In addition to the ‘8 Hours of Oschersleben’ Endurance World Championship round last weekend, the German circuit also hosted two races of the 2012 FIM Sidecar World Championship. As part of the Speedweek Oschersleben program, Jörg Steinhausen and Grégory Cluze celebrated their best race results so far in the S1000RR-powered outfit, with a win and a third place. With these excellent results, the team has a real chance of winning the world championship.
Co-pilot Cluze’s participation in this important race had been in doubt due to an injury. Fortunately, the Frenchman recovered to take part in the two races at Steinhausen’s ‘home’ track in the Magdeburg area.
Right from the start of practice at the 3.6 km (2.24 mile) circuit, times were close between the top competitors, with the first five teams separated by just 0.67 seconds after the first qualifying session. Steinhausen and Cluze held the provisional pole over the Birchall brothers by just 0.1 seconds, with a lap time of 1:31.004. With none of the teams able to improve on this time during the second qualifying round, Jörg and Grégory were able to celebrate their first pole position on the RR-powered LCR outfit.
“To be in pole position was the perfect start to the weekend, especially when the times were so close,” said Grégory. “I am just glad that my injured foot hadn’t caused me any problems and we could attack fully come race day.”
However, at the start of the first 15-lap sprint race things didn’t go according to plan and, as a result of a poor start, the team found themselves down in fifth place by the first turn. “This was a disaster,” said Jörg, “We had far too much wheelspin on the starting line and the outfit just would not budge. It was a case of too much throttle too soon from my side!”
But once they were moving, the speedy pair started to make amends for their poor start. Even on the first lap they began to carve their way through the field and before long had made it up to second place behind leaders Reeves and Hawes. One lap later, the BMW LCR duo took over the lead and continued to push, setting the fastest lap of the race (1:30.748) – faster even than their qualifying time – on their way to a decisive victory.
“We didn’t want to get stuck in any duels with other competitors so made it to the front as quickly as we could,” said Jörg. “We were right on the limit most of the time, but the bike was set-up well and working perfectly so we could keep edging out an advantage over our rivals on track.”
After this victory, expectations were naturally high for the 21-lap main race which throughout the 2012 season has always produced close-fought encounters. This time, Steinhausen and Cluze made a perfect start from pole position and set the early pace, opening a commanding gap of 1.3 seconds in the first laps. However, the world-class field behind them would not let up and by half distance – as Steinhausen and Cluze’s lap times began to fall – it was obvious that they were having some problems out in front, as Jörg confirms:
“As the laps ticked by, we could see our advantage slowly falling away as our rivals edged ever closer,” he said. “We kept pushing though, even though the rear tire was fading quickly and we were really struggling with grip.”
By mid-race the battle at the front raged on and Päivärinta and Hanni had got past the Birchall Brothers and Steinhausen. However it was to be all in vain as it turned out that Päivärinta had made a pass under yellow flag conditions which resulted in him having a drive-through penalty. When he rejoined he was in 13th position; this let the Birchall Brothers through to the lead, followed by Reeves and Hawes who had got past Steinhausen.
As the flag came out it was the Birchall Brothers who crossed the line first. Reeves and Hawes took second place after a battle to the end for Steinhausen and Cluze. Steinhausen had an off track excursion at the end of the back straight, but managed to recover to take third place in front of Heggarty and Lawson.
“It was a risky pass we tried,” said Jörg, “but I thought we’d give it a go to pass Reeves on the final lap. Unfortunately I didn’t have the grip and as we went into the turn, our nose was pointing in the wrong direction and the motorcycle slid into the gravel. Fortunately though, we had a big lead on Heggarty and Lawson and were able to get back on track and over the line for a lucky third place finish! In spite of our final lap excursions it was probably our strongest ride of the season so far, which makes things exciting as we look forward to the next round, having closed the gap to the championship leader to a single point!”
Each of the top teams battling for the 2012 Sidecar World Championship title has enjoyed two race victories, with only Reeves and Hawes managing three wins so far. With just one point separating them and Steinhausen and Cluze, there is everything to play for at the crucial season finale, which begins on September 8 at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Race 1 result:
1. Steinhausen / Cluze
2. Päivärinta / Hänni
3. Reeves / Hawes
4. Birchall / Birchall
5. Hock / Becker
Race 2 result:
1. Birchall / Birchall
2. Reeves / Hawes
3. Steinhausen / Cluze
4. Hegarty / Lawson
5. Päivärinta / Hänni
Standings after 9 of 10 races:
1. Reeves / Hawes: 156
2. Steinhausen / Cluze: 155
3. Birchall / Birchall: 152
4. Päivärinta / Hänni: 151