Bax and Stupelis bang on form ahead of the GP , with Hermans/Musset taking qualifying race two.
Whilst the title at the top was closed off, there was a huge amount of business left unfinished behind the top three. This was home ground for fifth in the standings Valentin Giraud and Johnny Badaire, just twenty-one points behind fourth placed Daniel Willemsen and Robbie Bax. They would certainly want to round out the season on a high. Even further back,there was a real tussle for the coveted top ten positions.
From ninth place down, just seven points split Sanders/Haller, the Kunnas brothers, Brown/Millard and Arne Dierckens/Luc Rostingt. Final GP of 2019 this might be, but this weekend in Vesoul would be no less, possibly even more dramatic than any other race weekend.
Forty starters meant two groups for the thirty grid places, so the day would be as busy as usual. Many of the teams had spent a quiet week making something of a holiday between the two final rounds, so the atmosphere in the paddock was nice and relaxed. After a damp grey Friday, conditions were great for pre-qualifying. As we all know by now, one fast lap would do the trick, with the real test coming later in the actual qualifying races.
Group “A” featured the new world champions Vanluchene and Van den Bogaart, along with the vanquished ex-champion Bax, and local hero Valentin Giraud. It was Giraud and Badaire who were quickest, with Etienne Bax/Kaspars Stupelis second fastest, followed by Julian Veldman and Glenn Janssens.
Group “B” and the times were similar. As expected, second place in the standings Koen Hermans and Nicolas Musset showed strongly, as indeed did the ever-improving Brett Wilkinson/Dan Chamberlain. They were second quickest. Willemsen and Bax too were impressive, and it was good to see Stuart Brown and Joe Millard looking more like the duo we know. Tomas and Ondrej Cermak were only two seconds slower than Hermans, so times were tight.
Despite dampness yesterday, the track was potentially dusty, so had been watered in parts. From the gate, the locals had every reason to cheer, because Giraud and Badaire made the very best start to lead the Group “A” race. Gary Moulds and Steve Kirwin got an absolute flyer to slot into third behind Dierckens/Rostingt, but ahead of Bax/Stupelis. The dust made it difficult for any teams not at the sharp end, but those who were made the most of it.
Bax began his move forward, and passed the Ulsterman, taking Julian Veldman and Glenn Janssens with him. Half-distance, and Giraud was five seconds clear from Dierckens and Bax, with Vanluchene taking it fairly easy in fifth. This order was maintained into the closing stages, when Bax and Stupelis upped the pace and slotted past Dierckens to go second.
Two laps later, and they had caught and passed Giraud, showing just why they were double and overall winners here four years ago. Bax might have lost the title race this year, but he definitely has not lost any of his speed and bravery. At the flag, Bax had assured himself the best choice of grid slot, with Giraud in a good place mentally, along with Dierckens, Veldman, Vanluchene, Sanders and Moulds.
Group “B” and the clouds had gathered somewhat ahead of this one. It was still very warm, with the track although dusty, hard and fast. Extensive watering yet again took place, but parts of the track up on top of the hill were still very dry.
Koen Hermans and Nicola Musset led the charge, from French hero Bastien Thomas and Siebe Van Der Putten. In third, after a great start came the Czech Cermak brothers, ahead of Van Werven and Stuart Brown/Joe Millard. Daniel Willemsen and Robbie Bax came next, having struggled to get the thing off the line by their standards.
Brett Wilkinson and Dan Chamberlain had hit the gate at the start, so they too were recovering, and just behind Willemsen. It became a brilliant race by Brett Wilkinson and Dan Chamberlain, they took advantage of misfortunes befalling both Brown and Willemsen, and were very soon on the tail of the Cermak brothers in fourth.
Into the final five minutes plus two laps, and Hermans was making no mistake. He wanted this one and had a good firm hand on it. Thomas still in second, and the battle between Wilkinson and the Cermaks was a good one. Could they hold out against a determined Wilkinson? Then, suddenly the decision was made for them in the most abrupt way. The Czech brothers had a huge crash, with Ondrej needing hospital treatment.
Daniel Willemsen, without goggles, was now ninth, whilst Stuart Brown and Joe Millard's woes continued. They were obliged to retire from the race, and were destined for Last Chance to secure their place for tomorrow.
Closing stages, and Wilkinson/Chamberlain were up to third with the unfortunate demise of the Cermaks, and made a good recovery from what could have been a bad situation. Willemsen too was making ground, and was to eventually redeem himself with safe qualification.
All in all, this was dramatic from the word go, and bodes well for two fantastic races tomorrow. Stay with us for all the action on www.fimsidecarcross.com and in the later highlights show on Motorsport TV.
From Barry Nutley