For once it was a cool morning on the island and high cloud was partially obscuring the sun. The bonus for competitors was that there no harsh shadows. This proved to be an emotional day; it was to be the last race for John Holden; a man with two wins and 13 other podium finishes in his illustrious career. It was also to be the last race for his one time partner in crime Andy Winkle; he has two wins, and 7 other podium finishes to his name. Sadly for Andy, his long standing shoulder injury proved too much; he and driver Conrad Harrison pulled out of the race less than halfway around the first lap.
Peter Founds was in buoyant mood in the paddock after Race 1 and confident that he could raise his game and challenge the dominant Birchalls for the win. Ben and Tom were first away, and they set a blistering pace for the others to follow. They averaged over 120mph to Glen Helen and led by 2.9s from Founds / Walmsley. The Crowe brothers were in third; they were 4.25s down on Founds. They changed engines overnight and the new one did not have the top end that they were looking for.
At Ballaugh; with half of the lap nearly complete the lead was to 3.22s. The Crowe brothers were now 5.5s behind; but they were pulling clear of John Holden / Maxime Vasseur; Dave Molyneux / Dan Sayle and Gary Bryan / Philip Hyde. At the timing point at White Gates; our vantage point for the morning; the action was excellent, despite the small number of outfits in the race. The Birchalls were first to reach us and were very fast; but did not use all of the track. The pairs remained in their starting order on the track; John Holden / Maxime Vasseur were on the tail of Tim Reeves / Mark Wilkes; having started 10s behind them. Gary Bryan / Philip Hyde were the most spectacular; aviating the sidecar wheel for some distance. The Birchalls’ lead was 3.99s after 24 miles of racing.
After an opening lap at 118.904mph the Birchalls led by only 4.51s; despite them being faster than in Race 1. The only change in the leader board saw Molyneux / Sayle drop to 6th. This was the indicator of problems and the KTM was ultimately parked at Sulby. Founds / Walmsley lapped at 118.437mph and the Crowe brothers at 116.837mph. Aware of how close the race was the Birchalls upped the pace. They set sector record times to Glen Helen and Ballaugh; where the lead was up to 10.36s. Holden and Vasseur stooped in Kirk Michael; had a discussion and carried on; but down in 8th. Maxime had been bounced around and had either broken a rib or dislocated rib cartilage; both extremely painful. At the end of the race; he went straight to the medical centre.
At White Gates on lap 2 the Birchalls were really trying; they lifted the sidecar wheel as they put most of the platform over the pavement and took a tight line. Founds / Walmsley did likewise; whilst the Crowe brothers stayed completely on the tarmac. Reeves, Bryan and Greg Lambert / Andrew Haynes all used the wheel lifting routine, giving great viewing to the spectators. On 120mph+ pace the Birchalls set sector records to lead by 13s at the Bungalow. Reeves; the Ramsdens and Bryan completed the top 6.
The Birchalls crossed the line and they had blitzed their own four days old lap record; raising it to 120.645mph; amazing for a 600cc engine pulling an outfit and two adults. Founds / Walmsley were only 7s slower; their speed was 119.887mph. The Crowe brothers put in their best lap of the meeting at 118.330mph; not bad when Ryan was being careful due to Callum’s injury from their bump in practice.
The two leading crews were on 120mph pace as they reached Ballaugh for the final time; the lead was now 13.935s. At White Gates, the Birchalls did not raise the sidecar wheel so high as on lap 2 but they were flying. Founds / Walmsley took the tight line and were clearly pushing as hard as they dared. With the lead over 14s at the Bungalow, the Birchalls eased slightly. Founds took 3s back going to Cronk ny Mona and 2.8s more on the short run to the finish; aided by a sector record time.
At the end of a great battle the Birchalls made it 11 straight wins; setting another new race record speed of 119.784mph; simply stunning. An amazing final lap of 120.079mph for Founds / Walmsley left them just 9.147s down at the finish. The Crowe brothers final lap of 118.298mph gave them a race average of 117.818mph and a richly deserved podium finish; just reward after a troubled meeting. Reeves / Wilkes took fourth; they lapped at over 115mph on the final lap. Steve and Matty Ramsden took fifth; the leader board was completed by Bryan / Hyde. John Holden and the heroic Maxime Vasseur finished seventh. John will be missed on track; but he will be here next year in some capacity; as will Andy Winkle.
Alan Founds completed the race with late stand-in passenger Colin Smyth in 11th place. He then raised his game to another level, and live on air proposed to his partner Karla; did she say yes?
Of course she did; who says romance is dead? What a delightful way to end the morning’s racing.