Very hot weather had preceded the race weekend and the Lommel track was a hive of activity ahead of the event. Crews began arriving as early as Thursday afternoon, with the paddock already half-full by mid-day Friday.
Rain arrived during the night, but the weekend was set fair. Given the tight nature of the points table, this Belgian GP could easily be pivotal in the season. Etienne Bax and Ondrej Cermak arrived here just three points ahead of Kert Varik/Lari Kunnas, with Gert van Werven/Ben Van Den Bogaart a further four points back. Then significantly, young sand master Julian Veldman, this year with Glenn Janssens, was only one point behind in fourth.
Julian Veldman admitted he might have a target on his back, so was quietly confident ahead of proceedings. With eight points between the top four crews, the scene was set for some serious action.
When interviewed, series leader and defending champion Etienne Bax was acutely aware of the challenge facing him, plus the added pressure of his local fan base and their expectations.
By the time night fell on Friday, the entry list was complete with thirty-six teams entered from six nations, and every prospect of great racing coming up.
Pre-Qualifying – Groups A and B.
The group split was done, the teams knew who they would need to conquer, and the clock was running. The support class sidecars had been out for free practice, and the famous Lommel track was already beginning to form deep ruts.
Gert van Werven/Ben Van Den Bogaart had looked good in free practice and that was borne out in the early stages of Group A with a fast lap. It was soon eclipsed by Marvin Vanluchene/Robbie Bax returning a 2.10.898. Given the rapid state of track deterioration, the best plan was to get an early quick time in. Etienne Bax/Ondrej Cermak were late appearing on the leader board, but still Vanluchene stayed on top, almost three seconds faster than Gert van Werven with Bax further down the order. Bax then banged in a quick lap to go fifth in the closing minute. Koen Hermans showed his speed to go second in session one, with Brett Wilkinson/Joe Millard a great third.
Gradually the teams got Group B underway with Justin Keuben/Dion Rietman immediately setting the bar high with a 2.12.3.
Daniel Willemsen was on home ground with his young French passenger Rodolphe Lebreton and started strongly fifth fastest.
Moments later, he moved to second fastest behind Keuben and ahead of Kert Varik/Lari Kunnas. Julian Veldman still had work to do, as he was three seconds off Justin Keuben’s fast time.
As if he had been looking over my shoulder, he immediately went second.
Stuart Brown/Josh Chamberlain were up there too, but no-one could get close to Keuben’s amazing early time. All the top guns were a strong gate positions for the qualifying races.
Qualifying Group A – Race one and the crowd went mad as Koen Hermans/Nicolas Musset led the pack chased by Etienne Bax/Ondrej Cermak.
Brett Wilkinson/Joe Millard sat a very good third and was right in touch. Three four-stroke machines were showing the rest the way round at this point.
Marvin Vanluchene/Robbie Bax had a shocker, getting off the line very well, but then hitting trouble round the back, coming round in sixteenth place. It transpired his steering damper had seized and needed freeing off.
Tim Prummer/Jaarno Steegmans sat fourth ahead of Ijen Kops/Mies de Louw. Then came Tim Leferink/Kostas Beleckas and Marco Heinzer/Ruedi Betschart. Leferink had gated in last place and fought his way through, going like a train.
Lap three and Bax was on the tail end of Hermans, but Wilkinson had dropped away considerably. Nonetheless, he was on for a good finish and his exploits in the British Championship which he currently leads, were standing him in good stead here in Lommel.
There were some surprises up front in terms of who was in the hunt, but we must remember these sand specialists who ride it every weekend.
Lap eight and Leferink was up to fourth, threatening Brett Wilkinson/Joe Millard for their third place. Then suddenly, both Leferink and Prummer were by the British crew and charging away.
At the flag, Koen Hermans/Nicolas Musset had a three second advantage over Bax/Cermak, with Leferink nailing third from the back of the pack and Marvin Vanluchene, complete with faulty steering damper, also getting the better of Brett Wilkinson/Joe Millard as they slipped to eighth with severe overheating and steam everywhere.
Etienne Bax could be satisfied with his second place, but knowing his unforgiving nature on himself, only first place is good enough. Still, he has a great choice of grid slot tomorrow, but not as good as Hermans.
Result – 1/ Koen Hermans/Nicolas Musset, 2/ Etienne Bax/Ondrej Cermak,
3/ Tim Leferink/Kostas Beleckas, 4/ Tim Prummer/Jaarno Steegmans,
5/ Brett Wilkinson/Joe Millard, 6/ Ijen Kops/Mies de Louw, 7/ Thom van de Lagemaat/Robbe de Veene, 8/ Brett Wilkinson/Joe Millard, 9/ Marco Heinzer/Ruedi Betschart. 10/ Dan Foden/Nathan Cooper, 11/ George Kinge/
Dan Phelps, 12/ Sven Wisselink/Alexandre Tourbier, 13/ Mike Hodges/Jack Wilkinson, 14/ Stan Goeyvaerts/Dave Gorris, 15/ Andre Knubben/Simon Lenz
Qualifying Race Group B – Race two and it was master Daniel Willemsen who led the charge into turn one.
Jason Van Daele/Miroslav Zatloukal held second from a forceful Kert Varik/Lari Kunnas. Julian Veldman did not have the best start and found himself twelfth on lap one. Davy Sanders/Luc Rostingt and the Keuben/Rietman pairing. Lap four and Veldman was making ground up to fourth and Varik was closing down Willemsen the race leader.
Veldman was on a mission, moving up at a rate of knots with three teams in his sights. He had a seventeen second disadvantage on the leader but only a handful split him from the three in front. This was game on for the young man who began the season with a broken leg. Stuart Brown/Josh Chamberlain were going with him, as he moved two more places towards the front.
Varik was by now on Willemsen’s tail with Veldman poised to nab Justin Keuben/Dion Rietman. Davy Sanders was now back in ninth, having had a good few early laps.
Veldman was now third, just four seconds off the lead and posting laps two seconds quicker than anyone else.
This was going to be a grandstand finish, then incredibly, he was in front, having passed both Varik and Willemsen on the same lap. This was a recovery surpassing that of Tim Leferink in race one. Etienne Bax came here knowing this young man was fast, and this result confirmed it.
As Veldman opened an eleven second lead, Keuben passed Varik, and was almost in Daniel Willemsen’s pocket. These three crews were all within one second of each other. In the final sprint, Willemsen dropped to third behind Justin Keuben.
Result – 1/ Julian Veldman/Glenn Janssens, 2/ Justin Keuben/Dion Rietman,
3/ Daniel Willemsen/Rodolphe Lebreton, 4/ Kert Varik/Lari Kunnas,
5/ Stephan Wijers/Jorrit van der Putten, 6/ Stuart brown/Josh Chamberlain,
7/ Jason van Daele/Miroslav Zatloukal, 8/ Wilfred Vos/Wessel Susebeek
9/ Davy Sanders/Luc Rostingt, 10/ Gert Gordeev/Kaspars Stupelis,
11/ Tanel Reesna/Sten Niitsoo, 12/ Artis Delvodere/Tony Kramar,
13/ Killian Prunier/Evan Prunier, 14/ Adrian Peter/Niki Debruyne
15/ Stacy van der Veldt/Alex van der Veldt.
Last Chance gave those crews who missed out a second bite of the cherry featuring some top names who otherwise would have gone home empty-handed.