REINVENTING THE (THIRD) WHEEL
The sidecar class is expected to feature new machinery in 2022 as, for the first time, teams will be permitted to use 900cc parallel twin-cylinder engines. It means the biggest shakeup in the class for three decades with the newly eligible powerplants running alongside the 600cc four-cylinder and 675cc three-cylinder outfits that have long been the mainstay of sidecar racing at the TT.
Two of those potential new powerplants may be found in a pair of naked street bikes - the BMW F900R and the KTM 890 DUKE. Both engines would provide improved torque and pulling power when compared to the smaller capacity units, but improvements in those areas would need to be balanced with the expected reduction in all-out horsepower. With top speed the dominating requirement at the TT, an upgrade may therefore look like a gamble. However, 17-time TT winner Dave Molyneux has already been spied testing a KTM powered machine and the engineering ace knows a thing or two about building outfits for the TT Mountain Course.
Changes to the sidecar class come as the decline in the Supersport market continues apace. Tighter emissions regulations and a consumer shift towards daily use over track day performance has seen the once dominant 600cc Supersport market shrink to near extinction. With that part of the market now largely vacated by mainstream manufacturers, road-racing paddocks are finding that engines and parts are becoming increasingly expensive and difficult to source.
It’s a widely held viewpoint and one shared by Ben Birchall – the fastest driver ever around the TT Mountain Course:
‘I think the decline in the Supersport market has affected us too, unfortunately. We all went the way of the 600, which is good for the class in regards to safety and ridability, but 600s don’t appear to be something that the manufacturers are pursuing. I think the introduction of the new rules will be a great help to the sport. We can now explore some different and additional ways forward and, whichever route we choose, there’s genuine foresight there in allowing us more freedom to develop the sport for tomorrow.’
"I think the introduction of the new rules will be a great help to the sport."
Might we therefore see the Birchall brothers powered around the TT Mountain Course by a new powerplant? Already edging closer to the magical 120mph lap for sidecars, Ben is likely to play a waiting game:
‘If ever there’s a man that can develop and innovate, then that’s Dave [Molyneux]. We will be looking more closely at it in the near future as to which way we are going to go, but in the meanwhile, we’ll stick as we and look forward to seeing what comes of the new rules and new ideas. The main thing is to thank the TT’s promoters and race management team for pushing our sport into new areas. It’s encouraging that they care about sidecar racing and are not prepared to allow the decline in the 600 market to take further affect.’
"If ever there’s a man that can develop and innovate, then that’s Dave."
THE FUTURE SHAPE OF SUPERSPORT
Meanwhile, the ever-evolving middleweight market also raises questions for the future direction and shape of the Supersport TT. With new regulations remaining under consideration, the TT organisers continue a watching brief following the announcement that the British Supersport Championship will open the door to the 765cc Triumph and the 955cc Ducati Panigale V2 - as well as the race-only 600cc Yamaha R6. A decision on whether the TT will adopt similar rules will be announced before the end of the 2021 season.