Vanluchene and Van Den Bogaart stay out of trouble for the Grand Prix tomorrow,
but Bax/Stupelis and Willemsen/Bax relentless in pursuit.The sweeping hills and climbs of Roggenburg were once again in prime condition for world-class sidecar cross. This venue is easily accessible for crews from across Europe and is always well supported. The blisteringly hot summer weather had finally departed, and extensive cloud cover promised a shower or two.
A large entry of over forty-five teams dictated there would be the usual two groups, with Etienne Bax/Kaspars Stupelis pitched against the series leaders Marvin Vanluchene/Ben Van Den Bogaart. Hermans/Musset would have to fight head on with Daniel Willemsen/ Robbie Bax and Valentin Giraud/Johnny Badaire in group “B”.
Pre-Qualifying against the clock took place on wet and sticky terrain following morning rain. As we have seen before, the Roggenburg track is quite friendly to left-handed sidecars, and that was borne out in group “A” by an early strong showing from the Northern Irish rider Gary Moulds with his English passenger Steve Kirwin.
Twenty minutes into the session, and the fast laps were coming in , led by Vanluchene/Van Den Bogaart and the Austrians Weiss and Schneider. Not content to sit back and watch, Etienne Bax shot to the top of the time-sheets a clear two seconds faster than the red plate holder Vanluchene.
The pace was hotting up, and in the final seconds, a stunning lap by the Czech Cermak brothers put them fastest, only to be knocked back to second place by Bax. Marvin Vanluchene was fifth behind Julian Veldman, but still safe in the knowledge that he would have a reasonable start slot.
Group “B” was maybe even wetter as the bad weather persisted. Valentin Giraud and Johnny Badaire set the standard, with last year's runner-up Koen Hermans going well too.
In the final analysis, Giraud held the advantage from Davy Sanders, with the two British crews of Wilkinson/Chamberlain and Brown/Millard, just behind fifth fastest Willemsen.
A brilliant hole-shot by Arne Dierckens and Luc Rostingt in Group “A” took them into the lead for the first couple of laps, ahead of Bax and Vanluchene.
Moulds and Kirwin were briefly fourth, until Veldman/Janssens snatched the place. Then the Ulsterman came under huge pressure from the French/Dutch duo of Bastien Thomas/Siebe Van der Putten, and the Cermak brothers.
One by one the fast regular crews moved ahead, until at over half-distance, the valiant Moulds was in tenth, but still safe for a start position.
Bax reeled off fast lap after fast lap maintaining his lead, followed by the red plated Belgian Vanluchene. Then came Arne Dierckens/Luc Rostingt and and Julian Veldman/Glen Janssens. This battle was to become an absolute focal point, as Veldman and Dierckens traded places time and time again, with the tough Dierckens eventually holding on to third at the flag with a half-second margin.
In fifth it was Thomas/Van Der Putten, with the Cermaks looking good sixth.
With two laps to go, Bax had pulled a massive ten seconds on Vanluchene, and it was clear that he was intent on repeating his domination of last year. At the finish, that margin had stretched to sixteen seconds.
Vanluchene on the other hand, just needed to stay out of trouble, so why risk anything?
The top twelve looked to be done and dusted, until Moulds and Kirwin dropped into last chance after what had been a fine race for a fighting eleventh place. They disappeared on the final lap with a collapsed sidecar wheel after Kert Varik/Lauris Daiders made it through ahead of them.
Group “B” and it was Daniel Willemsen working his magic from Stuart Brown and Joe Millard on lap one. Brown was still suffering with his wrist injury, so this was going to be tough stuff.
Willemsen and Robbie Bax were flying ahead of Hermans/Musset and Giraud/Badaire, but Brown now fourth, looked to be sitting pretty. Brett Wilkinson and Dan Chamberlain were fighting through from the back after issues at the start, but on lap four were already in the top ten and going like a train.
The rain had returned in force, but the British crews seemed to be relishing the slippery going. At the front, the main championship challengers Koen Hermans and Nicolas Musset were all over the back of Willemsen, but he was having none of it.
The top three were all very close, with Giraud in third sensing a stronger finish was possible. He was good here last year with victory in the opening Grand Prix race. The rain was even heavier, as the top three stretched the gap ahead of Brown, who was eventually to lose out to Davy Sanders/Andres Haller, but still finish a safe fifth.
Wilkinson and Chamberlain pulled themselves to a fine seventh from an appalling opening lap, so they could feel well pleased with themselves. And that's how it finished, Willemsen hugely satisfied with victory from Hermans and Giraud.
All four British crews made it through, with Jake Brown/Zac Snell tenth, and George Kinge/Lewis Gray just behind them in eleventh. If the wet weather persists tomorrow, then the two Grand Prix races are going to be some spectacle.
Stay with us for all the action on www.fimsidecarcross.com and in the later highlights show on Motorsport TV.
From Barry Nutley