Overall Oss victory for Willemsen as Giraud and Hermans each take a race win, and Bax crashes out.
The opening round of the 2018 World Sidecar Cross Championship was always going to be an exciting event, but no-one imagined the drama that would unfold.
A magnificent pole position had been claimed by the Austrian pairing of Benjamin Weiss and Patrick Schneider, who had shown huge talent in the sand in qualifying.
This was after Bax, Willemsen and Wilkinson were banished to the back row for their yellow flag infringement.
Race day arrived under blue skies and sunshine, whilst the track itself, despite significant grading, was deeply rutted even before proceedings began.
There was almost a party atmosphere among the crowd as the bikes lined up at the gate. Turn one had been well graded, so at least there was a fighting chance everyone would make it into the opening lap.
The gate dropped, and a frantic charge saw Valentin Giraud/Elvijs Mucenieks grab the lead from Stuart Brown/Joe Millard with
Vanluchen/Van Den Bogaart hot on their heels.
Incredibly, from a back row start, Daniel Willemsen/Robbie Bax were right with them, and shortly rocketed through to second position. Vanluchene went third, as Giraud desperately tried to stretch the gap over the ten-times champion.
Reigning champion Etienne Bax had a mountain to climb as he came round after two laps in fifteenth position. He was right in the thick of the traffic and had been baulked.
The Czech Cermak brothers ran a strong fifth behind Brown and were looking for that fourth place
At the front, the old master was closing on his French rival. Daniel Willemsen is simply magnificent in these conditions and rides half in/half out of the ruts with a precise line and razor edge balance.
Then suddenly, Brown/Millard were missing with a rear tyre issue, and Veldman/Van der Putten were past the Cermaks and up to fourth.
Etienne Bax and Kaspars Stupelis were on an absolute charge simply eating up places, and by lap seven were up to fourth place.
The class of this world champion was so evident as he stormed after the leaders.
His deficit from the leader Giraud was a huge thirty-five seconds, and it was very much “game on”, but then came drama -
Such was Bax's pace, that he over-cooked it with a big crash over the top. Both he and Stupelis got to their feet, but the World Champion suffered a broken collar-bone, so his title defence is on hold.
Willemsen too had issues and after ten laps, he had dropped to twenty seconds adrift of Giraud/Mucenieks. Vanluchene held third ahead of Julian Veldman and Koen Hermans/Nicolas Musset, with the very quick Austrians Weiss/Schneider seventh behind Arne Dierckens.
The Cermak brothers had long since departed the fray, just another of the high-profile teams falling foul of the tough conditions.
Lap twelve, and Hermans was past Veldman, although still twenty seconds behind the third place Vanluchene.
Brett Wilkinson and Dan Chamberlain were having an heroic ride from the back of the grid, up to an astonishing ninth place by this time and pushing.
At the flag, a delighted Giraud celebrated victory in the first race of the year, from Willemsen and Vanluchene.
Support races had made the track even more tricky by the time the GP runners came to the gate. Despite extensive grading, it would be a case of “survival of the fittest”.
Despite what must have been enormous pressure, Valentin Giraud grabbed the lead again from Vanluchene and Willemsen, as the desolate Cermak brothers retired to a zero score. Koen Hermans and Nicolas Musset held fourth ahead of Brown/Millard.
Wilkinson and Chamberlain were once again faced with the long haul through the field after a bad start.
Julian Veldman/Van Der Putten muscled past Stuart Brown, but he, badly in need of points, kept at it and gave chase.
The top four crews were split by just six seconds ten minutes in, so there was no room for complacency. Giraud would need all his concentration to bring this one home.
Brown was by now in a solid sixth place twelve seconds ahead of Dierckens, and setting steady lap times.
At the front, Vanluchene was right on the back of the race leader Giraud, whilst third-placed Willemsen had dropped off slightly, almost into the clutches of Koen Hermans.
Then Vanluchene was suddenly down to fourth, putting Willemsen second, and giving Giraud something of a breather. It is so easy to make a small mistake in these conditions, and that's all it takes.
Giraud and Mucenieks were keeping their cool, and they knew they must stay focussed.
Then – Willemsen hit trouble and slowed long enough for Koen Hermans to pass him, just as disaster struck the race leaders. They suddenly went missing.
Giraud, after looking supreme, was not to finish, so would have to be happy with his points from race one.
So it was all change, and Daniel Willemsen looked to be heading for overall victory.
Brett Wilkinson's charge through the field got him to ninth and more solid points. Brown/Millard came home fifth with Giraud's departure, and Koen Hermans/Nicolas Musset took victory in a tough race.
Daniel Willemsen and Robbie Bax though, had done it again, narrowly over Hermans and Musset..
Etienne Bax telephoned from hospital to say that he was in determined mood, and fully intends to compete in WSC Round Two in France in two weeks time.
From Barry Nutley