For the first time since 2003, the FIM Sidecar World Championship was part of the Superbike World Championship programme over the weekend of 12-14 April at Motorland Aragón in Spain. This gave yet another boost to the high profile of the BMW S 1000 RR, when Jörg Steinhausen and Grégory Cluze took their RR-powered LCR outfit to victory in the opening round of the world championship, following Chaz Davies’ double victory on the RR in WSBK and Sylvain Barrier’s race win on the HP4 in the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup.
It was the perfect start to the year for Steinhausen and Cluze, who had finished last season as title runners-up and are looking to go all the way in 2013. This was a new circuit for all the sidecar teams contesting this eight-round world championship, making it a fast learning curve for all riders as their first time out on the 5.344 km undulating circuit of Motorland Aragon would be during the opening qualifying session.
Having studied video footage of the circuit in advance, it was apparent that Jörg Steinhausen and his French co-driver Grégory Cluze were determined to stamp their authority over their rivals on their Steinhausen Racing LCR BMW, as they dominated the qualifying sessions, eventually securing pole position for the 15-lap race by 0.8 seconds ahead of Team Suzuki Finland’s Pekka Paivarinta and Adolf Hanni.
The temperature had risen to around 30 degrees Celsius by the start of Sunday’s race in the late afternoon, with a much higher track temperature as a result. On the grid, Jörg narrowly avoided making a jump start, when his outfit rolled forward a few centimetres and he was caught out as he had to apply the brakes, just as the start signal was given.
This unfortunately negated all the advantage they had acquired by qualifying on pole, as they were passed by at least half the other riders and found themselves down in mid-pack by turn one. However, showing true fighting spirit, the championship hopefuls had made it up to fourth place by the end of the first lap and set off after the leaders ahead.
With early race leaders Sebastian Delannoy and Sebastien Lavorel falling back, Jorg and Grégory were soon chasing down new leaders Päivärinta and Hänni, and the Birchall brothers on their LCR Suzuki. Having passed the British duo, it was time to challenge the Finnish leaders, even if the Steinhausen racing pit crew, consisting of Jörg’s brother Maik and his father Rolf Steinhausen, had their doubts about whether a victory was possible.
“Our BMW was running very well, but I had to take care of our tyres and watch the fuel consumption too, as some of the solo motorcycles had run out of fuel during their races,” said Jörg. “So I was just trying to keep Pekka under pressure while saving something for the latter stages of the race.”
The battle at the front between Paivarinta and Steinhausen was a great spectacle for all the Spanish motorsport enthusiasts at Aragón, as lap after lap, the two teams were passing each other into the first corner, but it was Paivarinta and Hanni who always managed to just keep in front as they went over the start/finish line. However, by lap 10, Steinhausen and Cluze got the break they needed and managed to get in front of Paivarinta and begin to pull out a lead.
After 11 of 15 rounds, the LCR BMW was finally on top, but despite setting the fastest lap of the race (2:07.766) on lap 13 of 15, they were unable to get some clean air ahead of their pursuers, who were always in contention, as they tended to be faster in the second sector than their BMW-powered rivals and were able to close the gap each time.
Although Steinhausen and Cluze had enjoyed a lead of 1.5 seconds at one point, Paivarinta and Hanni were strong right to the finish – posting their fastest lap on the penultimate time round the Aragón circuit. As such, they closed right up to the pair on the RR outfit, and looked like they were on course to snatch the victory, but Steinhausen and Cluze managed to get the best line out of the final corner and crossed the chequered flag to post their first World Cup victory of the season by the narrowest of margins – just 0.15 seconds!
“It was an amazing and exciting race today – and fortunately it ended well for us,” said Steinhausen after the victory celebrations. We did a lot of work over the winter to modify and improve the outfit, so it’s great that all our efforts have been rewarded in the first race of our 2013 campaign.”
The next Sidecar World Championship round will take place in mid-June at Rijeka in Croatia, but Steinhausen and Cluze will be in action before that in the British Championship at Donington Park on May 26, which also supports the WSBK round being hosted at the famous UK circuit. The Sidecar World Championship will also support two MotoGP rounds in 2013 (Assen and Sachsenring) as well as the World Endurance Championship rounds at Oschersleben and Le Mans.