British F1: Fast Thruxton and six not out for Birchalls
Cooler and mixed weather provided interesting racing conditions on what is widely acknowledged as one of the toughest tracks in the UK. With no FIM World round clash for the next two domestic championship weekends, there was a strong entry for both this, and the upcoming Cadwell Park Sidecar Revival. Fresh from success in Assen, Todd Ellis, reunited with Charlie Richardson for home rounds on the Santander Salt Yamaha, was determined to pick up where he left off when last on UK business.
Ben and Tom Birchall arrived at Thruxton on maximum points score from four races, with every intention of maintaining that unbroken record. Torrential rain fell immediately prior to free practice so all seventeen crews began the twenty-minute session on full wet tyres. Todd Ellis set the early pace in the wet, with Ben and Tom Birchall holding station second fastest. Given the weather was very showery, it was clear the situation would change by the time qualifying came around.
Ben Holland and Tom Christie were strong, along with Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney, the Christie brothers and Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant, who nipped fourth fastest at the very end behind Blackstock.
Qualifying – Heavy rain had indeed abated on Saturday morning, but damp patches persisted around the circuit. General tyre choice was slicks initially to see how things turned out!
At the front there were no surprises as World Championship class showed. The Birchalls and Ellis/Richardson ran neck and neck for most of the session. Tommy Philp and Tom Bryant, gaining confidence with every outing moved third, just as Ben/Tom Birchall set a phenomenal lap half a second inside their own lap record. Ellis at this precise time was in the pit, and just might have been caught napping. Blackstock/Rosney ousted Philp, with the Christie boys and Holland/Christie in the hunt on the lone Kawasaki.
In the closing stages, Rob Biggs moved his Santander Salt Yamaha fifth with a strong fourteenth lap only to be pipped at the post by Ben Holland. With Ellis still in pit lane, pole position went to Ben and Tom Birchall (Haith Honda). Blackstock and Philp made up row two, with Holland and Biggs forming row three.
The Holden family were on rows four and five respectively, with father John and the Christies just ahead of son George and Scott Lawrie completing row five.
Race One – In bright sunlight, twelve laps would be a daunting prospect for the three- wheelers. The sheer speed, the abrasive nature of the track and the right-handed bends which go on forever make life extremely difficult for passengers. Even the best are caught out on this unforgiving track, but that certainly was not the case for Ben and Tom Birchall. The Haith Honda pairing were unstoppable from the word go and established a massive lead as the race developed. The fight for second place was a totally different matter, with Todd Ellis/Charlie Richardson, Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant and Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney locked in a fierce struggle throughout.
Sam and Adam Christie were never far away in fifth, having their own scrap with John Holden/Jason Pitt as Holland and Archer sat just behind. Sadly, the popular Christie brothers were to part company on lap seven.
In fairness, the battles all down the order were worthy of note, and supreme as the Birchall brothers were, their light out front shone alone. The focus of the live television direction was very much on the incredible action behind. As the pack closed in on Todd Ellis, it became obvious four laps in that all was not well.
Ellis was off the pace and the pack were swarming all over him by half distance. That was when he pulled into pit lane, and it was game over. Chaz Richardson admitted afterwards that his long lay-off plus the arduous nature of the track, made it all a bit too much.
The mid-pack scrap was good, with Ben Holland/Tom Christie fighting hard with friends and paddock buddies Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde. John Holden/Jason Pitt had a brilliant ride to fourth place ahead of this battle to equal their best performance to date at Oulton Park. Phil Bell/Jimmy Connell pipped Andy Peach/Ken Edwards to seventh by a whisker, with new daddy Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst having his best ride.
The red flag came out when the Adam Christie came off exiting Church at frightening speed. He sustained breaks to an ankle and one hand, was hospitalised for the repairs, and to remove rubber debris from his injured hand. Our best wishes go to him for a speedy recovery.
1/ 1/ Ben Birchall (Haith Honda)
2/ Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant (Roberts Construction Yamaha)
3/ Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney (LCR Yamaha)
4/ John Holden/Jason Pitt (Barnes/Silicone Adolf RS Yamaha)
5/ Ben Holland/Tom Christie (LCR Kawasaki)
6/ Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde (Hannafin Adolf RS)
7/ Phil Bell/Jimmy Connell (Marin Motorsport Yamaha)
8/ Andy Peach/Ken Edwards (Lifesafety Yamaha)
9/ Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst (LCR Yamaha)
10/ Simon Gilbert/Paul Thomas (G Force Adolf RS).
Race Two – The reverse grid was set, and Simon Gilbert led the charge from pole position making an impressive fluorescent orange target at the front. Alongside them, new boys Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst started well but the traffic was swarming all over them on lap one. Todd Ellis/Chaz Richardson had decided to sit this one out given the first race experience, so they were reluctant spectators.
From row five, Ben and Tom Birchall initially had less success than Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant who very quickly were at the sharp end. Two laps in and Philp was fighting with Blackstock/Rosney before forcing to the front and breaking away, with the Birchalls bogged down in the traffic.
The action behind this scrap and mid-pack raged for half the race with notable performances by John Holden/Jason Pitt and Ben Holland/Tom Christie. Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies fought up from the back row to claim fifth at the flag behind Holden. This result moved them fourth in the table. Lap six saw slight contact between Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz and Andy Peach Ken Edwards resulting in Peach spinning and rolling over. Mercifully, both were none the worse for the experience. Rob Biggs was the first to check on the pair on the slow-down lap, and all is well between them. Once up with Philp, the Birchall boys chose the moment to pass, and when through, opened a six second margin almost matching their own lap record set earlier in the day.
The battle for second between Holden and Holland went the way of the burly local man by four one-hundredths of a second, giving Ben Holland/Tom Christie a debut podium.
Blackstock/Rosney appeared to have an issue after a hard bump over the chicane kerb, and they dropped to sixth ahead of Biggs/Schmitz and Phil Bell/Jimmy Connell. This was by far the best we have seen from Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant, who have now well and truly emerged as potential champions of the future. Three podiums from three finishes say it all.
1/ Ben/Tom Birchall
2/ Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant
3/ Ben Holland/Tom Christie
4/ John Holden/Jason Pitt
5/ Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies (Team SLR Suzuki LCR)
6/ Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney
7/ Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz
8/ Phil Bell/Jimmy Connell
9/ Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde
10/ Kevin Cable/Lee Watson (L&W Contractors Yamaha)
J Holden 61
G Holden 31
The next round is from The Cadwell Revival 6-8 August.
Photo credits: Jenny “Triker” Wells