Vanluchene brings red plate form to Latvia, but resurgent Bax take pole position.
It was heart-warming to see the return of Daniel Willemsen and Robbie Bax after the multiple champion's nasty car crash in Ukraine. He appeared to be none the worse for the experience, underlining once more what tough stuff these sidecar-crossers are. Group “A” featured Vanluchene, Giraud, Varik and Brown, whilst the rapid Dutch quartet of Bax, Hermans, Veldman and Willemsen fought it out in Group “B”.
Pre-Qualifying on the 1584 metre sandy circuit began to give pointers as to the way things might pan out.
Red plate holders Marvin Vanluchene and Ben Van Den Bogaart were almost two seconds quicker than the rest of the field in Group “A”, thus securing a prime slot for the qualifying race.
Sanders and Haller ran them close, with Valentin Giraud/Johnny Badaire third quickest, posting their best time on lap eight.
Group “B” and there were few surprises. Etienne Bax and local boy Kaspars Stupelis were straight into their stride along with Julian Veldman/Glenn Janssens and Willemsen/Bax.
Koen Hermans then joined the fast club, followed by the Cermak brothers, Benjamin Weiss and Justin Keuben, with these three crews six seconds off the pace of pole man Vanluchene.
Group “A” charged away from the gate for the twenty-minute plus three laps dash to select the top twelve crews.
A flying start by Stuart Brown and Joe Millard had them ahead of Arne Dierckens/Luc Rostingt and Vanluchene – but not by much.
The British veteran certainly knows how to gate, and that has been much of his success, plus his ability to stick doggedly at it.
But, on lap two the Belgians were past, with Giraud/Badaire closing in on Brown.
Vanluchene and Van Den Bogaart assumed control at the front, and began to ease away, whilst Giraud's Husqvarna was in full song behind Dierckens.
With three laps remaining, Vanluchene was fifteen seconds clear, as Varik/Daiders moved into fifth ahead of Brown/Millard.
With one lap to go, Vanluchene was in a class of his own, whilst Giraud seemed to getting second wind to attack Dierckens.
But that's how they finished, with a twenty-one second lead for the red plate.
Group “B” - The British do know how to gate, and Wilkinson/Chamberlain grabbed the lead in this one from Bax/Stupelis.
The Czech Cermak brothers also had a flier and were quickly on Brett Wilkinson's case, nudging him third as Etienne Bax took control at the front.
Bax's lap time was quicker than that set by Vanluchene, but could he sustain the pace.
Lap three, and both Willemsen and Hermans were past Wilkinson, underlining the sheer disadvantage of a left-hand sidecar on this track.
Meanwhile, Tomas and Ondrej Cermak were making a great show of holding second behind the reigning champion Bax.
He and Kaspars Stupelis were absolutely flying at the front, both now fighting fit and desperate to claw back the huge early season deficit.
Track conditions also suited them, and were not unlike Bax's native Holland in parts.
Two thirds distance and Hermans/Musset were third, while Julian Veldman was struggling way down in eleventh.
If he were not careful, he'd be looking at a last chance qualification, and that would be far from ideal.
With a thirty-six second lead, Bax was amazingly fast, with second-placed Cermaks ten seconds to the good over Hermans.
Wilkinson and Chamberlain had settled into what looked like a safe seventh place, which was an excellent showing in tough conditions.
Veldman was out of trouble and up to ninth going into the final lap, so he was now sure to be on the line for the Grand Prix.
At the flag, Bax had triumphed with a phenomenal display, forty-five seconds in front, claiming pole position with both fastest race time and fastest single lap.
It looked like the red plate holder Vanluchene might just have his hands full in the Grand Prix tomorrow.
Daniel Willemsen was penalised after qualifying race for not passing the noise control and lost 5 postions to final 9th place!
From Barry Nutley