Mansfield sidecar racing brothers Ben and Tom Birchall got their 2016 world championship season off to the best of starts by taking the decisive win at Le Mans in the opening round of the FIM F2 Sidecar World Trophy.
The championship consists of nine races held at six of the fastest circuits in the world with the first round held at the Le Mans circuit in France prior to the 24 hour World Endurance race.
This will be the last year that 1000cc engines will be permitted to race in the championship under new rules implemented by the FIM for 2017 and this year they are joined on the grid by the smaller 600cc engine machines with two different championships being run in the same race.
Ben Birchall has spent much of 2015 developing a new 600cc engine to run in his long Monocoque chassis and the Mitchell’s of Mansfield-supported team showed their pace in the latter half of last season when they used the smaller engine in a few rounds of the British championship.
At Le Mans Ben and Tom sailed through free practice and were the fastest by far of the F2 Trophy runners.
They went on the take pole in their class in first qualifying, but two hours before final qualifying the heavens opened leaving the track surface with many damp patches and not a lot of grip.
Having already qualified they just went out to find a wet set up in preparation for the race.
Ben and Tom qualified first in the F2 class and eighth overall with the LCR Honda.
Heavy rain greeted the 26 teams as they prepared to form the grid for the start of the 18 lap race and Ben and Tom got away to a good start settling into fifth place.
But conditions were bad and the spray made visibility non existent. After just two laps the race was stopped on safety grounds and at the restart was reduced in distance to 12 laps.
As the lights went out for the restart Ben and Tom slotted into fourth place - first in their class - although they were overtaken by Hegarty and Neave on the F1 machine they held station to complete the race in fifth place overall to claim victory in the F2 World Trophy by a substantial margin from Causse and Lelubez.
Ben said: “That was some race in very difficult conditions. But we are pleased with the pace we were able to run in the wet.
“It was something we worked on last year and we are really happy with the bike and with the decision made by the FIM regarding the future structure of the world championship.
“We are delighted to be leading the championship and look forward to the rest of the season.
“We are really grateful for the continued support from our sponsors and welcome on board One Call Insurance who are also loyal supporters of Mansfield Town Football Club.
“It is nice to be involved in the promotion of Mansfield as a major sporting town.”
The team now turn their attention to the British Championship where they will race the LCR Honda F2 machine against the F1 riders, the first round being at Oulton Park over the Bank Holiday weekend of April 30-May 2.
Picture by Stuart Baker, SBFOTOSPORT