There’s nothing in the world quite like the Isle of Man TT—and that’s simply a fact of life. Sure, there are other significant road races with impressive histories behind them, and which have also seen some of history’s greatest racers put in heart-stoppingly daring performances, but still, nothing compares. The 37.73-mile Mountain Course has been and remains so widely respected that it’s probably fair to say that motorcycling, in general—not just racing—wouldn't be the same if it didn’t exist. Just ask Soichiro Honda.
With all the weight of this event and its unique place in motorcycling in mind, it’s extra special indeed when you can achieve something new, something that’s never been done before. On Saturday, June 3, 2023, brothers Ben and Tom Birchall did exactly that at the very first Sidecar race of the 2023 Isle of Man TT. On Lap Two of the three-lap race, the pair managed to crack the fastest average speed for a sidecar on the Mountain Course, hitting an astonishing 120.357 miles per hour as their average speed. No sidecar had ever surpassed that 120-mph mark until the brothers Birchall did it.
The Birchalls were the favorites to win, and they indeed went on to do just that at the end of Lap Three. Their winning margin was 24.066 seconds ahead of second-place finishers Pete Founds and Jevan Walmsley, thus taking their 13th total IOMTT victory in the Sidecar category. The team of John Holden and Maxime Vasseur rounded off the first Sidecar race podium, finishing in third place.
From the beginning of the race, it almost seemed like it was the Birchalls' to lose. As sector times flashed up on the screen for those of us watching from home, the Birchalls already had a 3.9 second lead over Founds and Walmsley by the time they reached Glen Helen early in the lap. Despite Callum Crowe’s injury during the qualifying week, the Crowe brothers still lined up on the starting line, ready to compete like anyone else. At this point, they were running in third, already 4.1 seconds slower than Founds and Walmsley’s time to Glen Helen.
As the race progressed, both the Birchalls and the Founds/Walmsley outfits seemed to be walking—well, racing—away with the whole thing, like there was no one else on the course. Eventually, the Crowes ended up pulling off and retiring before the end of the race. Even though Founds and Walmsley managed to set a new personal best average speed of 119.023mph on Lap Two, they still had no hope of reining in those incredibly fast Birchall brothers.
Incidentally, if you’ve never witnessed sidecar racing for yourself—do yourself a favor and check out some videos online. If you’re only familiar with sidecar rigs like Urals, racing sidecars are a completely different animal. The more sidecar racing you see, the more you begin to understand why racing sidecar passengers are especially prone to developing arm pump. If you see the words “sidecar passenger” and picture someone passively sitting in a chair with goggles, that’s completely the opposite of the acrobatics that racing sidecar passengers regularly pull to redistribute their weight as necessary.