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 Trip To Tallinn - Part 2


Race day!! In previous years the meeting has been held over two days, but due to a marathon and various cycling races taking place in the Pirita area of Tallinn tomorrow everything happens on the one day this year. The event itself is called the 'Kalevi Suursoit' - unfortunately I'm not sure of the translation - and this is the 40th meeting. Practicing, as we would call it, was split into two parts. 'Training', which consists of untimed sessions for each class to enable riders to familiarise themselves with the circuit, started at 8am (!), whilst 'qualifying' for each class began at 10.55am, which is timed and determines grid positions. A minimum number of laps are required to be completed by each competitor in the two sessions combined in order for them to be able to take part in the race.

I arrived up at the paddock area mid-way through the 'training' sessions. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits, especially as the weather was glorious once again. I went for a bit of a hike round the course to suss out potential vantage points - you can walk along the road between each session, but otherwise you have to rely on tramping through fields - and took a few photos. I found myself standing next to Joe Wright (resplendent in Skerries t-shirt) and Francis Everard, for half-an-hour or so - two real stalwarts of Irish racing. Francis asked me if I knew Ian Tomlinson and family, whose garage on Bray Hill he used to use when he raced at the TT in the early nineties - I know Ian well!

Dave Kirby works on his bike
Dave Kirby works on his bike

I returned to the paddock towards the end of qualifying to a bit of a panic in Paul Hunt's camp - Big H had run out of fuel out on the course but his crew had no more fuel left! Chris Heyes had drawn the short straw and had been despatched down to the local garage on a moped to fill a couple of cans! Apparently they all had a great night last night! There were several other British riders around the paddock - the mad Taff Nigel 'Speedy' John, Ray Hutchinson, MGP competitors Michael Sutton and Mark Parrett (Mark sponsored by Wilson & Collins - Des Collins also arrived in Tallinn yesterday) and Scott King.

I went up to the start line just as the sidecars went out on their qualifying session, and saw our Dutch friend Martin Konig set off with his last-minute replacement passenger - a rather nervous Scott King! Five minutes later and Martin and another competitor pulled in looking desperately shaken - and we soon discovered the reason why. The passenger in the outfit just in front of them had fallen out and cartwheeled into the roadside trees. As this had happened only 100 metres from the scene of Joey's crash the horror felt by everyone as we waited for news was evident.

It was perhaps unfortunate that this was the moment when Stephen Watson approached me to do a short piece for BBC Northern Ireland - my first ever television interview. I honestly can't remember what he asked me, or what I said, but remember thinking that it wasn't too bad - I think it was about Joey's popularity in the Isle of Man. If anyone saw it (if it was used), I'd love to know! There were conflicting reports at this stage about the seriousness of the sidecar accident - nobody really seemed to know for sure.

Half an hour later came the official opening ceremony, which was excellent. All the riders paraded past the grandstand behind a brass band, with their national flags - although Paul Hunt didn't appear to have a Manx flag, something to put right next year! After a few short speeches, the racing was declared open by club president Raido Ruutle.

Having sampled a couple of superb kebabs from one of the many refreshment stalls, I decided to go back out on the circuit for the racing, but first popped back to the paddock to wish Big H (now with fuel!) the best of luck. His crew were quite nervous of the fact that his three races run consecutively, which will leave precious little time to work on the bikes between races.

Big H talks to his fans!
Big H talks to his fans!

The format for all the races is the same. There is a sighting lap behind the inspection car, after which competitors take their place on the grid. This is then followed by the warm-up lap, which is quickly followed by the start of the race. At the end of the race it is then necessary to do another lap to get back to the paddock, allowing the successful riders to take the applause of the crowd.

The first event was a combined 125 and 250 race (with a separate 'youngsters' award in the 125 class), which I watched from just before the bridge over the Pirita River about half a mile into the lap. Following a sharply downhill approach, this is a right-angled right-hander over the bridge, with temporary wooden banking affording a small amount of protection from the 10-foot drop down to the river! There was a good crowd here, some watching the racing, and others content to sunbathe by the river - the weather was still absolutely glorious. This was a 10 lap race, with victories going to Nigel 'Speedy' John in the 125 after a good battle with Estonian Joel Vides, and Michael Sutton in the 250, just beating local legend Lembit Teesalu. Ray Hutchinson was third in the 125. On his victory lap, Speedy spotted some very attractive local ladies at the side of the road (very close to where I was, strangely enough!) and proceeded to do the most spectacular burnout you've ever seen!

Next came another combined race, the 600 and 1000 Stocksport, which was another 10-lapper for basically bog-standard production machines. For this race I hiked up to the 'Plangu Kurv', a fast right-hander just before the left-hand 'gooseneck' at the northern end of the course - an excellent vantage point. The biggest moment of excitement here came not during the race but on the warm-up lap, when one of the riders ran wide, went up the grass bank on the outside of the corner, rode along the top of the bank with his head in amongst the trees, got the bike under control again, rode back down off the bank and carried on! Amazing - Randy Mamola eat your heart out! The race was another close-fought contest with the two classes being quite closely matched. Paul Hunt soon hit the front on his R1, closely followed by a couple of Estonian riders and Mark Parrett on an R6. There wasn't much in it throughout the race, but Big H gradually increased the gap to win by a few seconds - a great performance for his debut on the circuit. Mark Parrett was a good third in the 600 class.

Big H on the rostrum
Big H on the rostrum

Next came the big one - the inaugural Joey Dunlop Superbike race over 12 laps. What an honour it would be to win this one! For this race I headed back towards the river bridge, and took up a vantage point about 100 metres beyond the bridge on the outside of the corner. This was slightly precarious as I was right in the firing line of anyone getting the gas on a bit too early on the exit from the corner, but it was certainly exciting. To my great delight Paul Hunt soon hit the front just ahead of Roy Jeffreys, and the two of them were riding brilliantly to open up a considerable gap on the rest of the field. By the halfway mark Big H was about 6 seconds ahead and looking really comfortable, but Roy then whittled this down to 2 or 3 seconds over the next few laps - a great battle between the two big Yamahas. I'm not normally too demonstrative during races but was giving Paul the 'go faster' signals at this stage. Whether he saw me I'm not sure, but he really went for it on the last couple of laps, stretching the lead back to around 5 seconds to take a brilliant and emotional win.

He certainly saw me almost out in the road on his victory lap - he looked pretty chuffed as well, to say the least! Dave Woolams was a distant but very good third, and after a slow start Mark Parrett hauled himself up to about sixth on his Kawasaki. It really was a fantastic moment to see a Manxman win the first Joey Dunlop race in Tallinn - and on his first visit to the circuit as well. Even more remarkably, it later emerged that he had beaten Joey's fastest ever lap round here, although he was just outside the outright lap record which was set by a Finnish rider in 1998. It also emerged that Mark Parrett had recorded the second fastest lap of the race during his late charge - Des Collins will be absolutely delighted.

The next race was the combined 12-lap 600 and 1000 Supersport, which was for production-type machines but with certain modifications allowed - I'm not sure exactly what the rules were to be honest. I decided to stay in the same spot for this race as I had got chatting to a very friendly group of young local lads who were very knowledgeable about road-racing, and knew all about Joey Dunlop and the Isle of Man TT. As the riders came round on their sighting lap, Big H was obviously still sky-high with joy, waving furiously to everyone! In this race the 1000s definitely had the edge over the 600s, but both classes were keenly contested. In the 1000 category two Estonian riders had a very close battle, with Marti Sulengo just taking the honours. Dave Woolams rode very well again to take another third place on his Yamaha. In the 600s there was a great win for Suzuki-mounted Scott King, well clear of Estonian Hanno Velt, with Paul Hunt finishing third on his CBR Honda, a little off the pace this time - but what a day for him with two wins and a third! Mark Parrett was leading the 600 class for a while until a flat battery put him out having just set the fastest lap of the race.

I decided to go back up to the start/finish area for the sidecar race, but was then stunned to see the outfits touring round the course behind a black flag. Very sadly, the passenger who had crashed this morning had died, and as a result the race was cancelled - a desperately sad situation and one that again demonstrates the great risks associated with road-racing.

Action on the teisty roads of Tallinn
Action on the twisty roads of Tallinn

As always, though, the show must go on, and when I got back to the paddock, Big H and his crew were beside themselves with delight. Robbie Black was almost in tears - though he won't thank me for saying so! - and Kevin Cringle and Chris Heyes were more than a little pleased too. They are all great Joey Dunlop fans, and for Paul to win the first memorial race in Tallinn was indescribable. 'It doesn't get much better than this' they kept saying!!

Poor Dave Kerby was not best pleased though - I didn't think I'd seen him during the racing and soon discovered why. The timetable he had been given showed the Joey Dunlop race (his only race) to be the fourth event of the programme, but it was actually on third so he missed it, having travelled all that way! John Caffrey had been a little off the pace by his usual standards in his three races and was a little disappointed, but all the rest of the British and Manx riders were at least on the podium.

Next came the prize presentation in front of the grandstand, which was conducted by Raido Ruutel and the English-speaking interpreter, the lovely Cat. Dave Kerby received a humble apology for the cock-up over his race - but though it will be little consolation to him I reckon it was the only mistake the organisers made in the whole meeting, which was run throughout with superb efficiency and professionalism. All the other riders I had got to know got onto the podium - including John Caffrey who was third 'veteran'! The highlight of course was Paul Hunt's award for the Joey Dunlop race - he went up draped in a Manx flag, and after receiving his trophy turned to the crowd and dedicated the win to Joey - marvellous.

Details of the first three finishers in each race can be accessed by clicking on

At the conclusion of the presentations a local guy, who turned out to be the official Estonian motorsport journalist and historian Aare Arula, approached me. He showed me loads of photos from last year, which he had showed to Robert Dunlop yesterday. He told me take any I wished to have, so I chose two of Joey - one at the start of the Superbike race (his last win) and one at the start of the fateful 125 race. He also gave me a magazine containing a tribute to Joey that he wrote last year, and a CD-Rom with footage from last year's racing and a history of the event dating back to 1959. He gave me his business card and I promised to send him a Joey Dunlop t-shirt in return (which I must remember to do!).

I went back to the hotel to shower and change, and then got a taxi up to the riders' camp to meet up with Big H and the boys for the celebration. We had a few beers in the bar there with most of the other British riders and their crews, and some very attractive locals who had latched on! The local TV news was on, and the main item on the sport was some coverage of the racing. Robbie Black then produced a Manx CD which he got the barmaid to put on - what a feeling to be sitting in a bar in Tallinn listening to 'The Laxey Wheel Keeps Turning' after two Manx victories this afternoon! After a quite terrifying taxi ride (race!) into town we went into a bikers pub where 'Speedy' John and Robbie treated us to their very own brand of erotic pole-dancing - it almost put me off my ale! We visited a number of hostelries, during which time Robbie decided to go and get something to eat - twenty minutes later he appeared back on the passenger seat of a sidecar he had flagged down in the street! To give some idea of the price of alcohol, I got in a round of eleven double vodkas at this stage, which cost less that a tenner.

My memories of the rest of the evening are fairly hazy, but we certainly ended up in a club until the early hours by which time I, for one, was absolutely hammered. I decided to walk back to the hotel along the seafront, which was at least four miles so I must have been drunk! - and by this time, around 4am, the sun was blazing from a cloudless sky and there were people sunbathing on the beach. Unreal, but what a day! I really wished I could have been here for longer but leave tomorrow afternoon - but definitely hope to return soon!

Tallinn - A wonderful place to visit. I was obviously very lucky with the weather, but I'm told that it's not at all unusual to have long spells of hot settled weather there at this time of the year. Although Estonia has only been independent from the Soviet Union for ten years Tallinn is quite a westernised city in many ways but with enough eastern influences to provide an interesting blend. The architecture in the old part of the city is breathtaking with lots of medieval castles and cobbled streets, and the coastline is beautiful. Nearly everyone speaks English - communication is certainly no problem at all - and the people are exceptionally friendly. It's well geared up for tourists with many visitors coming from Scandinavian countries, but it has none of the crowds or hassles associated with places like Spain. And as for the women…!

Race Meeting - As already mentioned, the organisation of the whole meeting was slick and very professional, and was a credit to all involved. I believe the club President Raido Ruutel is highly ambitious to promote motor sport in Estonia and is next year starting a round-the-world promotional trip to be named 'Rolling Estonia' with an ultimate view to building a Grand Prix track there. It is also hoped that some Estonian riders will ride in the TT or MGP next year. I have heard many remarks following Joey's death, from people who have never been there, about the Tallinn meeting being 'a backwater', a 'crappy circuit' and so on. I can assure everyone that it is none of those things. It is an excellent road-racing meeting held in delightful surroundings and amongst the friendliest of people.

Over that past year I have associated Tallinn only with being the place where Joey Dunlop was so tragically killed. I now know that it is a vibrant, friendly and beautiful city with a real feel-good factor, which hosts a superb road-racing event, and to which I will definitely return in the future. I can fully understand why Joey Dunlop loved it so much.

by David Griffiths

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