Willemsen superb again in Strassbessenbach Qualifying
The draw for group positioning landed the two quickest Dutch crews Bax.Musset and Willemsen/Bax together for the weekend in Germany, making for a strong Group “A”.
This left championship attacker Valentin Giraud/Elvijs Mucenieks heading Group “B” with Stuart Brown/Joe Millard to contend with, as well as the young Dutch crew of Veldman/Beunk and the Czech Cermak brothers. In free practice, Giraud had posted a 1 minute 55 second lap, so he clearly was happy with the fast hillside going situated above the town. This track was in complete contrast to the deep sand of previous rounds, so would that make life difficult for the men at the top of the table - Well, we were soon to find out.
Pre-Qualifying - Group “A” as expected, was headed by Willemsen, who did one out-lap and then a flyer, giving him enough breathing space to sit back and watch the rest try to beat it. When Etienne Bax came close, out he went again to protect the position and was only just successful in doing so, as Bax came to within one-tenth. Behind these two rivals, the Belgians of Vanluchene and Dierkens were also doing a good job on the 1.6 kilometre circuit, but were split by another Dutch crew Koen Hermans/Kenny Van Gaalen.
Pre-Qualiying - Group “B” and Valentin Giraud was on an absolute mission, banging in an identical time to Bax on his first flying lap, and following it up with a faster time the 1.55's. He was obviously much more at home here than in the sand. Tomas and Ondre Cermak were also well inside two minutes as were Sanders and Brown, so they too were all much happier. But no-one could match the speed of Giraud/Mucenieks however, and it looked very good for them in qualifying proper and tomorrow's races.
Qualifying “A” - The big hilly track had been watered and prepared perfectly for the opening session. Willemsen headed the charge from Bax on lap one, from Vanluchene/Kurpnieks and Dierckens/Rostingt. By lap four, the lead pair were ten seconds ahead of the chasing Belgians, with British crew Brett Wilkinson/Dan Chamberlain having a strong ride in seventh. Whilst Wilkinson had a cushion behind, he was on the tails of Santermans and Daiders just ahead. Six laps in and Willemsen had a six second gap and was really on a charge, as attention focussed on the Wilkinson/Santermans scrap. The British rider, now almost recovered from the collarbone injury, was feeling very much at home on the steep drops, huge hills and big jumps. Then they were gone, having stopped somewhere round the back of the track with mechanical failure. This was to the dismay of the many British fans track-side and at home. It would be “last chance” again for Wilkinson. Meanwhile, at the front, Willemsen was in devastating form, with a commanding margin over his fellow countryman and series rival Etienne Bax. The gap at the flag was twenty-five seconds.
Qualifying “B” - and again Giraud set to work in style. The Frenchman and his Latvian passenger stormed round the hilltop track with a fierce determination. Still smarting from defeat in Belgium, Giraud knew he was fast here and made the most of it.l The Czech Cermak brothers hit the front as the gate dropped with Giraud making a good start to be in third lap on one. Then Giraud was past Burgler/Betschart, and within half a lap took the lead. His margin after four laps, was already almost ten seconds, with that target time of Willemsen's to beat. Burgler/Betschart muscled past the Cermaks, and Stuart Brown/Joe Millard's consistency paid off as they moved into fourth some three seconds behind the fast-starting Czechs. Track degradation meant that to equal his earlier 1.55 would be impossible, so Giraud focussed on the job in hand and brought it home safely. The battle for second was literally anybody's with Burgler, Cermak and Brown all circulating together. Brown then went third, persistence paying off. With just over one lap remaining, second place was not impossible, but Burgler held him off. Giraud eased off on the final lap, but won with a fifteen second margin.
Giraud and Willemsen will have the pick of the gate tomorrow. A truly delicious prospect.
From Barry Nutley