Vanluchene and Van Den Bogaart lead the charger to Latvia
Around ninety kilometres north-east of Latvia's capital Riga sits the medieval town of Cesis, home to 56,000 people in a picturesque part of this beautiful country. It is also home to a spectacular motocross circuit which provides motor-sport action all year round, whether there be snow on the ground or sun in the sky.
The “Ezerkalni Mototrase” will provide the platform on which sixty of the world's top racers will do battle in round six of the 2018 FIM World Sidecarcross Championship. Thirty crews will make it through a day of qualifying, to line up for the two vital Grand Prix races on Sunday, in what is a pivotal point in the series for so many.
In what has arguably been the most bizarre start to any season in recent years, three of the top teams, including the reigning champion Etienne Bax and his co-driver Kaspars Stupelis have suffered injuries which have seriously damaged their championship push.
Ten times champion Daniel Willemsen was involved in a road accident in Ukraine in which he was badly hurt. Having missed the previous round in Kramolin, it is not yet known if we will see him in Latvia.
Finally, French ace Valentin Giraud is clearly affected by the loss of his brilliantly talented passenger Elvijs Mucenieks. The young Latvian is making a slow but steady recovery from the back injury sustained in Spain, but is unlikely to return any time soon. Meanwhile, Johnny Badaire is coping manfully with the flamboyant and aggressive riding style of Giraud.
Despite their various woes however, these three crews still find themselves in the top six of the standings, and separated by just ten points. Also in the mix, is the Estonian-Latvian duo of Kert Varik and Lauris Daiders. Their astonishing form has seen them grab a couple of third places so far, and on home soil they will be going for glory.
Another crew making up lost time after a slow start, are the Britons Stuart Brown and Joe Millard. They now sit seventh, just one point behind Bax.
All of the above achievements however, are overshadowed by two young crews who, from the very start of the season, made it clear they were far from in awe of the established superstars.
Young Dutchman Koen Hermans, now teamed with reigning world champion passenger Nicolas Musset has rarely been out of the top three, and lies second in the standings fifty-seven points clear of Giraud.
Riding high at the top are the revelations of 2018, Marvin Vanluchene and his former world champion co-driver Ben Van Den Bogaart. This pairing has proved to be virtually unbeatable, with victory in the last three races, and never off the podium. Their thirty-two point lead over Hermans is significant as we approach the half-way point of the season.
That's what makes Cesis pivotal, as all these factors come together, with the best three crews in the world desperately trying to make up lost ground on two youngsters at the top of their respective games.
Catch all the action and news as it unfolds from Latvia here on fimsidecarcross.com throughout the weekend, and shortly after on Motorsport TV.
From Barry Nutley