Furious Mansfield sidecar racing brothers Ben and Tom Birchall have made a shock withdrawal from this year’s FIM World Championship after a scathing attack on title rivals Tim Reeves and Gregory Cluze following a crash at Donington Park last weekend.
Although they will continue to compete in other championships, the former World Championship pair have pulled out of the big one amid accusations of rivals putting lives needlessly at risk, wanton disregard for the rules and even alleged that an unnamed crew were using illegal parts.
This decision has been an extremely difficult and painful one
Birchall Racing issued a highly emotional statement this morning in the aftermath of last weekend’s Donington Park race when on the penultimate lap they were put out of the race after Reeves and Cluze tried to squeeze through a gap that really wasn’t there.
It stated: “We have reluctantly taken the decision to withdraw from the FIM 2015 World Championship. This decision has been an extremely difficult and painful one.
“Last weekend’s events provided the tipping point, following a long history of unprofessional, hostile and unsavoury behaviour on track, in the pit lane, and on social media.”
Last weekend had gone well until that point with the Mitchells of Mansfield-supported brothers topping the timing charts in every session and securing poll position for the start of the 22-lap race.
Ben and Tom got the holeshot into Redgate and were leading the race on lap two when the red flag halted their progress.
At the restart they once again took the lead but were relegated to second position on lap two. There followed a monumental battle for the lead between the Birchalls and Reeves with positions being exchanged throughout the race.
Everything came to a head on the penultimate lap when the Birchall brothers had the lead, but going into Redgate Reeves tried an unsuccessful passing manoeuvre and the pair clashed. This resulted in the rear tyre on the LCR Suzuki being deflated and coming off the rim leaving Ben with no choice but to retire from the race.
After a lengthy enquiry the FIM stewards ruled that Reeves’ behaviour throughout the race was unacceptable and he was responsible for the crash, therefore he was disqualified.
Ben Birchall said afterwards: “We as a team are disgusted with the behaviour of a fellow racer which has caused damage to our outfit and an injury to Tom’s hand. “When he hit me at Redgate I was very lucky to be able to save the outfit turning onto its roof which would have been a disaster.”
Then today a team statement read: “Throughout the winter the team has worked tirelessly as always, in preparation for our assault on the World Championship, with a burning desire to regain the title of FIM World Champions.
“However, the events of the first round of the 2015 Championship at Donington Park last weekend, quickly and savagely brought into question the value of the winter’s efforts and left the team with an exceptionally tough and unwelcome decision to make at the dawning of the new season.
“The highly reckless negligent driving witnessed during round one of the Championship is the type of behaviour that can tip teams over the edge for numerous reasons.
“Firstly from a financial standpoint, teams just do not have the resources to re-group and repair swiftly enough to maintain a permanent competitive presence on the circuit.
“The financial survival of teams like ours relies heavily on our loyal sponsors. The day to day costs of running a team are difficult enough to finance, but the additional avoidable costs of repairs resulting from the all too frequent reckless incidents like those experienced last weekend, place teams unnecessarily in a position of financial jeopardy.
“Secondly, like all genuine motor sports competitors, Birchall Racing needs a governing body to maintain a level playing field for all, such that we can participate in a fair and honest race and have a realistic chance of success.
“Key to achieving a level playing field, the governing body must consistently uphold its rules at all times, and apply sanctions which adequately penalise infractions of those rules.
“For persistent offenders, the penalties must be commensurate with the continuous disregard for and flouting of the rules, and as such act as a real deterrent to any future repetition.
“Failure to uphold the rules and regulations denies our team, those of our fellow genuine competitors, and the paying public, a fair and honest race.
“As a competitor, it is soul-destroying and increasingly demoralising to know that due to a lack of assertive action by the governing body, a certain few continually flout and make a mockery of the rules, and in doing so deny fair competition, effectively robbing genuine competitors such as Birchall Racing of precious points, and of the opportunity to challenge for the World Championship title.
“The aforementioned consequences of reckless driving, however, pale into insignificance when one considers the threat to human life posed by such selfish actions.
“Our sport, like almost all motor sports is a dangerous one by its very nature.
“The governing bodies of all motor sports have invested significant energy and resources into all aspects of safety in an effort to minimise the inherent risks to participants and spectators alike.
“Despite all the safety measures taken, we are all too well aware that our sport cannot be made completely safe and therefore accidents do occasionally happen, resulting in serious injury and worse.
“The reckless actions on display last weekend, show a wanton disregard for the FIM, fellow competitors and spectators alike, and without wishing to over-dramatise things, had it not been for a certain amount of luck on the part of Birchall Racing, the “FIM could well have been facing a much more serious situation to deal with.
“Furthermore, Birchall Racing has recently received information directly from a source within the official organiser, that they are aware of specific instances of a competitor using illegal parts, but for unspecified reasons has not taken any action against that competitor.
“The Governing Body cannot take a passive stance and wait for participating teams to raise complaints relating to illegal activities.
“On the contrary, it has to be proactive in consistently and firmly upholding its rules, and in doing so maintaining the integrity of the event it is charged with administering. “Like many of our true competitors whom we highly respect, the Birchall Racing Team has committed a great deal to our beloved sport over many years, having our share of thrills, spills and spoils, and in doing so has made a positive contribution to the overall development and growing popularity of sidecar racing.”
It continued: “Whilst we are more than prepared to continue confronting the inherent dangers of our sport for the thrill of racing wheel to wheel with true honest competitors in pursuit of success, we can no longer participate in an event which in our view does not deal seriously enough with renegade participants that continually flout the rules of racing and in doing so make a mockery of true and fair competition.
“We have therefore reluctantly taken the decision to withdraw from the FIM 2015 World Championship.
“This decision has been an extremely difficult and painful one.
“Last weekend’s events provided the tipping point, following a long history of unprofessional, hostile and unsavoury behaviour on track, in the pit lane, and on social media.
“As racers, withdrawing from the World Championship is probably the most difficult decision Birchall Racing has taken in its racing history, but we can only presume that absent proactive assertive action by the sport’s Governing Body, this situation will continue in perpetuity or until someone gets seriously or fatally injured.
“Neither being robbed of the opportunity to fairly and effectively fight for the Championship on a level playing field, nor risking injury as a result of the recklessness, negligence or intent of others, are options for the Birchall Racing Team. “We sincerely hope that the FIM takes a firmer line in the future policing of its own rules and regulations, and in the effective deterrent sanctioning of those who flout them and generally demean the sport we love - should that be the case we would readily reconsider our decision.
“In the meantime Birchall Racing will focus and intensify its efforts on competing in the other events and championships to which it has committed in 2015, and will do its utmost to bring continued success to its highly valued and loyal sponsors, team members, and supporters.”