Double Dutch as Willemsen and Veldman dominate qualifying
On a sandy circuit which had plenty of pre-event attention, but very wet from several days of rain, the local Dutch crews were definitely favourites.
The paddock area was extremely soft, with crew trucks having to be towed in overnight, this did not deter the crews, and the Dutch superstars shone as expected.
Free practice showed the sand specialists on top of the pile. Etienne Bax and Nicolas Musset headed the time-sheets with a fast, yet exploratory, session seeking and trying alternative lines.
Their Zabel two-stroke seemed to take everything in its stride. Almost as if it sensed this weekend was a big deal.
Challenger Valentin Giraud was building steadily, fully aware of the importance of maximising his slim opportunity to claim the title.
Pre-Qualifying – there was very little between the two groups, but sand-meister and ten-times world champion Daniel Willemsen edged it by one tenth of a second from Etienne Bax and Nicolas Musset.
The third Dutch crew were Koen Hermans/Kenny Van Gaalen who were the only other team to make it inside one minute, fifty-five seconds.
Attacking Frenchman Valentin Giraud was sixth fastest, giving him a reasonable grid slot for qualifying proper.
Group “A” were certainly faster, but given the deteriorating conditions, with the track already digging out, that could be explained.
Left-handed sidecars looked to be at a disadvantage, with Brett Wilkinson/Dan Chamberlain keeping it respectable, seventh in their group.
Qualifying – Group “A” - Daniel Willemsen and Robbie Bax showed their class by making the most of their pre-qualifying grid choice. From the extreme left of the line, they had the confidence to fire straight down the left and grab the hole-shot from the red plate holders and huge rivals Etienne Bax and Nicolas Musset.
On a track which had been regraded between sessions, the two crews opened out a gap which was never really threatened.
The local crews were strong in this group, and Koen Hermans/Kenny Van Gaalens gave a good account of themselves, as they maintained a strong chasing third place.
Lying fourth in the first half of the race was the Belgian Arne Dierkens, who with Luc Rosting holding down the third wheel, had a fight with Britons Wilkinson/Chamberlain.
They eventually succumbed, and Wilkinson gleefully took fourth.
Sixth place was occupied by Davy Sanders and Eduard Soenens, another crew very much at home in the deepening conditions.
Willemsen cannot win the title, but he must feel he has a point to prove, and some spoiling to do, when he goes to the line as pole man tomorrow.
Group “B” - and it was a fantastic, if slightly unfamiliar hole-shot for Valentin Giraud/Elvijs Mucenieks.
Their bright yellow livery was clear to see as they stormed off, pursued by a very fast Julian Veldman/Ben Van Den Bogaart.
Obviously relishing the going, the eighteen year-old Veldman looked even quicker than he did in qualifying practice and fired his Husqvarna powered WHT through the trees and over the jumps. He closed down and passed Giraud before confidently pulling away from the Frenchman, who it is fair to say began to look ragged in the closing laps.
This gave impetus to Marvin VanLuchene/Patrick Schneider, who closed in, only to be caught napping by Stuart Brown/Joe Millard.
The British crew turned up the heat with two laps remaining, flew by Giraud, before losing out, as the Frenchman fought back.
One lap later Brown repeated the move and made it stick. Giraud was on him at the flag, but Brown had done enough to claim a brilliant second spot and good grid choice.
A seriously hard scrap between Van Werven/Van Der Putten, Vanluchene/Schneider and the Latvians Daiders/Stupelis took the latter crew into fifth and another good result.
With the title as close to Bax as it is, will he hold his nerve in the first race tomorrow?
It's anybody's guess, but Giraud did not look too much of a threat today. He will have to up his game when the chips are down.
From Barry Nutley