Learn more about Sidecars ahead of their Members’ Meeting debut

15th February 2024
Simon Ostler

When it was announced that the world of Sidecars would be descending on the 81st Goodwood Members’ Meeting presented by Audrain Motorsport we all got a little bit excited. We’ve never had anything like that on the Motor Circuit before, and it’s always fun to get the chance to experience something new. But perhaps even more interesting is the fact that these machines will be taking part in the first contemporary motorsport competition at Goodwood since the Motor Circuit originally closed for business back in 1966. So, we’ll be present for two firsts when the Sidecar Shootout gets underway on Saturday 13th April.


But aside from all of that, we’re perhaps more interested in learning more about this honestly pretty niche sport. Certainly, in the case of this writer, my experience of watching Sidecars is limited to a little bit of the Isle of Man TT, and the occasional footage of them flying around circuits like Spa that pops up on my YouTube feed. The intricacies of the skills and engineering involved are somewhat alien to me.

What better way to find out more than to speak to someone who has lived and breathed Sidecars for as long as he can remember. In the buildup to Members’ Meeting we invited eight-time Sidecar world champion Tim Reeves and his passenger, 2019 world champion Mark Wilkes to Goodwood for a sneaky first look at what these really rather crazy machines will look like out on track.


Let’s start with the bikes themselves. The machines we’ll see in action at Members’ Meeting are Sidecar World Championship spec. That’s an aluminium monocoque weighing around 210kg with 600cc engines producing somewhere in the region of 130PS (96KW). The regulations allow plenty of scope for individual creativity. Engines can be tuned freely as long as they adhere to the 600cc capacity limit and there is near unlimited adjustability to the trail angle, camber and positioning of all three wheels.

You get a sense that the business of Sidecar racing is made up of a very tight circle of passionate and talented engineers. For the most part, these bikes are built by the people who race them. In the case of Tim Reeves, he prepares his bikes in his garage.


“There are no big teams, everyone is their own mechanic. They all build their own bikes, everything's done at home. No one goes and pays people to build bikes because that's just not how it works. Everyone does their own stuff.

“I've been working on my new bike, my new world championship bike since the season finished in October and I've been working on it nearly every week.”

Tim tells me that on the day he was born his father, a keen Sidecar racer in the 1960s and ‘70s, was competing, so his entry into the sport was clearly somewhat inevitable, but his passion for these machines is incontrovertible.


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And that passion is a necessity, because there’s no doubt this is also one of the most dangerous forms of motorsport in the world.

“You've got a crazy bloke who’s laying headfirst in something that can do 170mph and then you’ve got another bloke jumping about on the back trying to keep it upright. It's just not normal is it.”

So what will these ‘crazy blokes’ actually be doing as they’re flying around the Goodwood Motor Circuit? Well, it’s an incredibly delicate relationship between the rider and the passenger. There needs to be an almost telepathic bond between the two, and a deep understanding of how the bike behaves on every metre of the track.


As the rider, Tim is in control of the throttle, braking and steering of the bike, while passenger Mark Wilkes controls the subtle details that dictate how fast they go. “Without a good passenger you would not be able to go fast,” Tim says categorically. “I'm just riding as hard as I can, I don't even think about it.”

In the eyes of both men, it’s the passenger that dictates the overall performance of the team. “Mark controls the amount of drift and drive,” he continues, “He can control the balance of the bike quite a lot. He knows what I'm going to do, and he knows what's coming.


“It's about being smooth. A lot of people can get on a sidecar and go fast straight away and be aggressive but lack that last second. You need to have finesse and be very precise and have a good balance with your passenger.

“They’re like ballerinas really. When you have a good one you don't even know they're on the bike. They quite aggressively move about, but when I'm riding, I never feel him. I wouldn't even know he's on it. It just feels like you're on your own. That’s when you know you've got a good balance and that's what makes you go fast.”


Essentially, the job of the passenger is to adjust the weight of the bike according to where the grip needs to be at any given moment. Leaning into corners, firstly to provide stability to keep the bike facing the right way, then making subtle changes to the positioning of his feet and body to maximise grip under acceleration.

“They're sliding all the time,” says Tim, “to get them to get real fast is to find the balance between drift and drive. You need a certain amount of drift to steer it, but drift too much and you lose drive. So you've got to find that balance and it's a flow. It's the whole thing's floating all the time.”


And it’s a constant learning experience, as conditions change throughout a session, whether that’s the tyres, the circuit, or wind conditions. “We'll go out of the pit lane and I'll ride as hard as I can for the first couple of laps, after five or six laps we will have found the balance because Mark will feel what I'm doing.

“He’ll adapt his weight to make that balance better. One lap we might come into this first corner and the front will push, the next lap it won't because he'll be able to move his weight and put it in the right place.”

All of this, while travelling at speeds of up to 170mph. As you’d imagine, there is very little, if any, room for error. Indeed, as with all forms of motorsport, there is always an element of risk involved.


“If Mark's not in the right place, or he gets his timing wrong, it could shoot him out because it's that aggressive when there's so much grip. When they do grip, if he's not in the right place, the right time, it can throw him out.

“And if it throws him out, I'm upside down. If you went into a corner without a passenger, it would just do that,” he nonchalantly mimes the bike tipping on its head. That’s when you realise that these guys are basically racing with each other’s lives on the line. The bond that forms between team-mates in that case much be pretty strong.


“You've got to be mates, of course, you spend nearly all year together,” Tim says, “I've known Mark since he was a kid. Before I did this full time I used to work for his uncle, one day he said to me, ‘my nephew would love to come racing, what do you think?’ So I took him to one race when he was 14 or 15, and then for the next two years he bunked off school to come race with me every race.

“It got to the point where we went and did a race in New Zealand and that was it. It just worked, and then we won the world championship in 2019.”

Mark added: “Tim lived maybe 20 minutes from where I live, and I'd be over in the workshop with him most evenings and weekends, and we'd be prepping the bike, prepping trucks, vehicles, whatever we had at the time to go racing.”


This is the story then, of two guys who have each played huge parts in each other’s lives, and it’s a story we suspect would be told many times over if you were to spend much time with any of the world’s leading Sidecar teams.

It’s a quiet and little-known corner of the motorsport universe, and at the 81st Members’ Meeting we’re going to get an unprecedented insight into how these extremely talented individuals can tame such unforgiving machinery. We can’t wait to see them in action.

81st Goodwood Members’ Meeting tickets are still available for GRRC Members and Fellows. Click here to find out more.

Photography by Joe Harding.

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