British F1: One apiece for Birchalls and Ellis/Clement at sunny Snetterton
There was a sombre mood across the paddock early on Friday morning following the announcement of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the previous evening. The MSVR organisers moved back the start time for Friday practice and scheduled an hour of “quiet period” at lunch time during which no engines would be run or track activity take place. Given the series’ title is “The British Superbike Championship” these measures were entirely appropriate.
Happily, there were several more teams present than in previous rounds, so we were looking forward to a busy weekend and close racing. Free practice across most classes took place in mixed weather conditions, but it was dry with patchy sun for the one sidecar session late on Friday afternoon.
Ben and Tom Birchall (Birchall Racing Haith Honda), along with series leaders Todd Ellis and Emmanuelle Clement (Santander Salt Yamaha) headed the field in the early stages of free practice, but well shy of lap record pace. Half-distance and Ellis took out another second, gathering pace and momentum all the time. The top four regulars ran fastest with the added interest of the Birchall Brothers high on the list as we might have expected, with newcomers Luke Williams/Jason Pitt the best of the rest. Already this was pointing towards a Birchall versus Ellis battle but qualifying would show the real picture. The Christie brothers (CES Yamaha), and Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney (Express Tyre Services Yamaha) sporting Dao 1886 livery, were strong in contention ahead of George Holden/Oscar Lawrence. Luke Williams sneaked ahead of Holden with three minutes left on the clock.
The weather was dull and grey early morning but improved as the day unfolded. By the time the sidecars got out for qualifying, the sun had dried the track in parts, but there were still tricky areas to be mindful of.
Craig Currie was late to the start and was almost locked out of the session but scraped in through a side gate to make his mark.
Coram, the fast right-hander towards the end of the lap, was wet, and caught out several teams, with Todd Ellis spinning at high speed, and the Birchall brothers doing the same twice. Both teams avoided contact with anything, but the same is not true of George Holden/Oscar Lawrence who locked up under the bridge and totally wrecked the bike, hitting the barrier hard.
The expected clash between the Birchalls and Todd Ellis did eventually materialise, with the Honda of Birchall on top of the pile in the closing stages. As conditions improved, Ellis/Clement upped the pace, claiming pole position by over one tenth of a second on their final flying lap. The time of 2.00.974 was way off lap-record pace, but conditions were far from ideal for record speeds. Ben and Tom Birchall would join them on the front row. The Christie brothers were next up, with Blackstock/Rosney close behind. Then newcomers Luke Williams/Jason Pitt headed Craig Currie/Justin Sharp for fifth and sixth. Andy Peach and Anthony Hildige had a great ride to lead Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde home for seventh and eighth fastest.
The sun was very low in the sky as the lights went out, so much so, that Ben Birchall didnot get a clear view and almost missed the boat. He was fourth away as the others moved and had to fight back as a result. Ellis/Clement got a flyer and took the lead into Riches.
Sam and Tom Christie went with them, with Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney holding the Birchalls at bay for the early part of the lap. They quickly moved third, but the Christie brothers were a harder nut to crack. Once past them, Ben and Tom set after the race leaders and the two crews had a good scrap, with the Haith Honda determined to find a way past. Todd Ellis kept his cool, even when Ben Birchall came alongside at Riches as a dress rehearsal. Next lap he tried the same move, got his nose in front, went a little bit sideways and Ellis clipped the rear of the Honda. Both outfits slewed, with Ellis/Clement taking to the grass on the exit. They spent the rest of the race recovering and closing on the new leaders. They were close at the end, but the chance had gone. On their way to victory the Birchall brothers claimed the fastest lap, albeit outside their own lap record. Behind, the Christies were never far off the back, staying within five seconds of the two leaders the entire race. Blackstock and Rosney took the Express Tyre Services Yamaha to another solid fourth.
Andy Peach with Anthony Hildige alongside, had arguably his best race this season, and enjoyed a good battle mid-pack finishing sixth, with Rupert Archer also part of that action until he retired. Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst, from the back row fought through well and were looking impressive. Sadly, they too, were to expire into pit lane once more. There were decent scraps all the way down, with Craig Currie/Justin Sharp ten seconds behind Peach, having overhauled Kevin Cable/Chaz Richardson.
1/ Birchall/Birchall (Haith Honda)
2/ Ellis/Clement (Santander Salt Yamaha)
3/ Christie/Christie (CES Yamaha)
4/ Blackstock/Rosney (DHR/Express Tyre Services Yamaha)
5/ Luke Williams/Jason Pitt (Williams Yamaha)
6/ Andy Peach/Anthony Hildige (Lifesafety Yamaha)
7/ Craig Currie/Justin Sharp (Birchall Racing Honda)
8/ Kevin Cable/Charlie Richardson (L&W Contractors Yamaha)
9/ Craig Clarke/Peter Ensor (Centurion Packaging Honda)
10/ Craig Hauxwell/Derek Taylor (Vinyls 4U Adolf RS)
The sun was out again on Sunday, and there was a score to be settled. A reverse grid always throws up an interesting race and this one was another cracker.
Kevin Cable/Charlie Richardson dived through from row two as the lights went out to lead off the line. It was short lived, as they were three abreast into Riches for the first time, with Andy Peach/Anthony Hildige also getting a flyer to nose alongside on the exit. Sam and Tom Christie were very quick to establish their place at the front, making a great start to lead at the end of lap one. The opening lap was crazily busy with outfits swarming right and left to make the most of the advantage. Half-way round the lap, Luke Williams and Jason Pitt lost the back end, spun, and capsized without injury. Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement meanwhile, had fought through from row five, weaving through the lead bunch, taking the Birchall brothers with them two outfits back.
Ben and Tom were third on lap two, moving past the Christies one lap later. Also riding well were Lewis Blackstock and Paddy Rosney who made it through to fifth, and into fourth shortly after.
The pattern was then set for the race, with Ellis/Clement out in front from Birchall/Birchall, and the Christies chasing in a strong third, from Blackstock/Rosney.
Dean Nicholls had a problem at the back of the grid and slowed. They ran in eleventh for the entire race, eventually retiring on lap nine ahead of Craig Hauxwell/Derek Taylor. Craig Currie/Justin Sharp moved up one place from their start position, but whilst enjoying a good scrap with Andy Peach and Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst, were unable to improve beyond sixth, until the final lap when an intermittent problem slowed the Christies and dropped them down to seventh ahead of Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde. The Beverly based team suspected a quick-shifter issue, so will have that sorted for the next round. Sadly, they did not need to drop points at this stage, but at least they finished and maintained a full house of scores. Currie/Sharp, along with Simon Robinson and everyone else behind the CES Yamaha, profited from the Christies’ misfortune. Most delighted were Lewis Blackstock and Paddy Rosney who took the Express Tyre Services Yamaha with its new Dao1886 livery to their first podium since early August at the Cadwell Revival.
Kevin Cable meanwhile had been very active in scrapping with the Honda of Craig Clarke/Peter Ensor to finish ninth and tenth respectively.
This was yet another best performance by Andy Peach (Lifesafety Yamaha) in many races, and he was to end up fourth within sight of sixth place in the standings. At the front, Ellis/Clement never looked back, opening a two second margin at one point, but that was shaved down to under one second on the final lap, with the Birchalls again setting the fastest lap of the race on their way to runner-up spot.
On a sad and sombre weekend, the sidecars gave a thoroughly entertaining and disciplined display, covered live on the Eurosport App/Player. Both races will be available shortly on the RKB-F1 YouTube channel.
The next and penultimate round is at Donington Park – September 30/October 2.
Photo credits: Barry Clay