As we all expected, the phenomenon that is Toni Bou finished on top of the podium at Sheffield 2019, The Martin Lampkin Trial, on Saturday night. But unlike last year when he dominated from the start, Repsol Honda’s 24 time World Champion kept his fans on tenterhooks until the final section of the night to hit top form!
Toni arrived at the last section trailing his former Repsol Montesa team mate Jaime Busto by a single mark, nine against 10, and both watched first Britain’s James Dabill (Beta) and Adam Raga (TRS) five the tricky giant oil bottles.
Busto lined up to make his attempt, and if he went clean he was the winner, simple as that. The Gas Gas No.1 had been looking fantastic all night and approached the section with confidence, looked to have conquered the crucial drop and turn and then just as the commentator shouted “HE’S GOT IT!” Busto overbalanced and dropped off the bottles for a maximum. He was gutted.
Then Toni, who quite frankly had been nowhere near his top form all night, suddenly put himself in the zone, switched on the A game and conquered the hazard with the aid of one safe prod as he knew that anything better than five meant the win. The crowd went bananas as he fired the revving factory four-stroke out of the Ends cards and the day had been worth it for that one ride alone!
Sheffield has been the traditional season-opener for 24 years now and the entry this year featured four riders from Spain and four British challengers. Bou and Busto were joined by former event winner Adam Raga (TRS) and Jorge Casales (Vertigo).
Team GB was headed by local boy James Dabill (Beta) and Jack Price (Gas Gas) with the final two places going to young guns and Sheffield first-timers Jack Price and Toby Martyn. As if being thrown in at the Sheffield deep end wasn’t enough the feisty teenagers were out on new machinery in 2019, Jack on Sherco and Toby on Beta.
And there was no mercy shown as the lads were out first in the eight man heat. With no championship rules to worry about Sheffield did what it does best. Everyone rides every section, taking it turn-about on the sections and moving around the arena to keep things interesting for the fans.
Yes, it was Mission Impossible for the Brits but they gave it their all and Jack, Toby and Jack Price all had at least one big off that really hurt but thankfully all bounced back. Toby’s first section was the boxes and his one dab effort was hugely applauded.
The six sections were all big and all right on the limit of what was and wasn’t possible. The opener was the truck that featured rocks and logs, second was the large wooden boxes while third was a selection of large earth moving tyres. Section four was another conglomeration of rocks and logs in the centre of the arena, five was a brutal arrangement of skips while the final was an equally testing collection of giant oil bottles.
Qualifying was all a battle of attrition really with virtually every contender making heavy weather of the sections. Busto looked confident and lively while Raga also looked like he fancied his chances. Yet time after time some promising, awesome looking rides still ended in a maximum.
Even Toni Bou looked subdued, compared to his normal self although he was riding while still recovering from recent injury and admitted to being, “OK but not 100 per cent.” Toni had several fives including a strange one when he dropped off the side of the truck, which mystified section setter–and official observer–Dougie Lampkin who mused, “When did you ever see Toni five a section like that?”
James Dabill, responding well to encouragement from the enthusiastic crowd, found himself in a battle for the last place in the final with Vertigo factory rider Jorge Casales. Both were suffering exactly the same evening as their rivals with good rides ending in too many failures.
The silver lining though was James pipping Jorge to block an all Spanish final that was looking increasingly likely. A moment of tongue in cheek humour came from co compere Martin Crosswaite, sharing duties with cheekie chappie Wayne Kershaw, as Dibs faced Jorge in a head to head race. “Lets make some noise, “exhorted Crosser, “one rider comes from Barcelona, one from Sheffield–you choose!”
The end result, even accounting for the many maximums taken along the way, was pretty much as expected. A below par Bou still Qualified first, Bou and Busto managed to tie, while Dabill gave the home crowd a boost with a clear fourth place. All credit though to Toby and the two Jacks who more than justified their shot at the bigtime.
The final comprised the same six sections, mostly ridden in the opposite direction, the exception being the truck section which used a variation on the truck bed–which actually rode easier than in Qualifying.
The Dibsta was out first and set the standard with a cool two mark ride on the truck before Raga and Busto managed it with a dab and a time fault apiece. The set was staged for a Bou demonstration but he gifted his rivals a head start with a shock maximum.
Toni was back on form on the boxes at section two, but so were Busto and Raga so the gap remained the same but Dibs had collected a five. He dropped another while leading them into the giant tyres but Raga and Busto–the latter executing a dramatic feet-up bounce back–made it through for dabs before Bou gained a mark back on them with a determined clean.
James then fived the skips, which looked cruel, several being leant on the angle, but our top three made light work of them and then it was on to the final hazard. In between the sections there had been three exciting rounds of dual lane races where Toni proved invincible with speed as well as precision and he gained a couple of marks back on his rivals but it was still all down to the last section.
Which brings us back to where we came in and as if riding to a script–except that noone could even do that in an Indoor, Toni saw first Raga and then Busto fail before pulling off the ride of the night to leap-frog them to first place.
And as he roared off to complete a lap of honour on the Repsol Montesa, you saw just how much winning means to him. There was nothing at stake but personal pride–and given the sniff of victory after trailing his two big rivals Toni absolutely nailed it.