No stroll in the park for Borders title fighters

Team Kershaw from Lauder (picture by Tim Keeton/Impact Images)
Team Kershaw from Lauder (picture by Tim Keeton/Impact Images)

The Donington circuit was the venue for round nine of the British F1 Sidecar Championship.

As the championship heads to its climax, it was all to play for at the penultimate event between the two title contenders.

Ahead by 30 points, Todd Ellis/Chas Richardson have been the measure of speed and consistency.

But Lauder’s Steve Kershaw/Stuart Clark have shown grit and determination, along with the outright speed, to keep them in touching distance of retaining their title.

Thrown into the mix were World Champions Ben/Tom Birchall who, still smarting from being beaten in every race at the Thruxton round, wanted to make amends and head off to the World Series finale on the back of a win.

All the other 22 crews entered were determined to push themselves on to the podium too.

Qualifying under leaden skies last Friday was a close affair. Ellis/Richardson, on pole, were only 8/1000ths ahead of Kershaw/Clark, pushing the Birchalls off the front row. But, with the top six less than a second apart, nothing was certain.

The predicted weekend stormy weather never materialised and Saturday’s race one was a cracker.

Ellis led from the off but, by half way round the first lap the Birchalls marched ahead and promptly broke their own lap record on lap three, before their engine sprung a leak, forcing them to retire on lap four.

They were barely over a second ahead of the Santander Salt teammates Ellis and Kershaw. though, who looked tied together with a short rope. Kershaw/Clark took the lap record on lap four, which lasted until lap eight, when Ellis/Richardson grabbed it for themselves.

The Lauder duo tried every way to force through to the lead and eventually found a gap at Mcleans, half way round the last lap.

Not to be outdone, Ellis/Richardson tried to dive bomb the new leaders at the Melbourne hairpin but lost control and spun to a halt in the middle of the road, leaving the Scotsmen to take an easy win.

Struggling to restart, the title leaders just got away to secure second ahead of the furious five-way fight for third, won by the ever-popular Chris Walker/ Ash Hawes.

Again, the points deficit was down to 25 and, again, the top 10 reverse grid was in play for race two on Sunday. The blue and white bikes lined up on row five and, again, Ellis/Richardson marched through the traffic to end lap one in second, behind Kirk/Smithies, with Kershaw/Clark sixth and the Birchalls ninth from the back row.

Lap two saw Ellis hit the front and able to ride his own race, with Kershaw having to work hard to depose Blackstock/Rosney from second on lap three. Unable to match their Saturday pace, the Lauder crew gradually lost ground until lap seven, when a rain shower suddenly threw the race open and they pulled a second back in a lap, as the leaders rolled off in the uncertain conditions.

But, on lap eight, the optimism evaporated as several crews downfield lost control and the red flag came out before an inevitable accident occurred.

So, once again, the points gap went back up to 30, the world champions were relegated to third, and Steve and Stuart have it all to do at the last round this weekend at Brands Hatch.

“We gave it everything this weekend but didn’t get the gaps in the traffic we needed in race two,” said Steve. “It’s still possible to win, though, and we’ve not given up.”

Stuart added: “I’m retiring at the end of the year and I’m determined to go out on top. Bring it on!”

With double points, two short eight-lap races, changeable weather and a notoriously slippery track, it will be an all-action end to the closest series for several years.