter, so the Avon slicks would be tested to the limit over the eighteen-lap race distance. From the lights, Markus Schlosser grabbed the lead into Redgate, but Ellis/Clement were in front by the end of the lap. Behind, a battle raged with the Christie brothers and Harry Payne/Mark Wilkes, with the Christies shooting into second place, only to lose out again to Payne/Wilkes and Steve Kershaw/Ryan Charlwood.
Bennie Streuer and Lukas Wyssen were locked together fighting for sixth place chased by Rob Biggs/Jake Lowther. Then came Kevin Cable/Charlie Richardson, Archer/Thomas and Leguen/Rouby. This format stayed the same for several laps as the teams fought for supremacy in blisteringly hot conditions.
The top three were still all within one second as they commenced lap nine, with Kershaw sitting third on the Quattro Yamaha. Payne/Wilkes were safe in fourth six seconds clear of Sam and Tom Christie.
Ellis’s title margin coming into the race was sixteen points, and he was intent on increasing that. Judging by the body language of the Swiss Schlosser, he had other ideas.
It was still a four-horse race at the front as Payne/Wilkes kept the pressure on third-placed Kershaw. The Scot then banged in the fastest lap of the race, setting a new lap record to move even closer.
Lap fifteen and the gap was two tenths at the front, with Schlosser/Fries now getting to grips with Ellis/Clement. The Swiss pair were desperately keen to steal five points off the series leaders.
Two laps to go and the top three were close and bunched up as they approached tailenders. Kershaw had a lunge at Schlosser into the Melbourne hairpin. That cost him time and back-fired somewhat. Into the final lap, and Ellis had extended his lead to seven tenths over Schlosser with Kershaw dropping back slightly to finish a safe third.
Exiting Goddard’s for the final time, Schlosser had the drive and closed Ellis on the run to the line, but Ellis prevailed for victory.
This was a fine display of sidecar racing between the top four, and good racing all the way down the field. Ellis moved further ahead by five points, and was now back in charge, with a twenty-one-point edge. Benny Streuer did not seem totally at home and would be hoping for a better run out in race two, whilst Kevin Cable was happy to come home with a good score after the nerves of qualifying. Rob Biggs and Jake Lowther debut run together is worthy of recognition, given that was the longest and hottest race the new passenger had endured, and Rob was suffering with seat issues in the bike, not being able to get comfortable. The amiable Pierre Leguen and Leopold Rouby collected six solid points in their first season on a long chassis.
Rupert Archer and Steve Thomas had a problem and pulled the Hannafin Yamaha into pit lane with two laps remaining.
1/ Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement (Santander Salt Yamaha), 2/ Markus Schlosser/Marcel Fries (Gustoil Yamaha), 3/ Steve Kershaw/Ryan Charlwood (Quattro Yamaha), 4/ Harry Payne/Mark Wilkes (DAO1886 Yamaha), 5/ Sam and Tom Christie (CES Yamaha), 6/ Benny Streuer/Kevin Kolsch (Bonovo Action Yamaha), 7/ Lukas Wyssen Thomas Hofer (Gustoil RS Yamaha), 8/ Rob Biggs/Jake Lowther (Santander Salt), 9/ Kevin Cable/Charlie Richardson (L&W Contractors Yamaha),
10/ Pierre Leguen/Leopold Rouby (Suzuki),
DNF (Rupert Archer/Steve Thomas (Hannafin RS Yamaha)
Even hotter weather greeted the teams for this one. In the middle of the afternoon on Sunday, a peak crowd were trackside to watch the action. What they saw could arguably be described as the best race of the season.
The lights went out and the chase to Redgate was on, with an extra bonus of a £2000.00 winner’s prize donated by Harry Payne’s sponsor DAO1886 Bar from the Isle of Man. The teams did not know this even as they lined up.
Schlosser hit turn one first, but ran wide out of Hollywood, allowing Ellis, and then Payne through. Kershaw as next, so by lap two, the defending champion found himself fourth.
Harry Payne led at this point, forcing past Ellis as if he knew about the financial reward.
Close on them came the Christie brothers, Lukas Wyssen, Rob Biggs, Rupert Archer, Kevin Cable, and Pierre Leguen bringing up the rear. The Suzuki was down on speed, but the Frenchmen were having a great weekend in the Donington sun.
Benny Streuer had lost his passenger Kevin Kolsch at the hairpin so with just one lap completed, they were out of it. Apart from a cut wrist, Kolsch was fine.
Ellis moved ahead and this formation stayed the same for several laps with Markus Schlosser/Marcel Fries striving to get on terms with the front three. This front trio were hard at it, with nothing between them, as the convoy streamed out behind.
For the next six laps, it was breathtaking stuff as they climbed all over each other, opening a gap from Sam/Tom Christie who were brilliantly consistent throughout. Dramatically, Kershaw stole the lead on lap seven and then the fight was on. He and Ellis swapped places at least three times, maybe four in the ensuing laps, giving the best possible display of top-class sidecar racing. The crowd was on its toes with this dramatic action.
Lap eight, and Payne/Wilkes set the fastest lap of 1.36.341 fractionally outside Steve Kershaw/Ryan Charlwood’s earlier lap record. The Manx-based duo were riding well and had arrived in style.
Biggs/Lowther were out next lap, with Archer/Thomas also pitting one lap later.
Still the battle raged at the front, switching this way and that, with Schlosser unable to improve his position. Then, it was all over for the Swiss crew as they too retired with twelve laps done. Into the eighteenth and final lap, Kershaw had to defend every inch of Donington, shutting the door at each turn to keep Ellis/Clement at bay. This they did, taking one of the hardest fought victories of their career, certainly on the world stage. The Quattro team celebrated, and the thousands of fans around the track showed their appreciation. With Schlosser’s retirement, came a big safety margin for Ellis/Clement at the head of the table. But the title race still has it all on the table, as the grand finale in Estoril, Portugal, carries double points for both races.
The seven crews who finished all earned solid scores, strengthening championship positions, and enhancing individual reputations. In what could have been a lame showing on the world stage, all competing teams went away from Donington knowing they had delivered great entertainment rivalling anything that transpired that weekend.
1/ Kershaw/Charlwood, 2/ Ellis/Clement, 3/ Payne/Wilkes, 4/ Christie/Christie,
5/ Wyssen/Hofer, 6/Cable/Richardson, 7/ Leguen/Rouby
DNF not classified – Streuer/Biggs/Archer/Schlosser.
Payne Wilkes 102
Cable Richardson 66
Official full standings will be available on the FIM website.
The next round comes from Oschersleben, Germany Sept 30-Oct 2.
Photo credit: Mark ‘Wally’ Walters