Autumn arrived with a vengeance approaching the penultimate round of this year's title chase, with a cold, damp Donington Park as the stage. For free practice, the rain had passed, but track conditions were still far from from perfect, with the odd damp patch.
Nonetheless, Steve Kershaw and Stuart Clark (Molson/Express Tyres Yamaha) shod with slick tyres, were only just over one second off lap-record pace.
The holders of that record, Ben and Tom Birchall (Mitchells of Mansfield Yamaha), were fractionally slower, ahead of series leaders Todd Ellis and Chaz Richardson (Santander Salt Honda).
Qualifying – This would be the acid test, as a shower had once again made things tricky.
With twenty minutes in which to claim pole, as always things were left to the last minute.
Ben and Tom Birchall were on it from the word go, with Todd Ellis and Chaz Richardson immediately firing back in front. Early times were conservative, mainly due to a cold, still damp track in places.
Lewis Blackstock and Paddy Rosney took the SBR Yamaha to the head of the times after four laps, but you just knew there was more to come. Sure enough, Ellis/Richardson hit the front again, with Kershaw/Clark in hot pursuit.
Despite the best efforts of Birchalls the reigning world champions, they were relegated to row two, as the Santander Salt pair of outfits claimed the front row.
Less than one second covered the first six crews, with John Holden/Lee Cain following Stevens/Charlwood and Blackstock/Rosney home behind the top three.
Race One – Late in the day on Saturday, with temperatures plummeting, the grid formed for the ten-lapper. There was every chance the three year-old lap record could fall in this one, and the holders of that record were starting from row two.
Todd Ellis and Chaz Richardson got the drop from the lights, with the Birchall brothers stealing a march on Steve Kershaw/Stuart Clark into second place.
Half-way round the opening lap, the Mitchells of Mansfield outfit was in the lead and slowly easing away. In doing so, they went under the lap-record, whilst the two Santander Salt Bikes of Ellis and Kershaw were locked in a fight for second place.
Kershaw tried every trick in the book to get by his young garage-mate, and went under the lap record twice as he pushed. He and Ellis were tripping each other up in this fantastic fight, and then on lap four, Ben and Tom Birchall were out with a mechanical problem.
Then it was game on at the front, with Chris Walker/Ashley Hawes (TAG Racing Yamaha) and Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney (SBR Yamaha) renewing their old rivalry over the final podium place.
Ricky Stevens and Ryan Charlwood were flying through the field, and once by Ben Holland/Lee Watson on the other JG Speedfit/Quattro Plant Kawasaki, seriously threatened Walker/Hawes for third place. Last lap, and Kershaw went ahead at Mcleans with Ellis still hungry to win.
At the final time on the Melbourne Hairpin, Ellis locked his brakes and spun sideways, giving Kershaw a clear run to the line.
Walker and Hawes took a memorable podium for TAG Yamaha, with a magnificent sixth for newcomers Tommy Philp and Tom Bryant (Brian Gray Powerbiking Yamaha).
This was an example of sidecar racing at its most magnificent, the real winners being the spectators who stayed to watch, and the Eurosport TV Player audience.
Result – 1/ Steve Kershaw/Stuart Clark (Molson/Express Tyres Yamaha), 2/ Todd Ellis/Charlie Richardson (Santander Salt Honda), 3/ Chris Walker/Ashley Hawes (TAG Racing Yamaha), 4/ Ricky Stevens/Ryan Charlwood (JG Speedfit/Quattro Plant Kawasaki)
5/ Lewis Blackstock/Paddy Rosney (SBR Yamaha), 6/ Tommy Philp/Tom Bryant (Brian Gray Yamaha), 7/ Martin Kirk/Shellie Smithies (MK Racing Yamaha), 8/ Rob Biggs/Jeroen
Schmitz (Taurus Tools Honda), 9/ Andy Peach/Ken Edwards (Life-safety Yamaha),
10/ Simon Gilbert/Jed Pilmoor-Brady ( Adolf RS Yamaha)
Race one gallery from Tim Keeton
Race Two – This was another unmissable race, with breathtaking action from the word go.
The reverse grid always provides drama, and newbie Tommy Philp with Tom Bryant on board supplied the first portion.
From row three, they diced with Martin Kirk and Shellie Smithies round Redgate and into Hollywood. Once in front, Philp shot ahead down Craner Curves, had a wobble, and ended up travelling one hundred yards on the grass. It looked as if Tom Bryant had got himself tangled up and was unable to make the left. Either way, their impressive charge was over.
Then ensued a fantastic race from stem to stern, with Todd Ellis/Chaz Richardson muscling past the very determined Martin Kirk. SBR Yamaha's Lewis Blackstock and Paddy Rosney sat third, then followed Ellis though into second. Steve Kershaw and Stuart Clark were sixth at the end of lap one, with Ben and Tom Birchall ninth from the back of the grid.
The Mitchells of Mansfield Yamaha made rapid progress, gaining almost one place per lap until they sat on the back of Blackstock. He proved a harder nut to crack, but they made it through and set after the two leaders.
All the way down the field there were great battles, as Chris Walker fought off the attentions of a charging Ricky Stevens/Ryan Charlwood, who in turn had a struggle getting past team-mates Holland and Watson. The latter crew were later to retire once more with gremlins.
Another of those fighting hard was John Holden on the other SBR outfit. He and Lee Cain had to make their way through the traffic from right down the order, scrapping most of the way with Ricky Stevens and Chris Walker. On lap seven he was by Stevens, nailing Walker one lap later. Kershaw had closed to within two seconds of runaway leader Ellis when the red flag came out for rain.
This spectacle was watched at the end of the day by the Eurosport TV audience, providing armchair entertainment of the highest order.
Result – 1/ Ellis/Richardson, 2/ Kershaw/Clark, 3/ Birchall/Birchall, 4/ Blackstock/Rosney,
5/ Holden/Cain, 6/ Walker/Hawes, 7/ Stevens/Charlwood, 8/ Kirk/Smithies,
9/ Biggs/Schmitz, 10/ Bryan/Hyde.
Race Two gallery from Tim Keeton
The Grand Finale come from Brands Hatch in two weeks time (October 18-20th) when double points are on offer.
Standings – Ellis 386, Kershaw 356, Blackstock 202, Bryan 160, Stevens 155, Walker 150, Biggs 150, Holden 143, Gray 117, Kirk 100, Peach 96