The Lauder sidecar team of Steve Kershaw and Ryan Charlwood returned to the iconic Le Mans circuit in northern France over the Easter weekend for round one of eight in the 2022 World Sidecar championship.
It was a full-on carnival atmosphere as it was a support race to the 24 hours endurance race for motorcycles.
With fine warm weather and no limits on spectator numbers, the whole event was jam-packed with happy fans eager for beer, bands and bikes, reports Robin Wilson.
Entertainment was in plentiful supply on track, as qualifying had the top seven teams separated by just over one second, with the top four crews under the lap record.
Fastest was mercurial Manxmen Payne/Wilkes but they failed to make race one as a huge crash, just as qualifying ended, saw them wreck the outfit, several advertising hoardings and any chance of starting the first race.
Kershaw and passenger Charlwood put their Quattro Group LCR in fourth, just behind last year’s champions Schlosser/Fries and runners-up Ellis/Clement.
Right behind were former champions Reeves/Rousseau and Streuer/Kolsch, and home favourites Peugeot/Peugeot.
Race one on Good Friday started with a traditional Reeves/Rousseau flying start, from fifth to first, on lap one, closely followed by Ellis/Clement and a three-way battle between Streuer/Kolsch, the Peugeots and the Lauder duo.
It was calamity for Schlosser, whose clutch cable broke, leaving him in last place and 23 seconds behind the leaders at the end of the lap.
By lap nine, Kershaw/Charlwood had clawed their way up to third but a late dive bomb manoeuvre by Streuer at the chicane pushed them wide and back to fifth, undoing all the hard work.
The drama continued on lap 14 as Ellis eventually took the lead from Reeves, then Peugeot spun out, taking Streuer with him. Again, Kershaw was in third and on for a podium.
Ellis/Clement eased ahead to complete the 18 laps and the first win of the season by three seconds from Reeves/Rousseau. Behind them, Kershaw/Charlwood were bumped off the podium with only three corners left by a stunning comeback from Schlosser/Fries, who did the ride of their lives, breaking lap records in the process, to finish only five seconds behind the winners.
So fourth for Team Kershaw was a good, if frustrating, result.
Saturday morning’s race two, again over 18 laps, saw Payne/Wilkes on the back of the grid, albeit on an untried borrowed machine, but it was Ellis/Clement who got the drop from Reeves/Rousseau.
Wyssen/Hofer took third but received a ride through penalty for a jump start, putting them right to the back of the field.
This time, Schlosser tucked into third, just ahead of Kershaw, whose machine looked much more stable in the left turns and the top four started to gap the chasing pack.
Streuer/Kolsch, in fifth, looked to have good pace but retired on lap five with electrical failure, leaving the Peugeots to inherit the place.
At mid-race distance, Schlosser and Kolsch turned up the wick, passed the front two crews and rode off into the distance, almost a second a lap faster than everybody, yet again breaking the lap record to take the win. Ellis/Clement did their best to give chase, eventually pulling clear of Reeves/Rousseau, who made their bike as wide as possible to keep Team Kershaw behind, yet again denying the Borderers a podium by the smallest of margins.
So two fourths it was for the local lads, a much better start than last year, and they’re confident they have the pace to run at the front all year.
It’s not a long wait, though, as they go straight to Assen in Holland for round two this weekend.
Kershaw was upbeat about the start to the year, saying: “We’ve made good progress with the set-up last weekend and it was annoying to get so close to the podium both times.
"We know the pace is there, so we’ve just got to go for it and the results should come.
"Assen is a favourite of ours, so we’re really looking forward to this weekend. It’s also part of the World Superbike round, so the place will be jam-packed and jumping.”