Isle of Man TT podium finishers Ben and Tom Birchall are in contention for World Sidecar Championship honours as the final round approaches.
A win and a fourth place at Oschersleben in Germany in the penultimate round ensured the brothers would be in the mix for a final round showdown at Le Mans in September, with the top four teams separated by just 5 points.
Being only the second outing on the German circuit for the Mitchells of Mansfield-supported team, they had to re-familiarise themselves with the track layout prior to qualifying.
They soon got to grips with the track and began to string some good, fast laps together to qualify 2nd, just 0.1s away from pole sitters Jorg Steinhausen and Greg Cluze.
“We didn’t think the track would suit the power characteristics of our engine so after Schleiz I spent the best part of two weeks with John Baker of Jebs Performance to work on rebuilding the engine and putting some work in on the dyno in preparation for the two races at Oschersleben.”
As the 15-lap sprint race got underway on Saturday, the Birchall brothers settled into a close 2nd place behind fellow TT racer Tim Reeves, partnered by Ashley Hawes.
As the race progressed the pace quickened and they dropped back. Although they remained in touch with the leaders, the Birchalls were unable to make a last corner passing manoeuvre stick and crossed the finish line in a close 5th, with just half a second separating them from a podium finish.
However, there was a twist in the tale as the 4th placed team of Schlosser/Hofer were disqualified after they refused to accept a parc ferme penalty imposed on them by the International Jury and the Birchalls were moved up the order.
“I had to push hard to run at the same pace as the leaders and was running right on the ragged edge so decided to ease the pace a little. We were running in close contention with the two outfits ahead and I made my move on the final corner of the last lap, but just couldn’t make it stick and we all crossed the finish line more or less together.”
The boys worked hard into the night, making some drastic changes to the set up which were tested during morning warm-up.
As the lights went out at the start of the 22-lap gold race it was Steinhausen who once again got the hole shot, with the Birchalls, on the LCR Yamaha, right in his tyre tracks.
Although Paivarinta/Hanni managed to pass them they were penalised for overtaking under a yellow flag and were never in contention. Ben bided his time before overtaking Steinhausen and with two laps to go, took the opportunity to take the lead and pulled away to establish a four second advantage and take the chequered flag for the win.
“The changes made overnight enabled us to run at a quicker pace than in the first race.”
“I was fully aware of the yellow flag situation and knew that the race was between us and Steinhausen. The rest of the field were some distance behind and I never felt threatened by them. I followed my pit board instructions and continued to apply pressure to Steinhausen. After rehearsing the move one lap earlier I passed him on the penultimate lap at just the right moment and continued to stretch the gap between us and the following pack.”
“We are delighted with the win which puts us right in the mix for the final race.”