Round One - Oulton Park 4-6 May 2019
(Photos courtesy of Tim at Impact Images)
The long wait was over, a record entry assembled, an air of anticipation surrounded the entire paddock, and the much publicised new season was finally under way.
There could be no more fitting place to kick-start the 2019 championship chase, than the picturesque Oulton Park circuit, scene of many sidecar battles over six decades, with World Champions past and present having tackled the iconic parkland track.
Free practice provided a taste of things to come, with a string of colour and action all round the 2.7 mile track. The 600cc engines sang a uniform song as the crews familiarised themselves with new machinery, and dialled themselves in ahead of qualifying.
Although bitterly cold, the sun was out and the track dry for the first free session with a full twenty minutes track time.
Ben and Tom Birchall set the early pace ahead of John Holden/Lee Cain, but at the close, Lewis Blackstock and Paddy Rosney emerged fastest with their Yamaha. With John Holden second fastest at the flag, it was a Silicone/Barnes Racing double. Times needless to say, were conservative, as this was after all, the opening exploratory session.
Qualifying - Conditions were dry but chilly late on Sunday afternoon when the sidecars took to the track for their twenty-minute session. With only one race and such a full grid, this was going to be a very busy qualifying.
Ben and Tom Birchall set the early pace on the Mitchells of Mansfield Yamaha with former champions Ricky Stevens and Ryan Charlwood (JG Speedfit/Quattro Plant Kawasaki) fractionally down on time behind them.
Little changed during the session, except the reigning champions Steve Kershaw and Stuart Clarke moved the Santander Salt Molson Yamaha into second, to share the front row with the Birchall brothers.
Row two comprised Stevens/Charlwood and the Blackstock/Rosney duo ahead of Holden/Cain and the Christie brothers Sam and Adam.
Birchall's pole time was less than three seconds short of the outright lap record held by Tim Reeves with his 1000cc bike. That set the race up nicely.
The Race – Morning warm-up was thoroughly wet, with little chance to explore further dry settings. With a mixed weather forecast for the day, this was going to be an interesting opening round. However, the sun was out and apart from a stiff cool breeze, conditions were perfect. Twelve laps lay ahead of the grid, would the wait be worth it? Well we were about to find out.
From the lights the reigning champions Kershaw and Clark (Santander Salt Yamaha) took the holeshot into Old Hall, from Stevens/Charlwood (JG Speedfit/Quattro Plant Kawasaki) and Ben and Tom Birchall (Mitchells of Mansfield), and it stayed that way on lap one.
The top three got their heads down, but the chasing pack were right with them.
Lap two and the Birchalls were ahead riding impeccably. Kershaw/Clark would have been aware even this early in the season, that the Birchalls would not be at every round due to world championship commitments.
Further into the race, the Kawasaki of Stevens/Charlwood cried enough with a clutch problem.
World Championship regulars Rosney/Blackstock, Sam and Adam Christie and John Holden/Lee Cain were right in the hunt. Holden on the Silicone/Barnes Racing bike Kawasaki has undertaken to contest all British rounds this year, and that is a very welcome departure. His SBR team-mates Blackstock and Rosney were sitting third and holding that position strongly.
Then Holden was past the Christie brothers and chasing Blackstock and Rosney.
However, drama was not done, as Lee Cain fell from Holden's chair on the final lap, taking them out of the running.
With all the drama at the front, Rob Biggs and Jerone Schmitz brought the Taurus Tools Honda home in fifth ahead of Gary Bryan/Phil Hyde and last year's runners-up Todd Ellis and Chaz Richardson.
Twenty outfits finished, with high profile retirements including Chris Walker, John Holden, Ben Holland and of course the Stevens/Charlwood duo.
The next round is at Brands Hatch in five weeks time where these crews are all expected to come out fighting.
1/ Ben and Tom Birchall (Mitchells of Mansfield Yamaha),
2/ Steve Kershaw/Stuart Clark (Santander Salt Molson Kawasaki),
3/ Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney (SBR Racing Yamaha),
4/ Sam/Adam Christie (CES Powerbiking Yamaha),
5/ Rob Biggs/Jerone Schmitz (Taurus Tools Honda),
6/ Gary Bryan/Phil Hyde (CVR/GBM Honda),
7/ Todd Ellis/Chaz Richardson (Santander Salt Honda),
8/ Andy Peach/Ken Edwards (Life Safety Motorsport Yamaha),
9/ Alan Founds/Jake Lowther (Cloud Vapours Yamaha),
10/ Kevin Cable/Kyle Masters (L&W Yamaha)