Top Three do battle in Stelpe Qualifying
Piladzu Mototrase in Stelpe, Latvia, is a well established and professionally run motocross complex boasting excellent facilities, and a good reputation for running world-class events.
Overnight rain had given the track a good damp base, although with weather conditions set fair, this sandy terrain had plenty of time to change its characteristics.
Official Grand Prix length circuits give lap times approaching two minutes, with the 1670 metres of Stelpe no exception. Both Etienne Bax/Nicolas Musset and Daniel Willemsen/Robbie Bax posted times in the 1 minute 53 second bracket in their first practice session, with Valentin Giraud/Elvijs Mucenieks eclipsing them both in Group “B”.
Pre-Qualifying saw Willemsen/Bax narrowly outshine his compatriot Etienne Bax/Musset, with the Belgian/Latvian duo of Vanluchene/Kurpnieks ahead of the young Dutchman Julian Veldman, and Ben Van Den Bogaart fourth
In the second group there were no real surprises, with Giraud demonstrating his authority ahead of the Belgians Dierkens/Rostingt, and the Czech Cermak brothers in close attendance. Britons Brown/Millard were also in touch early on, and leap-frogged the Czechs in the closing stages. Baltic nations were also strong in the shape of the Latvian pair of Daiders/Stupelis, and Estonians Varek/Miil. This was already shaping up as a resumption of the huge fight between the top three crews with just thirty-one points splitting them.
In baking hot conditions we were underway, with the old master Willemsen grabbing the holeshot. With twenty-minute plus two laps ahead of him, pacing himself would be crucial. His opening flying lap was three seconds faster than second placed Veldman/Van Den Bogaart with Etienne Bax in fourth. Hermans/Van Gaalen were fifth but the top six were all very close.
Four laps in, and Bax was on the heels of Vanluchene, and you just got the sense it was only a matter of time before he was through. Sure enough, within moments, he took both Vanluchene and Veldman, to then set about bringing down the eight second gap to Willemsen.
Brett Wilkinson/Dan Chamberlain retired from eighth place on lap eight, so it would be last chance saloon for them again.
Despite setting the fastest lap of the race and closing, Bax was still too far adrift of Willemsen, with the leader holding his nerve, and his position to the flag.
The large crowd cheered wildly for the Latvians Daiders and Stupelis as they formed up, and then the gate was down.
The Cermak brothers hit the front, but there was a train behind them, the top six crews all within four seconds, with Valentin Giraud/Elvijs Mucenieks in fourth.
Three laps completed and Giraud was hunting down the Czech crew, who were absolutely flying. On lap five, Stuart Brown and Joe Millard made it through to take fourth and the chase was on.
Ahead of them, Daiders/Stupelis had extra inertia from the the cheers of the partisan crowd, but Brown kept the pressure on. Van Werven/Van Der Putten came next ahead of the Finnish Kunnas boys.
The gap at the front opened to seven seconds on lap eight, with Brown looking intent on getting past the Latvians. As it happened, the challenge faded slightly, with the British crew taking a strong fourth.
Into the last few laps, and Giraud had firmly established his place, with Tomas and Ondrej Cermak looking safe, if that can ever be said, in second.
Giraud's winning margin at the flag was approaching sixteen seconds, so he was a happy man, and looking forward to the Grand Prix with some relish.
A brilliant ride by the Cemaks gave them a prime choice for the grid and high hopes for a good result.
From Barry Nutley