The first of the Sure Isle of Man TT Sidecar race provided yet another quality field of former TT winners, World and multiple British Champions making sure that the race would be eagerly anticipated by the thousands of fans lining this iconic course. Practice week was beset with bad weather with several delays having to be made to the schedule, finally taking place on Monday afternoon, but from the start it was worth the wait!
Ben and Tom Birchall took a record breaking Formula Two Sidecar race win with the Mansfield brothers taking their fifth TT victory and setting a new outright lap record of 117.119mph. The duo made their intentions clear from the outset and had opened up a 3.4 second lead over John Holden and Lee Cain through Glen Helen on the opening lap with Dave Molyneux and Dan Sayle a further second behind in third.
Throughout the lap the brothers extended their advantage going over the start and finish line with an opening lap of 115.965mph. This gave them a 12 second lead over Holden and Cain with Molyneux and Sayle in third place. Alan Founds and Jake Lowther were only 1.6 second behind in fourth. Former winner Tim Reeves with his new TT passenger Mark Wilkes had relegated Pete Founds and Jevan Walmsley to sixth place.
On lap two, it was clear the Birchalls were really showing their class as their lead increased at each and every timing point. At the end of the second lap they shot across the line with a new lap record of 117.119mph, the first ever 117mph plus lap by a sidecar. A remarkable feat of riding around this thirty seven mile+ circuit breaking their own lap record from 2016 and taking their fifth TT win.
Holden and Cain were almost 25 seconds in arrears but over nine seconds clear of Molyneux and Sayle with the Manx pairing 7.6 second ahead of Alan Founds and Lowther
With just one lap of the Mountain Course to go, the Birchalls were able to ride to their signals set around the course and with some drizzle falling on the Mountain; they brought the IEG Racing machine home for yet another TT victory.
Their eventual winning margin over Holden and Cain was 25.6 seconds. Although Molyneux and Sayle came under extreme pressure from Founds and Lowther, largely due to Sayle suffering damage to his ribs during the course of the race, the multiple TT Champions held on for yet another TT podium.
Reeves and Wilkes took fifth from Pete Founds and Jevan Walmsley with Conrad Harrison and Andy Winkle in seventh, Tony Baker and Fiona Baker-Holden in eighth, Karl Bennett and Maxime Vasseur in ninth and Wayne Lockey and Mark Sayers completing the top ten.
Speaking after the race driver Ben said “We overcame a few technical issues during practice week but we signalled our intentions in the final practice session on Saturday when we lapped at 116.675mph to top the leader board. That put us in a confident mood for the race. We lost two laps to everyone else one evening when we had to stop at Crosby but put down a marker on the Saturday afternoon.
“We needed to get some good laps under our belt then to make sure we were all ready for race day and when it came to the race we had no issues at all. The bike ran perfectly from start to finish but it was definitely a bit tricky over the Mountain on the final lap when it started to rain, particularly from the Verandah onwards.“There were still a few damp patches around the course at the beginning of the race too but everything came together and it was certainly a nice feeling to get the 117mph lap on top of the win.
We weren’t trying for it and whilst it felt like a good lap. I was bit surprised it was over 117mph. I was also a bit surprised it wasn’t a bit closer but I’m sure the competition will increase for race two.”
The team has been mindful of not making too many changes over the winter months to the set-up and younger brother Tom was quick to point out and recognise the value of the team and package.
“The bike’s good, the team’s good and we’ve got great support around us so to take our fifth win was great,” he said. “It felt like a long time until the first race so by the time it came around, we all just wanted to get stuck in and go racing. The lads in the team kept us calm and I loved every minute of the race. We’re naturally very proud to have got the lap record again and whilst it didn’t come easily, it felt good so I’d say there’s a bit more to come.”
Images and words by Glynne Lewis