Clean sweep for Birchalls at Donington Park round seven
Summer has truly come and gone, with Donington Park quite a chilly affair at the weekend. Ambient temperature on arrival Friday was around ten degrees, with a cold, patchy track for free practice.
A good entry of over sixteen teams made a meaningful grid, with a couple of wild cards thrown in for good measure.
Free practice sorted out the early nerves, with the only qualifying session scheduled for late in the day. The afternoon programme was later abandoned due to heavy rain and strong winds making conditions dangerous. George Holden/Oscar Lawrence had not repaired their damaged bike from Snetterton, but thanks to the good auspices of Ian Barnes, sponsor of John Holden, the Adolf RS Yamaha normally ridden by John was offered to keep George on track and in the title chase. Qualifying was moved to early doors on Saturday, with a bright, sunny morning to greet the runners.
The session got underway on a damp track, with just about everyone on full wet or intermediate tyres. With one lap completed, Sam and Tom Christie went off at the Old Hairpin, severely damaging the bike and causing a red flag. They were both uninjured but gave themselves a mountain of work to stay in the game. At the restart, Ben and Tom Birchall (Haith Honda) set the early standard, but Lee Crawford/Jake Lowther (LCR Kawasaki) upped the pace to top the times with six minutes to go. Andy Peach/Ken Edwards put the Lifesafety Yamaha third ahead of Craig Currie/Justin Sharp.
Championship contenders Lewis Blackstock and Paddy Rosney had a late panic when a cam-chain adjuster failed, causing them to miss most of the session. They were destined to start from way down the grid on row seven.
Rob Biggs, with stand-in passenger Shane Colbrook went well in the tricky conditions until Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst jumped fourth fastest, pushing them back one place. They were not there for long, bouncing back to go second quickest, sharing the front row with an ever-improving Crawford/Lowther on pole. Team mates to the Birchall brothers, Craig Currie and Justin Sharp, stole third from them on the closing lap.
Race One – Late on Saturday the lights went out for the first race. This was one occasion when the Christie brothers could be grateful for a late start, as they’d had all day to rebuild their bike. From the back of the grid, they had a good race, but there was plenty going on ahead of them. Lee Crawford/Jake Lowther had a brilliant start, making the most of pole position, with Rob Biggs also getting off the line well.
Ben and Tom Birchall slotted third, then very quickly edged into second place. Behind them, Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst had been pushed onto the grass, so had to work hard from the back. The Holden family, George and John, found themselves battling with each other for a few laps before George broke free and made some headway on the Ian Barnes Yamaha Adolf RS.
Crawford gave Ben and Tom a run for their money, but the writing was on the wall. Once ahead, the Haith Honda opened up a six second gap on its way to victory. Craig Currie and Justin Sharp were another crew who had an off-track excursion, running on at the Esses before re-joining further back. Meanwhile, Sam and Tom Christie were
fighting through, moving towards the sharp end, eventually finishing on the podium. This was a magnificent effort and just reward for a long hard day. Rob Biggs had a good solid race, never far off the front trio, and certainly leader of the chasing pack. For his debut race on the long bike, Shane Colbrook did well. They were to finish fourth, so a good result.
On lap five, a very scary moment side-lined Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney when they were fighting to get on terms with the leaders. Brake failure approaching the Melbourne Loop saw them dive left and head for the gravel trap. Mercifully, they got it stopped before the tyre wall did the job for them. They have now slipped out of realistic title contention.
All the way down the field there was entertainment and drama, with great battles going on. This race was a good example of how good sidecar racing can be, once there is a meaningful grid. At the front however, it was another display of class riding by the Birchall brothers, as they took their second win in only two rounds from new stars in this championship Lee Crawford/Jake Lowther.
1/ Ben/Tom Birchall (Haith Honda)
2/ Lee Crawford/Jake Lowther (Marin Motorsport Kawasaki)
3/ Sam/Tom Christie (CES Yamaha)
4/ Rob Biggs/Shane Colbrook (Express Tyres Services/Santander Salt Yamaha)
5/ George Holden/Oscar Lawrence (Barnes Racing Adolf RS Yamaha)
6/ Luke Williams/Jason Pitt (Williams Racing Yamaha)
7/ John Holden/Ashley Hawes (Barnes Racing Yamaha LCR)
8/ Martin Kirk/Kyle Masters (MK Racing Yamaha)
9/ Andy Peach/Ken Edwards (Lifesafety Yamaha)
10/ Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde (Hannafin RSR Yamaha).
The reverse grid saw Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde on pole, with Sam/Tom Christie coming from row four, and the Birchall brothers on five alongside Lee Crawford/Jake Lowther. As always, the opening lap was hectic, but John Holden/Ashley Hawes did a great job diving through the traffic on the short chassis LCR. The led the field into lap two, followed by the Christie brothers intent on maximising their points opportunity.
Once ahead, they became a target for Ben/Tom Birchall as they too shot through the field into second place. The two leaders were then quite evenly matched, with the Haith Honda just having a slight edge on speed. That carried the Birchalls into a passing opportunity, which they took into the Melbourne hairpin, touching the Christies on the way through. Mild contact is all part of sidecar racing, and the slight nudge unsettled the CES Yamaha enough to drop them firmly second. Once ahead, Ben and Tom made it two victories and maximum points.
Behind there was a titanic scrap between Crawford/Lowther, Rob Biggs/Shane Colbrook, George Holden/Oscar Lawrence and Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney coming from the back of the grid. It took the full ten laps before Blackstock/Rosney made it all the way through, but succeed they did, eventually ending up on the podium in third.
Biggsy got it wrong at Coppice, taking the #5 Yamaha through the gravel and onto the grass before re-joining. John Holden eventually was gobbled up by most of the faster long bikes, but not without a fight. He fell victim to Luke Williams/Jason Pitt and Martin Kirk/Kyle Masters before settling in eighth place after a spirited ride.
1/ Ben/Tom Birchall
2/ Sam/Tom Christie
3/ Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney,
4/ Lee Crawford/Jake Lowther
5/ George Holden/Oscar Lawrence
6/ Luke Williams/Jason Pitt,
7/ Martin Kirk/Kyle Masters
8/ John Holden/Ashley Hawes
9/ Rob Biggs/Shane Colbrook
10/ Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst.
G. Holden 194
The final round which carries double points, comes from the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit in Kent over the weekend of 14-16 October.