The two identical bikes were inches apart, travelling across the rough track at unfathomable speed. The riders were locked in a titanic struggle on a track that had well and truly been carved up. The leading rider was doing he could to defend his position, the one behind him using all his wiles trying to get past.
The late afternoon battle between the two factory Rockstar Energy Suzukis of Tanel Leok and Clement Desalle provided one of the highlights of what was already a busy and exciting race weekend. The scene of battle was Matterley Basin, England, baking under extraordinary hot conditions. Tanel was already well into the swing of riding, having participated in a Belgian Championship event in the ultra deep sands of Keiheuvel on the Wednesday before. The hot and heavy conditions did not faze the Estonian on that occasion, as is evidenced by the fact that he came away with the second place trophy for his efforts.
The main focus was on the GP, though. The venue was the scene last year of an incident that could so easily have turned out very badly for Tanel, when Billy McKenzie landed on him in a sickening crash. He is made of tough stuff, and walked away from the incident, but real disaster was millimeters away on that occasion. He banished all thoughts of this from his head, however, and focused on the 2012 edition of the race.
Tanel was in no mood for trifling about, and after posting the fastest time in the free practice session, he blitzed to second position on the timing board for the pre-qualifying session. His qualifying formalities ended in minor key though when a mechanical problem problem forced him out of the qualifying race early on, thereby relegating him to the last gate pick for Sunday’s races.
There was an unprecedented level of racing activity on the track for the event, with all three world championship classes, the ladies, two junior classes and the two European championship classes getting the opportunity of displaying their wares. Needless to say, the track took a pounding, and as race day wore on, an already difficult track became more challenging by the minute.
Tanel was hobbled to an extent by his unfavorable starting gate, but despite this launched himself and his Suzuki into a mid-pack position from early on. As the race strung out, he was stuck in no-mans land to a certain extent, enjoying a gap on the next rider, but not quite close enough to the riders ahead of him to make significant progress. With a few laps to go, he did find a way past former teammate Davide Guarneri to cross the line in eleventh position.
In the second race, Tanel delivered what was in all probability one of his most significant comeback rides of the season. He was stuck just inside the top 20 off the start, but this time round there was a grim determination about him, and he was taking no prisoners. By half race distance he was in a top ten position and closing in on the riders ahead like a heat-seeking missile. It was right about then that the aforementioned battle with Desalle ensued. Tanel feigned this way and that, and finally found a way past the Belgian.
The joy was short lived, for no sooner had Tanel made the pass, than his bike hit a massive hole which brought it to a rather sudden stop and deposited him on the fuel cap in a manner not entirely calculated to be pain free. This allowed Desalle to repass him, and to add insult to injury, Xavier Boog, whom he had disposed of earlier on, also found a way past. Tanel battled on and retook the position from Desalle, but although he exerted all his energies in the final sprint, he just could not repass Boog, finally crossing the line in eighth position, less than a second behind the Frenchman.
Such is the power of permutation that, although Tanel did not finish above 8th in any of the races, he was credited with seventh overall for the day. His world championship tally is now a round 300, propping him up in 8th position in the world standings.
- All GP Results