Julian Veldman and Glenn Janssens win the Grand Finale in Vesoul
Race day for the two final Grand Prix races of the 2018 season offered a dry, warm set of conditions, with a track certain to be dusty if not profusely watered.
Qualifying had delivered a mixed set of results, in that at least two of the top teams would probably be sitting this one out. Stuart Brown and Joe Millard, whilst easily winning Last Chance to qualify, were in trouble with Stuart's wrist injury. This is a punishingly fast track, with several high-speed jumps onto hard terrain.
The Czech Cermak brothers had a very fast get-off over one of those jumps, almost rotating past the vertical. Tomas the driver, went with the machine over the brow of the next hill. He almost certainly would be another sidelined. At this stage of the season, wisdom dictates that the best decision is to rest and recover, rather than try to ride through the pain barrier.
Warm-up saw a very fast Giraud/Badaire, likewise Hermans/Musset initially, but then Vanluchene stamped all over it. He was clearly going to finish the year on a high.
Race One – After huge build-up tension, the gate dropped to see Arne Dierckens and Luc Rostingt grab the lead from Koen Hermans and Nicolas Musset. Once again, a terrific start by the team from Northern Ireland saw Moulds and Kirwin sitting third on the opening lap.
All the big names were in the front mix including Vanluchene and Van Den Bogaart. The exceptions were Bax and Willemsen, both teams having a shocking start, with loads of work ahead of them.
In typical Bax style, he got stuck in, passed Daniel Willemsen and began the chase. Valentin Giraud was flying in pursuit of Julian Veldman and Glenn Janssens who were now third. The pace at the front was incredibly quick with breathtakingly fast jumps. Ten minutes in, and the top five were all within five seconds of each other, with Vanluchene at the back of the quintet.
Easily the “best of the rest” were Brett Wilkinson and Dan Chamberlain in a strong sixth and getting quicker. Fifteen minutes in, and the new champions banged in the quickest lap of the race, sending a signal they were on the move. Giraud then went third, just as Etienne Bax amazingly moved into eighth. He was making good progress.
Then Dierckens dropped back with steering damper problems and Veldman assumed control, chased now by Giraud/Badaire. Wilkinson was now fourth, whilst Bax had made it through to sixth ahead of the flying Ulsterman Moulds and his English passenger Kirwin. Both Hermans and Dierckens had gone by this time. Not a good scenario for second in the title stakes Hermans, but Bax would need to win or be second in this one to give himself any hope of claiming that place.
Julian Veldman and Glenn Janssens now led comfortably from Giraud and Vanluchene. That was how it finished, with Bax unable to get into the big points needed to challenge the now stationary Hermans. Brett Wilkinson and Dan Chamberlain had once again distinguished themselves in world class company.
Race Two - Enough watering had taken place earlier in the day, so the track was still damp ahead of this final race of 2018.
Koen Hermans might have retired from race one, but he had this start nailed ahead of Dierckens and race one winner Veldman. Vanluchene and Gert Van Werven came next, with Van Werven keen to get decent points for his top ten aspirations. Etienne Bax and Kaspars Stupelis were much more in touch this time in fifth and not too far off the lead.
The top four were split by around four seconds, with Wilkinson and Chamberlain once again progressing well behind Bax. Lap four, and last year's champion did the fastest lap in his quest to get on terms with the leaders. At the front though, Hermans and Musset meant business and were now five seconds clear with a record lap speed for the race.
Fifteen minutes in and Veldman was once again into second with an almighty scrap for the places behind him between Vanluchene, Dierckens and Bax. Wilkinson looked safe in sixth from a very rapid Giraud. Koen Hermans and Nicolas Musset now had a massive thirteen second lead, but overall victory honours looked to be going the way of young Julian Veldman who was strong in second place, to back up his race one victory.
Into the closing stages and Bax went third in pursuit of Veldman. He too was heading for a podium, but which step? Wilkinson too moved fifth and another great result for him. Meanwhile, the new champions settled for fourth to back up their race one third, to climb the podium second overall. Not a bad way to round out the season.
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From Barry Nutley