British F1: Birchalls prove hard to beat in Kent
A slightly smaller grid than normal due to a World Championship clash with Assen and one or two Covid related absentees, did nothing to detract from the quality of racing at Brands Hatch. The recent heatwave had abated slightly, but free practice was dry and warm, with the Birchall Brothers picking up where they left off at Oulton Park. They were over a second faster at the head, with Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant and the Christie Brothers close together and chasing. John Holden’s machine caught fire, damaging his feet in the process, but the BSB Marshalls did a great job extinguishing the worst of the flames.
Qualifying – The weather had cooled and clouded over for the one and only session. This would suit some and not others, but the Birchalls were on a mission from the word go. The Haith Honda was flying, and they banged in an early time two seconds ahead of the chasing pack.
They were not to be headed, and pole position was theirs for the taking. Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant, along with Sam and Adam Christie looked to be the most likely challengers, and there was nothing to choose between those two crews with ten minutes left on the clock.
Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies looked strong in fourth, as Lewis Blackstock sat in the pits. Three minutes to go and Blackstock had re-joined, moving fourth, with Tommy Philp and the Christie brothers closing the gap to the Birchalls to one and a half seconds. It was shaping up to be a four-horse race, with Scott Lawrie still in with a shout. Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde improved dramatically to record their best qualifying for a while as they claimed sixth fastest nearly four seconds back.
Race One – Race-day finally dawned wet and windy, but with the Saturday race postponed to Sunday lunchtime, conditions were virtually perfect by the time the teams lined up. From a safe pole position, the Birchall brothers fended off an early challenge from Tommy Philp and Tom Bryant before getting their heads down to never really be bothered again. It was a different matter behind though, and a three-way scrap developed between Philp/Bryant, the Christie brothers Sam and Adam, and Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney.
This was shaping up to be something special, and then Blackstock was out with a damaged sidecar wheel-arch, only for Tommy Philp to blow his engine one lap later. Eight laps pass very quickly, but their misfortune played into the hands of Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies, who moved into third and a podium place.
So, it was maximum points for Ben and Tom Birchall and an unblemished record thus far in the title chase. They posted a fastest lap less than one second outside their own lap record set in 2017.
1/ Ben/Tom Birchall (Haith Honda)
2/ Sam/Adam Christie (CES Yamaha)
3/ Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies (SLR Suzuki)
4/ Ben Holland/Tom Christie
5/ John Holden/Jason Pitt (Barnes Racing Adolf RS)
6/ Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde (Hannafin Adolf RS)
7/ Andy Peach/Ken Edwards (Life Safety Yamaha)
8/ Phil Bell/James Connell (Marin Motorsport Yamaha)
9/ George Holden/Oscar Lawrence (Holden Racing Suzuki)
10/ Simon Gilbert/Paul Thomas (G-Force Racing Adolf RS Yamaha).
Race Two – The reverse grid rule put Simon Gilbert/Paul Thomas on pole, with the Birchalls on row five alongside the Christie brothers. Even worse off were Tommy Philp and Tom Bryant two rows back and last crew on the grid. The first two or three laps were manic, with Phil Bell/Jimmy Connell having a good run at the front once they had made their way past Gilbert. George Holden/Oscar Lawrence were pit-lane starters once again, with loads of work ahead of them.
It took until lap four before the fast men were at the sharp end, but not before Ben Holland/Tom Christie and Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde had made their presence felt. There were five or six outfits ducking and diving at the front, with the Birchalls and Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney also in the mix. Holland and Archer were to continue their fight to the flag, gaining fifth and sixth places for their efforts.
Going well from row three, John Holden/Jason Pitt had overcome their earlier Adolf RS bonfire but were spun out when clipped by Gilbert. Then Simon Gilbert was out, followed three laps later by Holden.
But the charge through the field by Philp/Bryant was nothing short of sensational, and they were right at the sharp end by half-distance, challenging Blackstock, the Christies and Ben/Tom Birchall.
Philp meant business, even though by this time the Birchall brothers had a three second lead. Sadly, his day was to be ruined when he and Tom Bryant ended up in the gravel after they spun out. It was double disappointment for the Roberts Construction crew, but with Thruxton just one week away, there would be more chances.
Scott Lawrie is once again worthy of mention as he and Shelley Smithies made steady progress to eventually claim fourth place behind Blackstock/Rosney and the Christie brothers. Double wins for Ben and Tom Birchall assured their unbroken maximum points record.
Round Three comes from Thruxton July 30/August 1.
Photo credits: Jenny “Triker” Wells