Brown and Millard come so very close, but Vanluchene snatches victory from the jaws of defeat.
Morning warm-up gave Valentin Giraud the chance to make up for time lost in yesterday's qualifying. He did more laps than anyone else in a bid to make sure all was well for the race.
His Husqvarna had died on lap four of the qualifying session so he and Johnny Badaire will start the Grand Prix from the back row. Whilst he is a master at starting and fighting through the pack, he really must overcome these mechanical issues which have robbed him of points in the past. The warm-up session was headed by Etienne Bax and Kaspars Stupelis from Vanluchene/Van Den Bogaart, the brothers Cermak and Giraud. Willemsen and Brown appeared to be keeping their powder dry ahead of the main event.
Race One – In beautiful weather, the gate dropped and the field flew to the first turn. Etienne Bax and Kaspars Stupelis got the hole-shot, but the Brown/Millard pairing tucked into fourth.
Vanluchene/Van Den Bogaart slotted into second place and set off after Bax. Hermans/Musset were third, with very little separating the top four outfits on lap three. With mud in some turns, and dust on the flat parts, this track was fast and spectacular, and the enthusiastic crowd were loving the action with every twist of the throttle. Brown meanwhile was closing the young Dutchman Hermans down, and threatened to take the third place. Julian Veldman and new passenger Glenn Janssens set the fastest lap, as they sat fifth, but closing on Brown.
Six laps in, and less than five seconds split the top four, so this was really becoming a race of superstars. Hermans took Vanluchene, and suddenly Brown was on his case too, as he powered the Husky over the huge jumps. At the front, Bax was looking vulnerable, with Hermans getting quicker and quicker as time ticked by. Meanwhile, from the back row, Valentin Giraud was up to eighth and charging hard to make further progress. Twelve laps in, and Brown appeared to have settled, with the gap from Vanluchene now six seconds. At the front, it was now a two-horse race as Koen Hermans/Nicolas regrouped and raised their game in pursuit of Bax/Stupelis.
Giraud was now seventh with Daniel Willemsen, still struggling with six broken ribs, in his sights. Bax just did enough to stay ahead of his young compatriot, and claimed the victory and twenty-five points to enhance his total. Vanluchene had a good race, and third keeps him ahead, but with a reduced lead. Willemsen staved of the French attack, with Giraud staying seventh from the back row.
Race Two – In gloriously hot and sunny weather, there had been extensive watering on parts of the track for the preceding quad race.
Most of the surface mud had been scrubbed off, leaving a hard slippery surface beneath. This made the opening laps interesting for those not at the front. Therefore the need to gate well became even more imperative. Stuart Brown lined up just to the right of centre, the same slot as in race one. Could he hole-shot this time? He gated third, but it was the gallant Willemsen who took the lead. Disastrously for Etienne Bax, he became embroiled in a first turn crash. The red flag came out and there was a restart. Unbelievably, Willemsen did it again chased by Stuart Brown, Julian Veldman and Marvin Vanluchene.
Etienne Bax sadly, did not make the restart and was in the process of being transferred to hospital. This immensely talented rider just has no luck this year at all. Meanwhile, Stuart Brown and Joe Millard had passed Willemsen and were opening a narrow lead over a charging Vanluchene/Van Den Bogaart. Brown had to stay ahead of the young Belgian, because victory in the overall Grand Prix was in sight. Ten laps in and the race was on between the leaders. Brown and Millard were being urged on by the crowd, whilst Vanluchene was striving to keep Koen Hermans at bay. It was dramatic stuff as Vanluchene wound the British crew in. The young Belgian was all over Brown into the closing stages, and on lap fourteen prevailed. It was now the red plate holder heading for victory, and an extension of his points lead. Willemsen finally lost the fourth place to Veldman.The Cermak brothers were sixth, followed by another good recovery by Giraud.
Vanluchene and Van Den Bogaart did what they had to do, and Stuart Brown/Joe Millard can be justly proud of a great result, climbing the podium along with Hermans/Musset.
Our thoughts are with poor Etienne Bax and Kaspars Stupelis. They are having no luck at all this year.
From Barry Nutley