Koen Hermans and Nicolas Musset keep title chase alive in Stelpe with maximum points
Morning warm-up set the scene in hot, humid conditions, with few surprises. The top five in the standings circulated quickest, with Bax again showing his determination as fastest man out there, until the very last lap when Koen Hermans and Nicolas Musset banged in a 1.50.028 just eclipsing Bax's best by a fraction.
Tomas and Ondrej Cermak seemed to be going better, finishing seventh fastest just ahead of Julian Veldman and Glenn Janssens, now apparently sorted for the races today after their hiccup in qualifying.
Race One - Clouds had gathered with a few spots of rain as the teams formed up. Etienne Bax knew what he had to do in this one. Nothing less than two victories here would suffice if he intended to move past Koen Hermans. Bax's problem was that Hermans was fast too, very fast! When the gate dropped however, it was the thundering Husqvarna of Valentin Giraud and Johnny Badaire getting the verdict from Koen Hermans, Vanluchene and Brett Wilkinson.
Etienne Bax was not too tardy, and slipped past Wilkinson on the opening lap. Wilkinson and Chamberlain now had Daniel Willemsen and Robbie Bax on their case, but at the front Giraud/Badaire and Hermans/Musset were really flying. One fast crew in trouble at the back were Arne Dierckens and Luc Rostingt. They had made a quick pit-stop, but were back in business, shortly however, to retire.
Wilkinson, Willemsen, Varik, Veldman and Cermak were now all line astern from fifth place down, and this was anyone's position. Lap five and Bax moved third, with Hermans his rival now in his sights. With everyone so close, and such a frantic pace, this was a high adrenaline, totally exhausting situation to be in. There is little time to think, just intense concentration on the job in hand with no mistakes.
Six laps in, and the top three were all together. Hermans was the filling in the Giraud/Bax sandwich, but keeping his cool. Brett Wilkinson and Dan Chamberlain were having a magnificent ride behind Vanlucheen and ahead of Willemsen. Revered company indeed, but the British crew more than justified that place. They were holding an excellent fifth position, and keeping Willemsen in his place behind.
Koen Hermans and Nicolas Musset then did what they needed, and took the lead from Giraud on lap nine, but could Bax go with them? Well, Hermans was really quick, and shortly opened a six second gap from Giraud. Further back, the scrap for seventh was headed by Varik/Daiders, chased hard by Tomas and Ondrej Cermak, in turn followed by Julian Veldman. Bax and Vanluchene then passed the French crew, but Hermans was well and truly away at the front.
Bax turned the screw and put in the fastest lap with two to go. But the effort was in vain. Hermans had promised, and he came to deliver on that promise. It looked all settled at the front, but there was a very close battle for seventh between Varik/Daiders and the Cermak brothers, but the Czechs stayed eighth at the flag. So the top eight were Hermans, Bax, Vanluchene, Giraud, Wilkinson, Willemsen, Varik and Cermak.
Race Two – all trace of cloud had vanished, with scorching sun prevailing for his one.
Hermans and Musset were in great form, with Etienne Bax in resigned mood after his inability to win through in race one. It was stiflingly hot, so the fittest would prevail here. Koen Hermans made no mistake as he and Musset grabbed the lead from the gate. Giraud, Vanluchene, Willensen, Bax and Wilkinson all went with him, so it was looking like a replay of race one at this stage.
Again Arne Dierckens had a nightmare and was right at the back and out of the points. Julian Veldman had a brave leap past Brett Wilkinson and Dan Chamberlain over the fast jump into sixth place, but Wilkinson kept at it. Hermans and Musset were in devastating form with a seven second lead after lap three, just as Veldman moved past Daniel Willemsen to go fifth.
This time, Marvin Vanluchene and Ben Van Den Bogaart knew that a good second was probably enough, moving them ever closer to an unassailable points position going into the final four races. Seven laps in and Bax was past Giraud to third, but Hermans was away up the road with Veldman and Wilkinson by now both past Daniel Willemsen. Another strong ride saw Wilkinson now in sixth place to back up his earlier success. The top three were very close, twenty seconds clear of the pack. It would be a tight finish to this vital race, as Bax strove to stay on terms with his title rivals.
Then on lap twelve, Bax was past Vanluchene and after Hermans. This was real drama as the race moved into the closing stages. Just three seconds behind, Bax was going to throw everything at this one, and try for overall victory. Then suddenly, the young Veldman was by Giraud and up to fourth place. The battle of the Huskys had gone his way. Into the dying stages and Hermans/Musset pulled clear to record a mammoth victory and keep the championship alive heading for Switzerland.
Wilkinson and Chamberlain sailed passed Giraud for another fantastic fifth place. What a day's work for the solitary Britons. Hermans had lapped up to and including ninth placed Gert Van Werven, and had a twenty-one second advantage at the flag.
Maximum points for them, and a terrific days work.
From Barry Nutley