A win and a fourth place at Oschersleben in Germany in the penultimate round of the FIM World Sidecar championship were sufficient to ensure Ben and Tom Birchall are in the mix for a final round showdown at Le Man in September when the top four teams, who are separated by just five points, will battle it out for the 2012 world title.
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. The brothers soon got to grips with the circuit and began to string some good, fast laps together qualifying in second place, just 0.1s away from pole sitters Jorg Steinhausen and Greg Cluze.
Ben said: “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.”
The 15-lap sprint race got underway in warm and sunny conditions on Saturday and the Birchall brothers settled into a close second place behind Reeves/Hawes but as the race progressed the pace quickened which caused them to drop back into fifth place. Although they remained in touch with the leaders Ben and Tom were unable to make a last corner passing manoeuvre stick and crossed the finish line in a very close fifth place with just half a second separating them from a podium finish. But there was a twist in the tale as the fourth 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 elevated to fourth place.
“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 with Ben 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 Mitchells of Mansfield LCR Yamaha right in his tyre tracks. Although Paivarinta/Hanni managed to pass them they was penalised for overtaking under a yellow flag so were never in contention. Ben bided his time before overtaking Steinhausen and with two laps to go he 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 that 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.”
The championship will go down to the wire at Le Mans in three week’s time as there are only five points separating the top four teams. Reeves is on 56 with Steinhausen 155, Birchall 152 and Paivarinta 151. It couldn’t get any closer and whoever wins the final race looks set to become the 2012 world champion so the scene is set for an exciting and tense race with no room for error from any of the four teams involved.
pic credit – Mark Wally Walters