Giraud, Vanluchene and brave Bax formidable in Castelnau de Levis qualifying
The group draw resulted in a really tough group “B”, with Giraud. Bax, Brown, Wilkinson and Hermans all facing each other. Willemsen, on the other hand, had a relatively easy group “A”, although he would have to vanquish Belgian Marvin Vanluchene and the Cermak brothers among others.
Thirty-eight crews made the journey to Southern France to do battle on a fast circuit, which was destined to provide terrific racing.
Group “A” met with a freshly watered track, so early times were tentative, and with thirty minutes to play in, the best was saved 'til last.
Davy Sanders/Andres Haller must have thought they had it in the bag, with consistent times right up to the end, but with seconds to go, Vanluchene/Van Den Bogaart swept by, only to be toppled by the amazing Willemsen/Bax duo, with a 2.13.966.
Group “B” was much the same story. Astonishingly, complete with the Oss collarbone injury, Etienne Bax and Kaspars Stupelis were phenomenally quick from the off.
Hot on their heels on the time-sheets, were Giraud/Mucenieks and Hermans/Musset, fourth came Julian Veldman with Brown/Millard and Wilkinson/Dan Chamberlain locked together.
Both Bax and Giraud were almost one clear second faster than Willemsen's group “A” time on a really fast track.
Then with seconds remaining – Giraud made the move and grabbed the lead time of 2.11.804.
The race for grid slots is always dramatic, and often as exciting as the Grand Prix races themselves. A top twelve position secures a grid slot, but the higher up the order, the better the pick of the start places for tomorrow.
Group “A” and it was a Belgian one-two as Marvin Vanluchene and Ben Van Den Bogaart got the drop from Davy Sanders/Andres Haller.
Daniel Willemsen in third had Arne Dierckens breathing down his neck, but not for long. Dierckens flew past the ten times champion over the uphill double jump.
Vanluchene/Van Den Bogaart looked to be in a class of their own as they extended the lead to eight seconds with seven minutes gone.
Davy Sanders suddenly had Dierckens for company, and Dierckens clearly had ideas about moving into second spot.
Doing a good job in fifth for the Baltic Countries were Varik and Daiders from Estonia and Latvia respectively. This intrepid pair were fast in free practice, so this was no surprise.
At three-quarters distance, Vanluchene had a huge lead and was being watched all the way by the attentive Group “B” candidates.
No wonder – he was absolutely flying and well in control.
Then Sanders was gone with problems, Dierckens grabbed his second place and Varik an impressive third ahead of Hermans.
This looked almost easy for Vanluchene/Van Den Bogaart, but tomorrow would be a different story.
Varik/Daiders were not finished yet, and snatched second in the closing stages.
Group “B” and Bax stormed off ahead of Giraud, Marco Heinzer/Ruedi Betschart and the Britons Brown/Millard.
Very soon Brown was by, and up to third. Always to be counted on when it matters, Stuart Brown was putting all his experience to good use.
At the front, Bax/Stupelis and Giraud/Mucenieks were locked in a hard scrap, with nothing between them.
Seizing his moment, the Frenchman moved ahead, and immediately began to ease away.
Bax went with him, with a twenty-second advantage over Brown/Millard, who in turn were five seconds ahead of Koen Hermans/Nicolas Musset.
This scrap for third, fourth and fifth was a close-fought affair.
At the front, Giraud extended his lead, with Bax riding through the pain barrier from his injured shoulder. The gap was six seconds with eighteen minutes gone.
Giraud's best lap was a 2.14.8, and a clear second faster than Vanluchene's Group”A” time.
The Frenchman therefore was on target for pole position in the Grands Prix tomorrow.
Brown was now under enormous pressure from Oss race winner Koen Hermans, with still two laps to fight off the challenge.
Sadly, it was not to be, and the determined young Dutchman claimed third place and a better grid choice tomorrow.
On this very quick track, we have much to look forward to when the grids line up for the two Grands Prix.
There is no doubting the toughness of these sidecar-crossers, and hats off to Etienne Bax for being one of the toughest.
From Barry Nutley
Press stop: Crew #111 Willemsen/Bax got penalty – 10 places down for not respecting medical flag thatt moves them to Last Chance Race