BEN and Tom Birchall put on a masterclass at the Molson Group British Sidecars opener this weekend with a dominant clean sweep.
For the first time in the modern era, sidecars were treated to two races at the Oulton Park opener and after a long layoff, bumper grids were raring to go.
A clash with the FIM World Championship in Hungary took three or four top crews out of the equation, but that did nothing to detract from the quality of the on-track action.
Initial times in qualifying had the Christie brothers looking strong ahead of the Birchalls, with Blackstock/Rosney and Holden/Pitt very much in the hunt.
Red flags shortened the session as Phil Bell/James Connell crashed spectacularly, with the Scottish passenger breaking a toe. Simon Gilbert/Paul Thomas also hit problems on the same lap. The stoppage resulted in the Birchalls claiming pole position from Blackstock/Rosney and Sam/Adam Christie, with the three crews less than seven tenths of a second apart, with Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant fourth fastest.
As the lights went out for race one, it was game on as Blackstock/Rosney as they led the charge towards Old Hall, with two sets of brothers climbing all over them. A returning Scott Lawrie had a strong start with Shelley Smithies alongside as they enjoyed a solid race.
A flying Philp/Bryant made their intentions clear as they joined the mix at the front, eventually grabbing a podium finish for their efforts as they put on a show.
The Birchall brothers had quickly moved to the front, but they were hassled all the way lap after lap. The sight of the multiple TT winners and World Champions back on the long bike, this time Honda powered and carrying several experimental modifications, was a welcome sight for spectators.
Despite numerous challenges from Blackstock/Rosney, several spirited lunges from Philp/Bryant, the ever-present Lawrie and a calculated attack by the Christie boys, the Mansfield duo raised their game, claimed a new lap record and took an impressive victory.
Unfortunately, Blackstock was to retire the DHR/Express Tyres Yamaha with gremlins on lap six, just as Ben Holland/Tom Christie hit the pits on their Kawasaki with problems of their own, while the Christies made the most of the opportunity and consolidated their position.
While all this was going on at the front, there were equally fierce scraps in the chasing pack between John Holden/Jason Pitt and Rob Biggs/Jeroen Schmitz as they claimed fifth and sixth, respectively, with George Holden/Oscar Lawrence impressing ahead of seasoned veterans Rupert Archer/Phil Hyde and Andy Peach/Ken Edwards.
Long-bike newcomers Simon Robinson/Mick Fairhurst and Paul/Tom Kirby were both in the points, as sidecar virgin Craig Currie brought his Birchall Racing Yamaha home in 11th alongside Justin Sharp.
Before race two got underway, there was drama and some confusion on the grid as Robinson and Fairhurst had to push their failed outfit onto the grass from pole position. George Holden’s hand was in the air, and he was pushed into pit lane from where he was forced to start. Tommy Philp used the three minutes grace to remove his fairing and tweak a problem, and all before the lights went out for a reduced 10-lapper.
And despite a reverse grid for race two, the Birchalls managed to grab the lead half-way ’round the opening lap from a lowly 10th on the grid. Once away, mayhem ruled for half a lap before the quick men worked through the pack. Bell and Connell were quick to retire, joining Gilbert and Robinson as spectators.
With Blackstock and Rosney following the Birchalls through the field, Holden/Pitt, Sam/Adam Christie and Biggs/Schmitz were all in a fight of their own.
As the Birchall Honda cleared off at mid-distance, stretching a 10sec gap at the flag and yet another lap record, Philp retired two laps from the end after having been caught up in traffic, but the 12 finishers included a strong seventh for Peach/Edwards, a solid eighth and important points for Holland/Christie, and an extremely good ride for newcomers Currie/Sharp.
Paul/Tom Kirby who entered as wild cards, did themselves proud but took no points. Craig Clarke and Peter Ensor, from being upside down in practice, can also be proud of their two points scoring rides, as they came home in 10th.
The Birchalls now lead the standings on a perfect 50 points, with the Christies second on 36 and Holden/Pitt third on 24, just a point clear of Lawrie/Smithies ahead of next month’s Brands Hatch round.