The Sweet 16 edition of the world’s toughest hard enduro rallye got underway, as always, with the inner city time trial qualifications – the legendary Prologue.
Andy Fazekas and his team designed a track that relates to the Sweet 16 tagline since the Prologue ride appeared to be a lot smoother and fluent compared to last year.
One lap was about 700m long and the riders had to master a total of 12 man-made obstacles made of stones, tree logs, truck tires and wood.
More than 15,000 spectators descended on the city centre of Sibiu to watch the riders from 50 nations battle for the first podiums of the multi-day race.
Young, who last year became the first South African and youngest ever rider to win the iconic event, started well in the star-studded Gold Class and qualified for the Prologue Finals, where a minor mistake cost him time. However, the Paddock prodigy still finished in a solid eighth place.
“I’m not entirely happy with the result, but I’m ready to push hard in the mountains the next few days,” said Young.
The other South African Gold Class riders also had solid outings. Dwayne Kleynhans (Brother Leader Tread KTM) finished 18th, Matthew Green (Kargo Liqui Moly Racing) 20th and William Oosthuizen (Pepson Plastics Husqvarna Racing) 30th.
The Gold Class did two qualification runs (only one being mandatory) and the fastest run counted for the result and thus the starting order of the Prologue Finals race.
In the qualifiers, Billy Bolt (UK, Husqvarna) set the fastest lap: 1 Minute 2 seconds 153 milliseconds. Pol Tarrés (ESP, Husqvarna) performed exceptionally well coming in second at 1m 5s 860ms and Young third at 1m 6s 603ms. The time difference between Young, Manuel Lettenbichler (GER, KTM) in fourth and Taddy Blazusiak (POL, KTM) was only 0.3 seconds.
As per the results of the qualifiers, the first row of the Prologue Finals had Bolt, Tarrés, Young, Blazusiak and Lettenbichler lined up. Blazusiak took the holeshot followed by Bolt and Young. After the first lap, Blazusiak was also the first to run into the traffic caused by the 35 Gold Class riders who qualified for the final run.
After Blazusiak had won the Erzbergrodeo five times in a row, he became specialised in SuperEnduro, where he was able to win the World Championship six times. This experience showed: his pace was both consistently fast and controlled and neither the other contenders nor the traffic posed a serious threat to the extraordinary rider from Poland.
While Young tried to catch up, he made a mistake and got stuck on one of the stone obstacles, losing valuable time. Jonny Walker, who is still not fully recovered from a serious wrist injury in 2018, managed to get through the traffic quite efficiently. So did Tarrés, who finished just two seconds behind Jonny.
Blazusiak maintained a clear lead throughout all of the eight laps to take the win. His Red Bull KTM Factory Racing teammate Jonny Walker (GBR) came in second, despite not being fully recovered from a serious wrist injury in 2018, Tarrés finished third on his Husqvarna, just two seconds behind Walker.
A pleased Blazusiak said: “I had a great start – Billy Bolt was to the side of me and riding aggressive, but I thought to myself I’m not having any of it. I got my head down and charged a few laps, but then I made a little mistake. Luckily I had a good gap to the guys behind so was able to stay in front. From then on I rode defensive lines and just took it steady. It feels great to get the win, although it doesn’t mean that much in terms of the whole event, however it’s still a good feeling to win here in front of the crowds.”
Walker said, “I had a bit of a nightmare in the qualifying – it went ok but it just wasn’t fast enough for the front row, so that was a bit of a disadvantage at the start of the final. I’m happy with second – I could see Taddy but just couldn’t gain on him. My momentum is building gradually as this season goes on, it’s slow, but I’m feeling confident going into this one. We’ve made a few changes to the bike over the break and I’m positive we can turn things around here in Romania.”
Tarrés remarked, “This morning, I had a super good feeling with the track and the bike and I knew I would be able to push in the final. In the end it all went well. I had a good battle with Jonny throughout the race, but eventually he got second and I got third. But I’m super happy to be on the podium here at Red Bull Romaniacs – it’s one of the toughest races in the world. The result means I have to start first tomorrow, but my plan is to push as hard as I can and hopefully stay with Jonny and Taddy if they come past me.”
As always, the results of the Prologue also determine the starting order for Off-Road Day One on Wednesday. But there is a different rule for those riders who finish the Prologue on the podium: The winner can actually pick one of the first three starting positions. As a consequence, Blazusiak picked the third and Walker the second starting place, so that Tarrés is left to open Off-Road Day One
Wednesday’s track is 102km long. It starts with the good and heavy double loop “Titanic” and “The Wall” where some strong riding technique is required. After the Service Point, it’ll continue with two harder loops where some pushing will most likely be required. After that, the riders will enjoy some nice single trails as they approach the finish. At 102km, it’ll be a rather short but pretty intense day for the Gold Class.
Top 10 Results – Gold Class:
1 Taddy Blazusiak (POL, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing): 8 laps – 10 minutes 48 seconds 227 milliseconds
2 Jonny Walker (GBR, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing): 8 laps – 11m 0s 227ms
3 Pol Tarrés (ESP, TTR Officine Rigamonti Husqvarna): 8 laps – 11m 2s 477ms
4 Alfredo Gomez Cantero (ESP, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing): 8 laps – 11m 13s 973ms
5 Billy Bolt (GBR, Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing): 8 laps – 11m 18s 227ms
6 Manuel Lettenbichler (DEU, Flatschingfast Factory Team): 8 laps – 11m 18s 977ms
7 Graham Jarvis (GBR Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing): 8 laps – 11m 22s 477ms
8 Wade Young (ZAF, Sherco Factory Racing Team): 8 laps – 11m 23s 727ms
9 Mario Roman (ESP, Sherco Factory Racing Team): 8 laps – 11m 55s 727ms
10 David Cyprian (CZ, JD Gunnex KTM): 7 laps – 10m 46s 973ms