British F1: Dramatic end to season at Brands with Birchalls already champions
The late cancellation of the FIM World Championship entry at Brands Hatch freed up some top names to race alongside the Molson regulars as wild cards. Reigning British Champion Steve Kershaw with Ryan Charlwood made an appearance on that basis.
Other top teams had registered for both series, so were eligible to score points. Among those crews were Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement, currently lying second in the world rankings. With double points on offer in this final round, they had a good opportunity to make the Birchall Brother’s lead look less dominant, although they too would be going for glory. Also on the race card were Kevin Cable and Kyle Masters, having enjoyed their foreign trips, now back to score British points. Also falling into this category were Ellis’s Santander Salt teammates Rob Biggs and Jeroen Schmitz.
There was a distinct chill in the air late on Friday afternoon ahead of this one and only twenty-five-minute session. The Birchall Brothers had moved within half a second of lap record pace in free practice, narrowly ahead of Ellis/Clement.
After a quick opening lap by Kershaw/Charlwood, the Birchall brothers banged in a good time to go top. An immediate response by Ellis/Clement saw a pattern begin to unfold of two teams at the top of their game, vying for pole position. Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney were right in the mix with the top two, reflecting their runner-up spot in the standings.
Suddenly, with four laps done, the Birchalls were below lap-record pace, with the Haith Honda flying. Their time allowed them to sit out the session, with Todd Ellis reeling off lap after lap to come within nine-tenths of what was a special lap. Blackstock/Rosney were third from Kershaw/Charlwood and Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies.
There was no stopping Ben and Tom Birchall in this one for the early laps. Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney, Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement and Steve Kershaw/Ryan Charlwood were magnificent in pursuit, hardly split throughout the race. The Haith Honda of the Birchalls was over two seconds clear within three laps and going away. They set a new lap record on lap three and then in lap five, they were out with a mechanical problem which turned out to be a split exhaust.
This left a fantastic three-way battle between three of the best crews in Britain. Steve Kershaw was lapping close to lap-record pace, and he was not about to give up the lead. Toss Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement were climbing all over the back of the number twenty-nine outfit, but that was all they could do. Their Yamaha was running rich, so not at its best. Blackstock/Rosney were still in touch, just half a second off the lead. Behind them a great race between Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies and Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz saw both outfits touch and spit simultaneously but re-joined to finish fourth and fifth.
Kershaw/Charlwood were back on top of the podium, with Ellis earning a good bag of points for the championship table.
This outing was fraught with incidents but there was plenty of action. With a reverse grid, and Ben/Tom Birchall starting from the back, it was very busy indeed with outfits swarming all over each other to make up places.
The first lap was hectic, but Ellis/Clement made it through the pack very well in pursuit of the early leaders. Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst made the most of pole position and proved difficult to pass and kept a good pace going. Further down the order, a massive coming together between John Holden/Jason Pitt and Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney brought out first the safety car, and shortly after, a red flag brought proceedings to a halt. With only two laps completed, a new re-run over five laps, using the original grid was declared.
This was another frantic start, and Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst gave another good account of themselves, as did Craig Currie/Justin Sharpe, but a great move by Todd Ellis saw him launch the Santander Salt Yamaha to the fore.
Kershaw/Charlwood and Lee Crawford/Scott Hardie went with them, as the Birchall Brothers made headway through the pack fighting to fifth on lap three.
Scott Lawrie/Shelley Smithies did not complete a lap, Phil Bell/Jimmy Connell retired the Marin Motorsport Yamaha on lap two, and then on lap four, another huge crash at Surtees took out Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde and Kevin Cable/Kyle Masters. Another red flag signalled a result at the conclusion of lap three.
No fewer than four of the battered teams were treated in the Medical Centre, with two members taken to hospital for further assessment.
At the time of going to press, no further details were available, but all at RKB-F1 wish the wounded parties well for a speedy recovery.
1/ Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement (Santander Salt Yamaha)
2/ Steve Kershaw/Ryan Charlwood (Kershaw Racing Yamaha)
3/ Lee Crawford/Scott Hardie (ARC Kawasaki)
4/ Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst (24seven Couriers Yamaha)
5/ Ben/Tom Birchall (Haith Honda)
6/ Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz (Santander Salt Yamaha)
7/ Craig Currie/Justin Sharpe (Birchall Yamaha)
8/ Brian Gray/Sarah Stokoe (Yamaha)
Photo credits: Jenny “Triker” Wells