Situated mid-way between Poitiers and Limoges in central France, the circuit of Val de Vienne proved to be the ideal platform for the first proper test ahead of the 2017 British Sidecar Championship.. Those crews who attended Carlo's Trainingslager found the four days track action invaluable, and gave them a flying start to the new season. As a result, this year's event was even more popular, with a strong British contingent making the trip.
Run as an open test week for solos and sidecars, the entry list was mightily impressive, with virtually all the top crews from across Europe on track. Former World Champions included Tim and Tristan Reeves, the Birchall Brothers and Bennie Streuer/Geert Koerts. Our own British Champions Ricky Stevens and Ryan Charlwood headed the UK line-up of around eighty teams, comprising both 1000cc and 600cc competitors. Several new faces showed up to demonstrate their skills for the first time in anger.
The entry list for the Hyundai British Championship is also at record levels, and clearly the teams at the top of that list understood the importance of track time in France.
The 2.34 mile track, with its seven right and five left-hand bends is technical and fast, but warm humid conditions allowed the Reeves brothers to set a line in the sand with a blistering 1.34.4 record pace lap on their new Carl Cox sponsored Kawasaki outfit.
Chris Walker and Ashley Hawes were not so lucky in the early stages as they struggled with rev-limiter issues on the new Kawasaki. They persevered, and the week wore on, began to show some of the form which rewarded them with fourth place in their rookie season. Another crew in trouble was the Hannafin duo of Rupert Archer/Steve Thomas who flipped the plot on tuesday in damp conditions. Team-mate Ben Holland with Stuart Ramsay looked solid and as quick as ever. They will be in the mix come race-day.
Gary Bryan, running in new passenger Belfast born Ben McBride turned in a 48.1 early in the week with more to come.
Andy Peach, registered for the season with new passenger Ken Edwards, spent several hours setting up Scott Parnell's new outfit and then turned in a very respectable 47.2. He shared this bike with newbie Parnell, so times were not really his goal, just track time with his new passenger.
In the 600cc category, the Birchalls, as expected were in absolutely flying form, whilst Lick Racings Dean Nicholls shed a sidecar wheel.
As the week progressed, everyone settled into the groove, none more so than comeback kid Steve Kershaw who, with new passenger Stuart Clark alongside, showed he had lost none of his form putting in a great display. Other teams to raise eyebrows included the Christie brothers and Todd Ellis Gary Bryan's stepson. He and the experienced Charlie Richardson were within two seconds a lap of the Birchalls.
Reigning Champions Ricky Stevens and Ryan Charlwood, after teething issues with their new ZX10R, turned in some good times and actually stayed on to gain more track time.
No time sheets were issued, with the good old stop-watches in abundance, so times were near, or near enough.
Whatever the detail, the session was deemed a true success with all eyes now on the opener at Brands in two weeks time.