Ten-time Sidecar World Champion Steve Webster MBE and passenger Paul Woodhead get their 2005 campaign underway this weekend at Brands Hatch.
After winning a magnificent and unprecedented hat-trick of three titles - World, European and British - in a hectic 2004 season, Webster's Team Castrol ensemble have a less stressful year ahead, at first glance at least, concentrating efforts on a push for an 11th World Championship.
This weekend's race then is the opening round of the 2005 FIM Superside Sidecar World Championship, an eight round series that will climax at St.Petersburg in September, as the first ever FIM World Championship event to be held in Russia.
"It's going to be a different season to last. We've got less meetings to do this year - looking back we did well last year to get the three titles but it was almost too much. It was really hard work to keep up the effort. What we have got to aim for is a full season World Championship again, and that is what we can concentrate on 100%" explained Webster.
There is however a radical departure this season in race organisation. Last year, the World Championship that was sanctioned by the FIM saw three races in one day. It was seen as a successful format, and the idea is now being taken a step further.
The 2005 World Championship series will be divided between "multi-race" meetings and traditional single-race event weekends, and this weekend will be the first "multi race" format, with 75 points up for grabs over three races.
All teams will complete a normal qualifying session to decide the grid positions for all of the 3 races of the event. After qualifying, the teams are then split into 4 groups of 6 teams depending on their qualifying positions, for the Match Races - a series of Heats, Semi-Finals, and a Final each consisting of up to 6 machines.
Each group will compete in a 5 lap Heat race. Heat 1 will contain Group 1, consisting of the qualifiers from 24th - 19th position. Heat 2, Group 2 - qualifiers 18th -13th. Heat 3, Group 3 - qualifiers 12th - 7th, and finally Group 4 with the top 6 qualifiers. This format of grouping is designed to ensure a similar level of speed amongst each group.
The winners of Heats 1 and 2 will automatically move forward to the first of the Semi-Finals. The winners of Heats 3 and 4 move into the second Semi-Final. Of the remaining teams, the next fastest 8 riders based on their finishing times from the heats will join the Semi-Finals.
The winners of each Semi-Final will automatically go through to the Final, and they will be joined by the next fastest 4 teams from both Semi-Final finishing times.
The results of the Final will determine the top 6 points scorers. 7th - 12th will be calculated on finishing times from the Semi-Finals, and 13th -15th on times from the heats, to decide the first points scores of the weekend.
Commented Bernd Steinhausen, CEO of Superside:
"The Match Races, with a quick-fire format, really have to opportunity to shake things up a bit. They should provide the spectators with an exciting start to the weekend's events, and also provide some of the lesser financed teams the opportunity to spring some surprises - and that can only be a good thing for the sport"
After this explosive start to the event, all of the teams will line up again for the second race, the 15 lap Sprint Race, then later in the day the 30 lap Main race.
All three races will be on Sunday, after the qualifying and heats on Saturday.
It's going to be a tough day's racing for all concerned, and this format will be followed at the Schleiz, Rijeka and St. Petersburg rounds.
This weekend's event is also using the shorter Brands Hatch "Indy" circuit, a track Webster hasn't raced since the early 90s.
Current lap record holder is British and European No.2 Tim Reeves who won the British MRO Series race there last month.
"I'm looking forward to getting out there and racing again. We're expecting Reeves to be fast around there, and Jorg Steinhausen will be looking for a good start to the season. With 75 points up for grabs on Sunday it's going to be hectic racing. With the short sprint races you can't afford to hold back, so it'll be action all the way" said Webster
The full World Championship calendar for 2005 is:
- Rd1. 07-08 May, Brands Hatch, UK
- Rd2. 28-29 May, Hungaroring, Hungary
- Rd3. 18-19 June, Nürburgring, Germany
- Rd4. 09-10 July, Schleiz, Germany
- Rd5. 06-07 Aug, Salzburgring, Austria
- Rd6. 20-21 Aug, Rijeka, Croatia
- Rd7. 03-04 Sep, Assen, Holland
- Rd8. 10-11 Sep, St. Petersburg, Russia