The final day of TT2018 brought us another warm, dry day; a light easterly breeze and some thin high cloud kept the temperatures below those of earlier in the week and cut out the harsh shadows. On the track the temperature was raised even higher, as we witnessed one of the most enthralling day’s racing ever seen on the world’s most challenging track.
In the morning’s Sidecar Race 2; Ben and Tom Birchall created history in Friday morning’s second Locate.im Sidecar TT Race at the 2018 Isle of Man TT Races, fuelled by Monster Energy, when they became the first crew to lap the Mountain Course in under 19 minutes as they swept to their second win of the week, also breaking their own race record from Saturday in the process. This was simply beyond belief for those of us who saw Dick Greasley set the first 100mph lap in the era of the big two strokes and marvelled when Moly broke through the 110mph barrier.
The Nottinghamshire brothers started unconvincingly; Ben saying that he was not quite in full race mode. Pits boards on the run into Ramsey made him give himself a talking to and that worked a treat. They overhauled early leaders John Holden/Lee Cain at the end of lap one; with the aid of sector records over the mountain and with their second lap being a stunning new lap record 119.250mph, they eventually won by 22.92s with Tim Reeves/Mark Wilkes again finishing third. All three crews lapped inside the record established by Ben and Tom in last year’s race.
Holden was fastest out of the traps; the Birchalls were only 10th quickest on the short measured run in front of the Grandstand. Holden/Cain led through Glen Helen on the first lap, their advantage over the Birchalls was 1.4s with Reeves/Wilkes only 0.78s adrift. Patrick Blackstock/Lewis Rosney were 6s further back in fourth with Alan Founds/Jake Lowther and Dave Molyneux/Dan Sayle completing the early top six. It seemed clear that Molyneux’s issue with top end speed had not been resolved; this was confirmed at the Sulby speed trap.
At Ballaugh, Holden led by 1.8s with Reeves/Wilkes 3s behind the Birchalls. 7 miles on at Ramsey, the Birchalls had chipped away 0.3s of the lead; but Reeves/Wilkes could not quite match the pace of the leading duos, they were now 5.1s behind. There was change behind them as Founds/Lowther and Molyneux/Sayle moved up to fourth and fifth respectively at the expense of Blackstock/Rosney who had dropped off the pace slightly.
The Birchalls certainly had their race faces on as they swept through the series of sweeping curves below the Gooseneck. The machine sounded very crisp as they powered away up the climb towards Joey’s and then Guthrie’s. Holden/Cain and Reeves/ Wilkes were similarly impressive as they used the entire track in their quest for a podium position. Those three machines were noticeably quicker than the rest as they powered up the mountain side.
The Birchalls had a quicker run up and down the Mountain to seize the initiative. Their opening lap of 117.185mph meant they went into lap two with a lead of 1.89s over Holden/Cain. Reeves/Wilkes broke the 116mph barrier for the first time to maintain third; still only 5.5s behind Holden/Cain. Founds/Lowther and Molyneux/Sayle were still in fourth and fifth but Conrad Harrison/Andy Winkle had now moved up to sixth.
Meanwhile, history had been made further back as Estelle Leblond/Melanie Farnier lapped at 110.732mph. Estelle became the first female driver to lap at over and Melanie replaced Fiona Baker-Holden as the fastest female passenger. Their superb lap put them into ninth place as they raced away to face Bray Hill for the second time. Newcomers Michael Jackson/Harry Payne were also going well, their lap of 108.521mph putting them in 13th.
The Birchalls were in mood to relinquish their hard won lead. With the aid of the fastest ever first sector time they had extended their lead over Holden/Cain at Glen Helen to 4.6s who, in turn, added another half second to their advantage over Reeves/Wilkes. Fourth to sixth remained the same but Blackstock/Rosney were now back in eighth. Peter Founds/Jevan Walmsley had a problematic race and eventually retired at the end of their first lap, having been black flagged.
The Birchalls were charging like never before; they led by 9.2s at Ballaugh Bridge; 10.4s at Gooseneck and by 12.3s at the Bungalow. Their flying lap times were being reduced at each checkpoint and by Cronk ny Mona they were mere hundredths of a second above the 19m barrier. A new record from Cronk ny Mona to the finish line meant that they had set a new lap record of 119.250mph – the first sub-19 minute lap for the sidecar class. This unbelievable pace allowed them to surge clear of Holden/Cain, the difference now a more comfortable 15.1s. Holden/Cain lapped at 117.878mph with Reeves/Wilkes setting another personal best lap of 117.729mph to retain third, 7s behind Holden/Cain.
Fourth to sixth stayed the same as Leblond/Farnier put in another 110mph+ lap and Jackson/Payne improved to 109.198mph. There was very little let up from the Birchalls despite their fairly comfortable advantage and they duly took their fifth TT win in a row – and eighth in total – by 22.92s with a third lap of 118.427mph to clinch victory and breaking their own race record from Saturday’s race in the process with a time of 57.25:040. Tom Birchall’s 8th win meant that he has joined Dan Sayle(one of his heroes) on that number and is now jointly the most successful passenger of all time.
Holden/Cain and Reeves/Wilkes completed the podium, just as they had done in the first race. Founds/Lowther took fourth; Blackstock/Rosney and Harrison/Winkle took fifth and sixth while Steve and Matty Ramsden, Leblond/Farnier and Gary and Daryl Gibson rounded out the top ten. Molyneux retired from the race, having dropped 21s in the first sector on the final lap, it was obvious that he had a problem and he duly stopped to make adjustments at Quarry Bends.
The top three teams were all delighted with how their race had gone; especially with setting new personal best lap speeds. All have copious notes on how to improve for next year. Estelle Leblond continues to amaze and newcomers Michael Jackson/Harry Payne look to be stars of the future, especially given that they had only taken delivery of their outfit two weeks ago. All that the race needs in the future is a few more entrants.
Locate.im Sidecar Race 2
- Ben Birchall/Tom Birchall IEG Honda 118.281mph
- John Holden/Lee Cain Silicone Honda 117.500mph
- Tim Reeves/Mark Wilkes Carl Cox Honda 116.967mph
- Alan Founds/Jake Lowther Gray Yamaha 114.437mph
- Lewis Blackstock/Patrick Rosney Silicone Honda 112.519mph
- Conrad Harrison/Andy Winkle PRS Honda 112.010mph
- Gary Bryan/Philip Hyde Baker Honda 111.687mph
- Steve Ramsden/Matty Ramsden LCR Honda 111.393mph
- Estelle Leblond/Melanie Farnier SGR Suzuki 110.229mph
- Gary Gibson/Daryl Gibson Suzuki 109.156mph