Young Dutch delight as Veldman and Hermans qualify in style in Germany
Strassbessenbach has hosted many major Motocross World Championship events over the years, and provides a challengingly different environment from the deep sands evident on so many of the low country tracks. Etienne Bax did the Strassbessenbach double in 2017, whilst his young rival and 2018 title favourite Marvin Vanluchene could do no better than eight and sixth in the two races
Pre-Qualifying – would be an indicator of how the teams might fare. The two sessions provided the fifty-one strong entry list with all the ammunition they needed to master the ultra-fast climbs and drops of this typical 1670 metre hill-side track. The two groups were a fairly even split of talent, as Vanluchene crossed swords with Bax, Brown, Giraud and Veldman, whilst Group “B” matched Hermans with Willemsen, Varik, Dierckens, Cermak and Wilkinson.
Group “A” - and Valentin Giraud reunited with Johnny Badaire set the early pace, with Etienne Bax quickly making his presence felt. The reigning world and newly crowned Dutch champion was a clear second faster than the pack, with the top four including Julian Veldman and Glenn Janssens. Stuart Brown and Joe Millard were feeling at home on the rapid downhill jumps, and moved ahead of Gert Van Werven/Jens Mans into fourth fastest. The Finnish Kunnas brothers were also looking strong, as indeed were the Italians Compalati/Choppin. Giraud then turned up the wick, pulling Vanluchene with him. It was clear the young Belgian was going to fight off any threat to his dominance, and he wanted a good grid slot for the qualifying race. He was on the pace, and split Bax and Giraud in the closing stages of the session.
Group “B” - saw a long shower of rain, with tentative times early on, but then the class of Willemsen/Bax shone through, and they set a good time on lap three. Davy Sanders and Andres Haller had set the initial pace, feeling at home on the quick circuit, with Kert Varik and Lauris Daiders also showing their class. The changing conditions were reflected in slower times, but Hermans/Musset banged in a fast one to go top at the half-way stage. There had been no sign thus far of the Czech Cermak brothers, but then suddenly they were there, and shot into seventh fastest. Sanders was looking really good and again went quickest, although his best time was still two seconds shy of Etienne Bax in group “A”. That was until Willlemsen put the lid on it with another leap into the lead. The veteran's dominance was short-lived however, because Koen Hermans and Nicolas Musset topped out the session at the flag.
Group “A” tore off the line with the rain shower having just about passed. It would be hard to make the top twelve in such a big grid, with the final six going through from last chance. Young Julian Veldman with Glen Janssens grabbed the lead from Giraud and Vanluchene. Brown and Millard were up to fourth, with Etienne Bax having a shocker further down the field, having initially taken the holeshot. On lap four, Bax was back in the groove in the top twelve and charging through with gusto. Brown was holding fourth, but Benjamin Weiss and Patrick Schneiders were in close company and looking threatening.
Lap seven and Vanluchene banged in the fastest time going under two minutes, with Bax and Stupelis absolutely flying, and up to eighth. Giraud in second place was keeping Vanluchene at bay, whilst Veldman was looking excellent in front. At this stage the top four were fairly clear, but Bax was still in determined mood and on Weiss/Schneiders looking to pass. Once past, he was then in sixth behind Thomas and Van der Putten and that is where he stayed. Veldman it was though, who would have the pick of the gate position for tomorrow, along with the winner of the next race.
Group “B” and away they went. Despite the rain, marshalls still found the need to brandish their hosepipes. Humidity and ambient temperature would make this a tough call, so technically, conditions might just favour the younger members, assuming of course they are fitter. We are talking young, and youth prevailed from the gate with Koen Hermans and Nicolas Musset heading the pack on lap one from a great start by the Cermak brothers chased by Daniel Willemsen. Dierckens/Rostingt and Varik/Daiders were right up there too, as Willemsen/Bax moved second, and set after their young compatriot. Santermans/Beleckas, Sanders/Haller and Brett Wilkinson/Dan Chamberlain came next. Remember, this was all about making the top twelve and avoiding Last Chance.
All the top crews looked to be safe in that regard, with lots of battles going on for the other places. Arne Dierckens and Luc Rostingt looked menacing as they closed in on the Cermaks for third place, whilst Willemsen appeared safe in second, some six seconds adrift of race leaders Hermans/Musset.
Barring problems going into the closing stages, Hermans/Musset had this one, although their fastest lap was outside the time set by Veldman in Group “A” and Willemsen was getting closer. Suddenly the gap was down to a couple of seconds, with the old master breathing down Herman's neck. Two laps to go, and Willemsen smelt blood. Was there enough time? Cermaks were hanging on to third, but only just. Hermans upped the pace and brought it home, with the five behind being Willemsen, Cermak, Dierckens, Varik and Wilkinson. Cermak brothers finally dropped to 8th position due to penalty for not passing the noise control.
The final six places on tomorrow's grid would come from Last Chance later in the day.
From Barry Nutley