Rosamond, CA: The season opening round of the SRA-West Formula Sidecar Series blew into Willow Springs International Raceway this past weekend with host club AHRMA. The double-header format created as many questions as it answered though, with a battle up front that saw four different teams vying for dominance.
Qualifying gave only a loose indication of things due to the fact that it was the first few sessions of the year. Much time was spent simply blowing the cobwebs out and high winds also hampered overall times, making it hard to predict. The starting order showed defending champions Team Big Dog Garage (Bernard Juchli/Kevin Kautzky) on pole with a wide margin over the new team of Kelly Bell/Daniel Bergeron. This team debuted at the final round last year and were immediately on pace, so much is expected of them this season. In third was Team Becker Moto Works (Bill Becker/Eric Becker), returning for what is likely a partial season. The multi-time champions have been away from competition which means they would remain an unknown until the green flag.
At the start Bell/Bergeron moved into the lead and seemed to pull a slight gap. Big Dog was in a comfortable second for the first few laps, but it became apparent that Becker Moto Works was finding stride and closing in on both of the leaders. A fight for the lead also may have helped Becker close as it seemed Big Dog carried an advantage over Bell in the tighter Omega section, while Bell could pull a gap in high speed turns 8-9. A few back-and-forth moves later, Bell was able to take the lead between turns 5-6 and build a gap. This left Becker Moto Works to fight for second but after getting a great drive onto the front straight, they took advantage of a missed upshift by Big Dog and were into the second spot, doing an amazing job of reeling in the leaders with two laps remaining.
A dogfight began immediately between the two and the lead was exchanged multiple times in the next two laps. Becker Moto works seemed really confidant on the brakes despite their machine’s heavier overall weight, and strangely Bell/Bergeron seemed stronger in the high speed back half of the track. This would make sense except, with unusually strong crosswinds, the lighter weight of Bell/Bergeron’s machine would be expected to suffer from stability problems.
Despite all this Becker Moto Works was getting an excellent drive out of the final corner and keeping that advantage into the headwinds on the front straight. On the final lap, with Becker in the lead, Bell/Bergeron pulled in about five bike lengths in turns 8-9, setting nearly on the tail of Becker. Both machines audibly spun their rear wheels in dramatic fashion onto the front straight and in the drag race to the checkers, Bell moved out of the draft and took the win by less than a length.
After the race driver Bill Becker stated, “the speed is up substantially from two years ago. With two laps left my tires just didn’t have anything left.” Race winner Kelly Bell stated, “I knew I had the speed through [turns] seven-eight-nine so it was just a case of getting a good run onto the [front] straight.”
Sunday’s race looked much different. Although Bell/Bergeron managed to holeshot once again, they were hounded by the bright orange outfit of Wood Brothers 2 (Phil Wood/Johnny Glover). They had the inside but decided not to press the issue, allowing Big Dog to take up second and begin a fight for the lead. By lap 2 it was a four-way battle as Bell/Bergeron had a slight lead over Becker Moto Works, but Subculture Racing (Wade Boyd/Christine Blunk) were into the mix as well after a screaming start from near the back row. Adding Team Big Dog (who suffered a missed shift on the start) to this list meant a serious battle was shaping up.
All eyes were to Becker and Subculture, as it seemed they might slow each other down as they fought for second. By the halfway point Bell was beginning to stretch out his lead over Subculture when flags began to wave. Exiting turn 6, Team Wood Brothers 1 (Chris Wood/Aaron McEwen) lost the front end over the crest and did an amazing pirouette through the desert, coming back onto the track in a cloud of dust, gravel, and sage brush. The resulting litter on the track was significant enough as to bring out the red flag, and with the race past halfway there would be no restart. Wood Brothers 1 managed to restart under their own power and return to the pits, with no injuries and only superficial machine damage reported.
This left Bell/Bergeron as your winners, doing the double in the season opener. Second went to Subculture Racing followed by Becker Moto Works. This leave the points gap quite large actually. Because it is assumed that Becker Moto Works and Subculture Racing (who occupy the second and third positions) will not be competing in every round this season, that leaves Bell/Bergeron with a sizable lead over fourth place Team Big Dog Garage. The deficit may be too much to overcome, but anything can happen, as the season is still young.
The SRA-West Formula Sidecar series goes back into action immediately, heading to Sonoma Raceway this Thursday-Friday (April 30- May 01). All the usual suspects will be there, although Becker Moto Works is currently registered in the post-vintage P3 category. Their all new, Honda CB750 powered chassis has yet to see action and it is unknown if they will switch classes to run their modern Formula 1 outfit or not. This is also home turf for Subculture Racing and they should be considered an extreme threat for the win, especially with the tighter turns of Sonoma Raceway, which usually evens the playing field between short-wheelbase machines like Subculture’s and the long-wheelbase machines like that of Bell/Bergeron.
For full results and schedule, please visit the SRA-West’s new website at www.formulasidecars.com. Series partnerships are still available for the full season or on an event-by-event basis. For information on series partnership packages, contact firstname.lastname@example.org