Willemsen/Bax and Bax/Stupelis magnificent in Oss qualifying but penalty knocks them back.
Lying just sixteen kilometres east of Hertogenbosch, the famous circuit of Oss hosted the opening round of the 2018 FIM World Sidecarcross Championship with qualifying on Saturday with the two Grands Prix to follow on Sunday.
The usual “musical chairs” had taken place over the closed season, with reigning champion Etienne Bax re-inited with his old side-kick Latvian Kaspars Stupelis.
By the same token, his old co-driver Nicolas Musset had defected to the number five outfit of young Dutchman Koen Hermans.
Ten times World Champion Daniel Willemsen was coming to the opening round still carrying injury from a heavy practice crash, so his performance would be far from guaranteed.
The draw for groups saw Bax and Willemsen and Hermans head to head in group “A”, with Giraud, Brown. The Cermak brothers and Vanluchene in Group “B”.
With a large entry of forty-two crews, there would be fierce competition for the grid slots.
It would remain to be seen how they all fared in qualifying, but the top men were not disappointed.
In partly sunny, partly overcast conditions, the first qualifying for the 2018 World Championship season commenced.
Pre-qualifying saw the track deteriorate very quickly, with deep ruts appearing rather sooner than would normally be the case.
There were no real surprises, and the Dutch “sand-meisters” looked very much at home. Bax dominated group”A” with four of his fellow-countrymen in tow led by Daniel Willemsen.
Group “B” and Marvin Vanluchene/Ben Van Den Bogaart topped out the group from Britons Stuart Brown/Joe Millard.
Qualifying proper, and the real business of the day was underway.
Group “A” left the gate with Daniel Willemsen/Robbie Bax getting a flyer.
Etienne Bax/Kaspars Stupelis messed up their pole advantage and were working for a living. They were stuck behind a rapid starting Austrians Benjamin Weiss/Patrick Schneider, but were up to third at the end of lap two.
Willemsen had his head down and was now five seconds clear, with Brits Brett Wilkinson/Dan Chamberlain fifth.
Four laps in, and Bax was now second with Wilkinson up to fourth, some twenty-eight seconds adrift of the leader.
Parts of the track were now becoming impossible, with bikes becoming bogged down in the deep ruts. Would this present a problem for the leaders?
The Austrians were having a fantastic ride in third, as Wilkinson stuck to it ahead of a closing Koen Hermans/Nicolas Musset.
Bax eventually reeled in Willemsen, and was within one second of him on lap seven.
Twenty minutes gone and Brett Wilkinson felt the Hermans heat as the youngster upped his game from a tardy start. Then on lap nine he was past the British pair. They were to finish a safe fifth.
With one lap remaining, Willemsen/Bax dug deep and stretched a gap they would hold to the flag. This veteran still has it by the spade-load, and the reigning champion was just one second adrift.
This incredible Dutch display was over fifty seconds ahead of the next men – the Austrians Weiss/Schneider.
Group “B” and Vanluchene/Van Deb Bogaart grabbed the advantage over Brown/Millard on lap one after the British pair holeshotted. They have already shown the Husqvarna works well with victory in Holland recently.
Vice champion Giraud was pressing in third, so Stuart Brown would have his work cut out.
This trio was pulling away from the chasers into lap two, with Giraud looking menacing. Giraud too runs a four-stroke engine, and they seemed to be working well.
Eight minutes in and the Frenchman made his move on Brown, and seconds after, the compliment was returned. Stuart Brown is not a man to settle when he knows he can hold his own.
Then Giraud made it stick and was in second, with the race leader in sight.
In fourth were Dierkens/Rostingt but as in race one, forty or more seconds adrift. Tomas and Ondre Cermak were in fifth and in sight of fourth place. This looked to be just a matter of time for them.
The top three were all flying, and Giraud seemed unable to close the young Belgian down.
The Cermak brothers went fourth as predicted on lap seven, but with an enormous gap ahead of them, that might just be where they were to finish. However, on the final lap, they were nailed by Kert Varik and Lauris Daiders.
Twenty-five minutes gone, and Valentin Giraud/Elijs Mucenieks were eight seconds behind the leader, with little hope of closing that gap.
Vanluchene and Van Den Bogaart were supreme, and looked impeccable at the front. That was how it finished.
With the majority of the grid now decided, the Last Chance Decider would fill the vacant slots later in the day.
Stop Press News - a steward's enquiry ruled that Etienne Bax, Daniel Willemsen and Brett Wilkinson had disregarded a yellow flag in their Group “A” tussle. As a result, they were each given ten places penalty. This could mean Wilkinson starting on row two tomorrow.
From Barry Nutley