Taking place over two days in Sequatchie, Tennessee, Red Bull TKO is well-known as one of North America’s toughest and most prestigious extreme races. Giving the hordes of fans a chance to get up close and personal with their heroes, Saturday evening saw a Straight Rhythm prologue that would ultimately decide the start order for Sunday’s series of knockout races. With the first two knockouts reducing the field to just 15 riders, the third and final knockout, held on a shorter, but more intense course, decided the overall event winner.
Holding his own in the Straight Rhythm, Manuel Lettenbichler went into Sunday’s opening knockout races looking to qualify safely while conserving valuable energy for the final. Riding smoothly and finding the rocky terrain much to his liking, the young German placed second fastest in race one, before easing off for a safe sixth-place finish in race two.
Similarly to round three of the championship, the Red Bull TKO final came down to a battle between 2019 race winner Lettenbichler and his closest rival Billy Bolt, with both riders swapping the overall lead over the course of the six-lap race. Frustratingly, with the top two separated by just seconds, all it took was a small mistake by Mani for him to lose the lead and in turn, the event victory. However, crossing the line less than three seconds behind Bolt, Lettenbichler finished as runner-up, earning himself 17 valuable FIM Hard Enduro points and successfully maintaining his lead in the overall championship standings.
Manuel Lettenbichler: “I’m really happy with second, but after such a close battle, and in such tough, humid conditions, it’s always disappointing not to come away with the win. I got the holeshot but then Billy (Bolt) passed me at the end of lap one and after that we rode together for a lot of the race, swapping the lead a few times. Towards the end I could see he was getting tired, and I managed to get past him, but then on the very last lap I made a mistake and got my footpeg stuck and that was enough to lose the lead, and the win. It’s definitely an intense format here at TKO, the final is only about 45 minutes, but after racing all day, going all out really takes it out of you.”
Winner of the 2020 event, FMF KTM Factory Racing’s Trystan Hart came into this year’s Red Bull TKO fresh from his rookie success at Red Bull Romaniacs, just two weeks previously. On form and keen to show the European FIM Hard Enduro regulars what the North Americans are capable of, Hart immediately rose to the challenge, placing fourth in the Straight Rhythm prologue.
Third-fastest in the first knockout, the young Canadian then placed second in race two. Using his TKO experience to the fullest, having won the 2020 event, Hart maintained an extremely strong pace through the 45-minute final, but couldn’t quite match the pace of the leaders. Bringing his KTM home in third, the 24-year-old was pleased with his result, especially considering the quality and experience of the field.
Trystan Hart: “I have to be happy with third place, especially up against the European guys. I feel like I had a little bit left in the tank, but those guys sprinted off the start really fast and I didn’t. I was able to stick to a good pace and kept the gap to around 15 seconds for most of the race, but then I made a little mistake and lost a bit of time, so I just brought it home for third at that point. Overall, I’m pleased with how I rode, and proud to finish as top North American.”
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing return to FIM Hard Enduro World Championship action with round six of the series – The Hero Challenge – held in Poland from September 11-12.
Provisional Results – 2021 Red Bull TKO
1. Billy Bolt (GBR), Husqvarna, 37:30.546
2. Manuel Lettenbichler (GER), KTM, 37:32.895 +2.349
3. Trystan Hart (CAN), KTM, 38:30.120 +59.574
4. Wade Young (RSA), Sherco, 38:46.299 +1:15.753
5. Mario Roman (ESP), Sherco, 39:18.418 +1:47.872
Provisional standings – FIM Hard Enduro World Championship (after 5 of 8 rounds)
1. Manuel Lettenbichler (GER), KTM, 54 points
2. Billy Bolt (GBR), Husqvarna, 53 pts
3. Wade Young (RSA), Sherco, 40 pts
4. Mario Roman (ESP), Sherco, 37 pts
5. Jonny Walker (GBR), Beta, 34 pts