Estonian motocross fans are amongst the most dedicated you can find anywhere on the planet. At races far and wide, you inevitably see the blue/black/white standards being waved aloft, sometimes in such profusion that you’d swear half of the population of the tiny Baltic nation had made the trip. It is a pity then that Estonia does not have a home GP, and the closest that Estonian enthusiasts have to a home world championship event, is the GP in neighbouring Latvia. A bit further away, let’s say an overnight ferry trip’s worth of further, lies Sweden, which is still close enough to draw them in their hordes.
The main object of adulation is inevitably their top motocross export, Tanel Leok, who has been dishing out – and parrying the blows of world championship racing for more than ten years now. The last few outings have given every indication that he is close to regaining his best form, and chance were that the trip would be well worth the while.
The track at Uddevalla is in a sense one of contrasts. Overlooked by a spectacular rocky outcrop, which offers a magnificent overview of the track and makes you feel like you’ve scaled a mini Kilimanjaro once you get to the top, the scenic beauty around the track is in a sense in jarring contrast to the track itself, with its stark industrial qualities. Whether the track be of the kind to be found in the Southern suburbs of hell or next to the Rivers of Babylon, Tanel focuses on one thing, though, and that is to race. Fast.
The Estonian Express has returned to his throttle-bending ways of before, this much is clear, and he posted the third fastest time during timed practice. He followed this up with a solid qualifying race, finishing ninth, to assure him and his bright yellow factory Suzuki of a favourable starting gate come Sunday’s races.
The paddock awoke to the pitter-patter of rain on the trucks and tents. Uddevalla’s gritty soil is well capable of handling water, and though the track would never turn into one of those add-a-ton-of-mud-to-your-bike affairs, an already tricky and technical track now became more rutty than a potato field, and would snatch the unwary at the slightest provocation.
Tanel launched well, but the waterlogged start straight require care in the passing of it, and the huge spray of muddy water didnt make matters easier either. He dove into the first corner in 11th position, and from there on his progress was forward all the way. He was steady, yet fast, and after a challenging race, finished sixth.
A near dream launch slung Tanel into third position at the start of race 2. He was immediately under attack from a resurgent Shaun Simpson, and the Scotsman eventually found a way past. Kevin Strijbos, with afterburners well and truly lit, also came past. but Tanel reclaimed a spot when Simpson became the victim of a bout of over-enthusiasm. With a good result looming large, Tanel kept his head down and focused on making it to the finish on a track that had already claimed a number of victims during the weekend. He finally brought his Suzuki home in fourth position, his best result of the year. This helped him to sixth overall on the day, a mere three points off a podium spot. More importantly, it gained him a spot in the world ranking, promoting him to ninth. Seeing as teammate Clement Desalle had won the GP and moved into the world championship lead, there was much room for celebratory backslapping in the team tent afterwards.
Tanel is not given to great after dinner – or for that matter, after race speeches, but he was quietly happy after his day’s efforts. “The day was good for me,” he remarked dryly. “My starts are getting better, and a found a rhythm quickly. I’m looking forward to the Latvian GP. I like the track and a lot of my home fans will be there to support me.”
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