It may be strange for a 23 year young man to be referred to as a veteran, but in world championship motocross terms, Tanel Leok's symbolic beard is gaining in length. Since he rolled his first metres in the heady world of full-blown world championship motocross racing at only 15 years of age, a lot of water has flown under the bridge. The Estonian Express anno 2008 has a good number of racing years under his belt, and after aafter enjoying an uninterrupted and injury-free period of preparation leading into the 2008 season, Tanel harboured high hopes of finally finally breaking through in 2008.
Being within a hair's whisker from the absolute top can be agonizingly frustrating. After a sensational debut season in the premier MX1 class in 2004, Tanel was always ranked amongst the world elite in this, the most challenging of sports. He raked in GP podiums one after the other, but his first GP eluded him with a consistency that would fill the Scarlet Pimpernel with envy. Expectations were high that the 2008 season would bring the breakthrough. Fired on by the two pistons of a good winter training period and the knowledge that he was hailed as probably the fastest lap-for-lap rider in the class, he charged into the season brimming with confidence and a desire to excel.
TANEL GOT THE TROPHY TALLY GOING EARLY IN THE SEASON
Early indications underlined his confidence. At the first international event of the year, the Starcross at Mantova, he surged to the front and collected his first silverware for the season. The wind was taken out of his sails in no uncertain measure at the next international event in Valence, France, however. His Kawasaki got upended in mid-flight, and the Estonian hard man thudded into the frozen French soil with all the subtlety of a Scud missile homing in. The resultant shoulder injury ended his hopes of an injury-free campaign, and was to plague him for the remainder of the season.
The first GP at Valkenswaard added to his woes. A good ride went unrewarded as he was forced to the side wi th mechanical problems. The anticipated dream start to the season failed to materialize, and from then on it was a game of catch up. The second GP of the season was at Bellpuig in Spain, a track where the Estonian had once famously battled with all time great Stefan Everts, and hopes were high that he could start turning his season around at this venue. The forces of nature had other ideas, however, and the rain in Spain kept pouring down, making the event resemble nothing so much as a combination of a mud wrestling match and a boat race. The second heat was therefore cancelled, nixing another change that Tanel might have had of getting into his GP rhythm.
Despite a still nagging injury, Tanel ploughed on gamely, and kept edging higher on the world championship leaderboard. Although another GP podium came at the GP of Germany, the first win still tantalizingly eluded him, until the all-green combination of his Kawasaki and the Emerald Isle popped a four leaf clover out of the ground for him. The GP of Ireland will forever be remembered as the race at which the Estonian Express bagged his first GP victory. It was not gifted to him, either, he had to endure two race long battles to claim the honours, but on the day his famously square jaw was clenched in determination, and nothing short of a nuclear attack was going to deny him his prize.
GP WINNING BUBBLY IS THE BEST KIND
Tanel is not one for idle moments when there are races to be contested, and he kept up a busy schedule of international racing. His injury kept him from defending the Dutch motocross title that he won in 2007, but once circumstances permitted, he returned to the Dutch series to prove to the opposition how lucky they were for his absence by claiming a string of victories. The trophy engraver did not have too much work to do, however, as the 2008 title stayed in the family, going instead to cousin Aigar Leok. The Estonian tricolor also fluttered high in a number of other countries, as Tanel claimed international victories in Belgium, Italy and on home soil.
Tanel again led the charge for his country at the annual Motocross of Nations. The 3 man Estonian team had its share of misfortune, which kept the country down to an unusually low 12th place in the Nations standing, but he did provide one of the highlights of the day during the final race. He battled furiously wi ht eventual race winner Sebastien Pourcel, and came within inches of passing the Frenchman, before a crash forced him to accept second place.
After four years in the factory Kawasaki squad, first under the legendary champion maker and much lamented Jan De Groot, and then under the capable hands of Martin Van Genderen, Tanel had a number of offers on the table when the team-selection musical chairs game came around. After much deliberation, he finally opted to sign with the Yamaha team of Claudio De Carli. He will be flanked in the team pits by former world champion Antonio Cairoli, and the new challenge is sure to motivate him to lift his world standing higher than the 8th place he achieved in 2008. He retains the fondest memories of his years with the Kawasaki squad, which helped him no measure in becoming one of the top MX1 riders in the world.
The start siren of a GP may well set the butterflies in the stomach aflutter, but Tanel arguably had an even more nerve-wracking ordeal in store during October, as the wedding bells pealed for him and girlfriend Karoliina Karu. Never one of the world's great conversationalists, this new experience had him lost even deeper in thought, but the ceremony proceeded without trauma, and the proverbial good time was had by all.
Tanel will spend the Festive Season with family and friends in Estonia. His preparation for 2009 is already in full swing, and supporters and fans can look forward to another great year of typical head-tilting full bore action from the Estonian Express.
TANEL CHOSE HIS WEDDING DAY TO REVEAL HIS REVOLUTIONARY NEW FACTORY BIKE
THERE WAS STILL TIME FOR A QUICK PRACTISE SESSION BEFORE THE SERVICE
TANEL, KAROLIINA AND SEBASTIAN LEOK