Defending Champion Bax and Stupelis back to form but Vanluchene with Van Den Bogaart march on.
Morning warm-up took place under blue skies, with the weather set fair for the two upcoming races. The Cesis track was a new experience for many of the crews, but the similarity to parts of Holland or Belgium with its sandy, rutted turns, meant that it would favour the men at the very top of the standings. Etienne Bax and Kaspars Stupelis, trailing the leaders by a huge ninety-nine points, would have to go for glory in both races to keep their championship challenge on track.
But it was the red-plated Marvin Vanluchene and Ben Van Den Bogaart who topped the warm-up session by a slender half-second from Bax. The Austrians Benjamin Weiss and Patrick Schneider were fast in qualifying, and looked good in warm-up as they kept Willemsen, Giraud, and the Cermak brothers all at bay. Watching the action, at his first Grand Prix since his horrific Spanish crash, Elvijs Mucenieks was a very welcome sight to all. The young Latvian is making steady progress as he recovers from his injuries.
Slight cloud cover reduced the very hot ambient temperature slightly, but thirty minutes plus the extra laps would test even the hardest of the crews. From the gate, the charge to the first turn was led by Brown and Millard, with Valentin Giraud and Vanluchene in close company. Moments later, Giraud and Badaire grabbed the lead with Vanluchene also passing Brown. Bax was down in seventh staring lap two, but he was flying and rapidly overhauled Dierckens and Brown before catching Giraud. Moments later the Frenchman was out with a mechanical problem putting Bax and Stupelis second.
Brown held fourth ahead of Koen Hermans and Kristof Santermans, with a reasonable cushion. He was also very close to Arne Dierckens and Luc Rostingt, with every chance of reclaiming third place. However, Koen Hermans had made fantastic progress and was hassling Brown and Millard all the way. Six laps in and reigning champion Bax was in front and pulling away from the red plate. It was now a two-horse race at the front, with the gap seven seconds at the close of lap eight.
Vanluchene would now need to ride for points and let Bax take the maximum, because he was in a safe second place. This is where his consistency record needed protecting. Hermans went fourth on lap nine with Dierckens his next target. That accomplished, he set about reducing the twenty-two second gap up to Vanluchene. Daniel Willemsen and Robbie Bax were way down in twelfth, possibly with the Dutchman still suffering from his recent spate of injuries.
Race leader Etienne Bax was riding at an incredible pace, being the only crew to make it into the two-minute lap zone, a clear second faster than his Belgian rival. This effort would only reduce his deficit by a couple of points, but it all mattered. Then Brown was by Dierckens on lap twelve, with the Cermak brothers having one of their best rides this year in sixth. Mention has to be made of an heroic fight through the pack after being left on the line, by Julian Veldman and Glenn Janssens. Fourteen laps in, and they were into the big points in seventh. That is where they were to finish.
Bax was meteoric as his qualifying had shown, but take nothing away from the wise head on young shoulders of Marvin Vanluchene. Hermans could do no better than third, but he's a class act and stays second in the title chase. On the last lap the Cermaks nailed Brown/Millard to go fourth.
A carbon copy start took Brown and Millard into the lead, again chased by the red plate holders. Julian Veldman was on their case this time too. He had got a flyer and was inspired by his race one showing. Hermans/Musset ran fourth at the end of lap one, with Etienne Bax and Kaspars Stupelis again down in seventh from a sluggish start. In very short order, Vanluchene and Van Den Bogaart took the lead followed by Veldman and Hermans, pushing Brown back to fourth.
Giraud/Badaire had completed the warm-up lap safely, but stalled the bike at the start and had struggled to get it fired up quickly. They were fighting up from twenty-seventh place on lap two with a mountain to climb. Four laps gone and the Bax express train was on the move and up to fourth, but it was Vanluchene lapping quickest at the head of the race. A great scrap was going on for sixth place between Kunnas, Dierckens, Willemsen and the Cermak brothers. If Tomas Cermak's earlier performance was an indicator, he would be progressing again.
Bax was closing in and determined to get after Vanluchene. This, again was where the race was. Giraud too was now in the points and gaining ground on the leaders. Were we in for a grandstand finish? Lap nine and Bax was third. Veldman was next on his hit list, and then it would be a clear run at Vanluchene. The young Belgian was on course for another overall victory, unless Bax could pull something special out of the bag.
Then – it was game on”. Bax was second, just fifteen seconds down with fifteen minutes of racing left ahead of him. Veldman and Janssens disappeared on lap ten, gifting fourth place back to Stuart Brown and Joe Millard, with everyone behind them moving up a place. Into the closing stages, and Vanluchene pulled the pin, opening the gap from Bax. They had both lapped Giraud in fifteenth, and that hampered the charge by Bax/Stupelis. Giraud was to suffer another agonising retirement, leaving Latvia with zero points.
Nothing short of a Herculean effort by Etienne Bax would prevent overall victory going to the red plate holder, and it proved to be once again, a bridge too far. Koen Hermans was a safe third, and a magnificent effort rewarded Brown and Millard with fourth place. Daniel Willemsen and Robbie Bax brought it home in seventh behind Varik and Dierckens, with the Cermaks eighth.
From Barry Nutley