He comes from a family steeped in sidecar racing success but unlike his multiple world championship-winning father Ralf, 41-year-old Jörg Steinhausen is using BMW S1000RR power for his assault on the 2012 Sidecar World Championship. His father is of course a hard act to follow, having won the 1975 and 1976 Sidecar World Championships, won the Isle of Mann TT three times and been German champion several times in an illustrious career that spanned a quarter of a century. Furthermore, Jörg is mounting his latest world championship challenge on an unproven BMW-powered outfit. Given that BMW is arguably the most successful brand in sidecar racing, with its bevel-driven overhead camshaft Boxer engine powering BMW riders to 19 world titles between 1954 and 1974 – a feat unequalled in any form of motorsport – you would think that Jörg would be feeling the pressure.
Not so for the racer from Nümbrecht in Germany as he has already been competing for over 15 years and actually won the German championship in his first year of racing in 1997. After adding two more German championships, a European championship and several top-three World Championship finishes to his list of accolades, Jörg has a clear goal for 2012, to become world champion in this exciting sport. His passenger is 28-year-old Frenchman Gregory Cluze – a former French and British champion, and Vice World Champion no less.
For Jörg, the challenge of using an unproven, albeit extremely powerful engine in his outfit was hard to resist, “The BMW S1000RR is a true high-performance bike with a very strong and reliable engine – that in itself was enough for me to make a decision,” he says. “But I was also excited about the history. BMW is the most successful factory in sidecar racing and was completely dominant until 1975, when my father arrived on his Busch-König. Of course it is a big challenge for our team to install this engine in a sidecar and try to make it work at World Championship level from day one but we’re going to give it our best shot.”
For the current Sidecar World Championship, participants race with engines that are similar to Superstock specification. Engine performance modifications are limited and teams are only allowed to raise compression by using different head-gaskets and vary the cam-timing by adjusting the cam-sprockets. Furthermore, the oil system and airbox can be modified to suit the layout of a sidecar.
With only seven rounds in the championship, reliability is very important but the BMW engine hasn’t caused Jörg or Greg any significant problems so far. From the early tests and in the first championship round in April in Magny-Cours, they proved that the BMW was competitive by finishing just off the podium in fourth place. Considering that was Jörg’s first World Championship race since 2005, it was some achievement. The team also receives support from BMW Motorrad Motorsport’s HP-Race department as they use their ECU and are able to get speedy, smart assistance when any troubleshooting is required.
For anyone who has never raced a sidecar outfit before, there are many differences when compared to motorcycling. Jörg should know of course, he’s been riding motocross bikes since the age of four, raced up until the age of 20, and still rides a 250cc dirt bike for fun.
“The biggest difference is that our bike doesn’t go through corners without input from both driver and passenger,” he says. “It is teamwork but without any communication on the track. Our view is different as well, as our sidecar has a total height of only around 70cm [28 in.] off the tarmac, which is a lot lower than on a solo. Regarding performance, our brakes and corner speeds are very impressive but of course the acceleration and top speed is better with a Superbike, due to our extra weight.”
Another main difference is being in an enclosed space close to the engine, with the passenger completely responsible for weight transfer. “It’s great to really feel the power,” says Jörg. “The engine itself is no problem, but the exhaust is really close to our legs. Many sidecar riders get a burn or two in their career, although the exhausts got smaller after the 2-stroke era. Under hot conditions and twisty circuits, the heat from the front brake causes trouble as well. And the passengers need to deal with the heat from the radiators, which is pretty uncomfortable.”
Unlike many world championships, the sidecar teams have to work with fairly small budgets, which is made easier thanks to technical regulations that allow them to keep costs manageable. Outfits are usually used for more than one season and it helps to share information among teams; for example Jörg is in contact with the Buildbase-BMW team that competes in the British Sidecar Championship and with the Wilbers-Suspension Superbike team in Germany. There are two more BMW-powered teams in the World Championship – both of which have more experience with the 200 hp RR engine, albeit with a different set-up or chassis – but these guys are of course racing against each other so information doesn’t flow as freely.
In the golden era of sidecar racing, the riders and their passengers were celebrated on the same scale as the MotoGP or World Superbike riders of today. And while today’s sidecar racers play more of a supporting role to certain motorcycle classes, the 2012 Sidecar World Championship nonetheless is featured at some very prominent events including the Bol d’Or 24 Hours Endurance World Championship race and the MotoGP round at Sachsenring – where Jörg is looking forward to racing on ‘home’ turf.
Keep an eye out for Jörg and Greg at sidecar races in other countries too. They have already raced at the British Superbike opening round at Brands Hatch and at Le Mans in France. The plan is to head back to the UK to compete at the fast Snetterton circuit and to also race at the German IDM round at Oschersleben. You can find more information about the team at www.steinhausen.de or www.facebook.com/SteinhausenRacing.