British F1: Ellis/Clement turn up the heat at thrilling Thruxton
The tropical conditions continued as the Molson Group sidecars arrived in Hampshire for the half-way mark in the 2022 season. This round is one of the toughest on the calendar due to the unforgiving speeds and cornering forces. This would prove to be a crucial test for the top runners, with Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement carrying an eleven-point lead over Sam/Tom Christie who in turn were a further sixteen points clear of Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney.
The one session went the way of the series leaders as expected. Ellis/Clement have earned the respect of the entire paddock and rightly so. The lap record held by Ben and Tom Birchall was bettered by the Santander salt duo on their way to pole position, but they would need to wait for the races to make it official. They set a time of 1.19.032 on lap two of the session and then sat back. Sam and Adam Christie got the better of Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney early on, with George Holden/Oscar Lawrence repeating the feat to lead row two. Rob Biggs and Simon Robinson were next, with Peach and Nicholls destined to fight from row four.
The back row contained Rupert Archer and new passenger Rhys Gibbons alongside the Hazbeans Yamaha of Hauxwell/Taylor.
As the crews lined up, Race Director Stuart Higgs made an impromptu visit to the grid and spoke quickly to every team with a safety message, basically giving them the chance to signal if they were in trouble with the extreme heat. As it happened, all teams went the distance except for Rob Biggs, who was still plagued with his mechanical woes and forced to retire at two thirds distance.
From the start, the Christie brothers grabbed the lead chased by Ellis/Clement. The CES Yamaha led lap one right to the final chicane, at which point, Ellis went ahead and held the lead throughout. Behind them, Blackstock/Rosney and Holden/Lawrence fought over the third place slot, with Holden gaining the advantage.
These four teams were ahead of Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst in fifth, and a great battle featuring Peach/Edwards, Nicholls/Janssens and Archer/Gibbons. This went all the way to the flag with a delighted Dean Nicholls getting the verdict.
The leading pair were still very close at half-distance as the Christie brothers kept the pressure on Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement. At one point approaching the end of the race they had narrowed the gap to under one second, but then Ellis responded.
There have been consistently fast, record-setting performances from Ellis/Clement on every stage they have performed this year. In doing so, they have pulled others with them to raise their game. The Christies have never gone faster (Tom was way ahead of previous Thruxton performances and into new territory), George Holden/Oscar Lawrence have exceeded anything they have ever done before, and apart from the unusual recent hiccups, Blackstock and Rosney are also very much on the pace. This year is going a bit wrong for them, but we have the second half of the season remaining.
At the flag, the lead gap was around six seconds, with Sam/Tom Christie keeping their challenge on target.
1/ Todd Ellis/Emmanuelle Clement (Santander Salt Yamaha)
2/ Sam/Tom Christie (Christie Engineering Services Yamaha)
3/ George Holden/Oscar Lawrence (Holden Racing Kawasaki
4/ Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney (DHR/Express Tyre Services Yamaha)
5/ Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst (24 Seven Courier Service Yamaha)
6/ Dean Nicholls/Ruben Janssens (TSR Racing Honda)
7/ Andy Peach/Ken Edwards (Lifesafety Yamaha)
8/ Rupert Archer/Rhys Gibbons (Hannafin Adolf RS Yamaha),
9/ Craig Hauxwell/Derek Taylor (Vinyls 4U Adolf RS Yamaha).
The reverse grid rule often throws up some interesting situations and today was no exception. Blackstock/Rosney hit the front impressively with Ellis/Clement bogged down in fifth place into the complex. Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst and Andy Peach/Ken Edwards were in the early mix on lap one and literally the entire pack was bunched up and together into the chicane for the first time around. Blackstock made good his escape into lap two, as Ellis set about planning his out-braking move on Christie to propel himself and Emmanuelle to second place. George Holden was now fourth, with Robinson, Peach, and Rob Biggs line astern.
Blackstock/Rosney got cracking in a strong attempt to gap the championship leaders and they did a great job for three laps. Next time around, Ellis had made the move which we all saw coming, lapping with four tenths of the record to go ahead. That left Blackstock at the mercy of an advancing Sam Christie with brother Tom doing a great job on his baptism of fire at this formidable circuit.
Dean Nicholls was to survive just two laps after a collision with Craig Hauxwell, but the Hazbeans outfit battled on regardless, seemingly unaffected by the incident. Lap six and Biggs/Pitt were gone with yet another technical issue. The midnight oil will be copiously burned to get this bike sorted for Cadwell Park next time out.
At the front, the convoy had narrowed down to a battle for second place with the Christies climbing all over Blackstock/Rosney, and Holden/Lawrence waiting for their chance. It came in dramatic style when Sam Christie dived for the inside at the chicane. He made contact with Blackstock, pushing him sideways and wide. It was an unintentional and reasonable move, which simply did not come off. However, Blackstock was compromised and shoved wide. Race Direction took the view it was aggressive and penalised the Christie two seconds. This elevated George Holden to second place.
Down the field, most performances can be described as heroic given the conditions. Young Rhys Gibbons stayed the pace with Rupert Archer for seventh, Peach and Edwards had another finish for sixth, itself an achievement, Simon Robinson, again lonely in fifth racked up good points, with the top four positioned as described. Ellis/Clement once again displayed title-winning form to come away with maximum points.
The next round is back at Cadwell Park 27-29 August at the big BSB weekend.