The stage was set, the players were ready to rock, and Brands Hatch held its breath for the final two races of 2019. With double points on the table, finishing both races would be crucial for the two championship protagonists. Steve Kershaw and Stuart Clark trailed their young team-mate Todd Ellis and his experienced passenger Charlie Richardson by just thirty points ahead of this final round, so every turn of the wheel would be vital for both crews.
Qualifying – Late on Friday afternoon, under leaden skies, the serious business got underway. Twenty-two outfits from the thirty registered took to the track for the twenty minute session, with track conditions less than ideal.
Even so, the championship leaders Todd Ellis and Chaz Richardson set the early pace two seconds off lap record speed, with the two SBR machines of Blackstock/Rosney and Holden/Cain close on their heels. With two minutes left in the session, Chris Walker and Ashley Hawes put the TAG Yamaha third, ahead of Ben Holland/Lee Watson (JG Speedfit/Quattro Plant Kawasaki). Steve Kershaw and Stuart Clark completed only four laps before spending the rest of the session in trouble with a rear wheel puncture, and eventually in pit-lane. They would start from row six. Pole position it was then for the series leaders on the Santander Salt Honda, from Holden/Cain and Walker heading up row two alongside Ben Holland.
Race one – Lunchtime on Saturday and sunny weather gave the perfect platform for the penultimate race, with defending champions Kershaw/Clark chasing a thirty-point deficit from row six. This was a ten-lap race with plenty of time for the Molson/Express Tyres Yamaha to make it through the field.
From the lights the pole men Ellis and Richardson streaked into a lead they were never to surrender. Double points meant they were on target for a fifty-point maximum, and that is exactly what they did. Further back, Kershaw and Clark had their work cut out to make headway, but they gained three places on lap one, before getting stuck in with typically grim determination.
In general terms, they passed one crew each lap, moving second on lap eight, with a seven-second deficit from the race leaders. Meanwhile, as Kershaw made his way through, there was a thrilling battle between John Holden/Lee Cain, Chris Walker/Ashley Hawes, and Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney. These three outfits scrapped tooth and nail, making life hard for the defending champion’s fight through the field.
Another outstanding ride by newcomers Tommy Philp and Tom Bryant saw them take the Brian Gray Powerbiking Yamaha to sixth place ahead of two Honda CBR600’s ridden by Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz and legendary Honda engine builder Gary Bryan/Phil Hyde.
All three Honda outfits, including the eleven times race winners Ellis/Richardson’s are prepared by Bryan, and his record for reliability is second to none.
Kershaw and Clark’s fight through the field to second place kept the title chase alive until the very final race albeit with a twenty-point margin.
Race One Result – 1/ Ellis/Richardson (Santander Salt Honda), 2/ Kershaw/Clark (Molson/Express Tyres Yamaha), 3/ Holden/Cain (SBR Kawasaki), 4/ Blackstock/Rosney (SBR Yamaha), 5/ Walker/Hawes (TAG Racing Yamaha), 6/ Philp/Bryant (Brian Gray Powerbiking Yamaha), 7/ Biggs/Schmitz (Taurus Tools Honda), 8/ Bryan/Hyde (GBR Honda), 9/ Gray/Pitt (Brian Gray Yamaha), 10/ Crowe/Crowe (Northern Fuel Yamaha).
Race Two – Steve Kershaw and Stuart Clark could have done no more than they actually did in the final race of the season. With the reverse grid in place, both they and Ellis Richardson were down on row five, with it all to do.
Ryan and Callum Crowe (Northern Fuels Yamaha), making a rare appearance, sat pole, and got a flying start as a result. They were trailed by first Gary Bryan and Phil Hyde, then Tommy Philp and Tom Bryant, but not for long. The newcomers to the series have already shown an incredible turn of speed, and they did it again. This time, the Brian Gray Powerbiking Yamaha of Philp/Bryant fought at the front throughout, and they were rewarded with an amazing podium for their efforts.
Such was the pace at the front, that the two championship contenders had real problems fighting through. Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz were in the thick of the action as always, locked in this top six scrap.
Chris Walker and Ashley Hawes renewed their fight with Lewis Blackstock and Paddy Rosney, with SBR Kawasaki’s John Holden/Lee Cain making good progress behind them. They were eventually to bring their matching outfits home line astern in that order. Bit by bit, the Crowe brothers slipped back, but did not give in easily, making it to a fine sixth place in exalted company. The Hudspeth Flooring assisted pair did very well on the big stage, and should show their skills more often in this series.
Kershaw and Ellis were line astern fighting through, eventually muscling to the front, although Tommy Philp was a hard nut to crack.
Chris Walker was destined to move into a strong final position, but the cruellest of luck saw the TAG Racing Yamaha out on the final lap with clutch trouble. Walker and Hawes had more than shown what they are capable of, so roll on next season for them.
Gary Bryan and Phil Hyde, after a bit of contact, ended up in ninth, but as already said, Bryan has the distinction of preparing the engines of the three Honda CBR’s in the top six overall. Rob Biggs and Jeroen Schmitz on one of those Honda’s, can be justly proud of their season, with fast and consistent results.
There were however, only two crews who had an unblemished season. Ellis and Richardson lifted the title with eleven victories and points every round, whilst Kevin Cable and Kyle Masters also had a flawless campaign, scoring every single round and winding up in twelfth place for their efforts. On the down-side, it must have been the saddest of days for the Stalker Walker, who actually was headed for fourth overall before the clutch gremlins struck.
Kershaw was magnanimous in defeat, and is now focussed on 2020, when he, along with Ellis and others, plans to target a world championship campaign, also returning to try to reclaim his British Crown.
Race Two Results – 1/ Kershaw/Clark, 2/ Ellis/Richardson, 3/ Philp/Bryant, 4/ Blackstock/Rosney, 5/ Holden/Cain, 6/ Crowe/Crowe, 7/ Biggs/Schmitz, 8/ Gray/Pitt, 9/ Bryan/Hyde, 10/ Peach/Edwards
Standings – Ellis/Richardson (Champions) 476, Kershaw/Clark 446, Blackstock/Rosney 236, Holden/Cain 197, Bryan/Hyde 190, Biggs/Schmitz 186, Walker/Hawes 172, Stevens/Charlwood 155, Gray/Pitt 147, Kirk/Smithies 110, Peach/Edwards 108, Cable/Masters 104.
Video Highlights of this round will appear shortly on www.rkb-f1-sidecars.com