The Paddock prodigy produced a stunning performance that saw him occupy second place in the prologue and Off-Road Day One and claim wins on the following two full racing days to put himself on the fast track to history.
The 22-year-old then held his nerve on Saturday to translate his lead into victory as he became the first South African and youngest ever rider to win the world’s toughest hard enduro rallye.
Manni Lettenbichler and Jonny Walker completed the podium.
“I just can’t believe it, I’m so happy! I’m speechless…it’s just so good!” an elated Young said.
“I didn’t give up once all day. I knew I had to give it my everything and I was going to go until I was sick…I was breaking boundaries all day.
“Manni got three gaps on me during the race and I closed them down every time. Every time he got ahead I would ‘motocross’ my way back up to him. This means so much to me – I’m so happy!”
Oslo Beach star Blake Gutzeit (Hill Climb Grenzgaenger Neubert Racing) finished in a fantastic eighth place with fellow South African Gold Class competitor Travis Teasdale (Beta Factory Racing) crossing in an impressive 12th place.
“Done and dusted,” said Gutzeit. “I must give it up to Rex and Tommy for all their hard work through the week to make sure my Yamaha was ready for each day it was a big team effort.
“Big props to Wade who took the win in slippery muddy conditions which us South Africans aren’t used to, big respect! Most importantly, thank you to all my sponsors for making this all possible.”
Tensions were high as the riders lined up in the grassy meadows at the foot of the hills just outside Sibiu. Skies were favourable. As an act of generosity Martin Freinademetz had granted an extra half an hour of sleep to the riders, a sign of recognition of the unbelievable strain the riders had been under during the last four days.
After a night of heavy contemplation, Young, Lettenbichler and Walker knew what they had to do to conquer this day and be the overall champion. Walker had fire in his veins and charged full throttle out the start – knowing that it was 30 minutes in the overall ranking that separated him from the title this year.
Even though Walker rode an unbelievable race and made up some time, he was not able to beat the “young guns”, securing himself a third place on the podium.
Walker remarked: “Today was good. I pushed hard this morning when it was fast. Wade and Mani are really awesome so fair play to them. Mani was straight lining everything where I was zig-zagging, big congratulations to them both.
“This morning was fast and the afternoon had these never ending hills, I kept thinking I was at the top but it would keep going up. Crazy end at Gusterita with all the new steps. Red Bull Romaniacs is the hardest rally in the WESS series with the four really long days so I’m happy to have got through it.”
On this final race day of the Red Bull Romaniacs, Lettenbichler rode the race of his life – blowing everything out of the water. It was similar to last year’s Off-Road Day Four, which had earned him a fourth place in 2017.
He had started the day with a four-minute disadvantage behind Young in the overall race progress – with the ultimate win in his sights. And Lettenbichler delivered again, as he did throughout this entire race: He won the day and only missed the title by a mere two minutes, ending up with a second place on the podium, his absolutely best result so far.
Lettenbichler said, “It was for sure one of the hardest races I have ever ridden so I am super pumped to get second. Wade was really on it so, so good for him. My bike setting was good and I felt very comfortable during the race with my body and was trying to ride as smooth as I can. It’s nice that the four days are over and now it’s time for a beer!”
Young seemed to be holding back a little during the morning while Letti was charging out of the gates on fire. After the second to last checkpoint, Young let it rip and charged forward, regaining time he had lost to Lettenbichler during the morning.
His strategy appears to have been to conserve energy in the morning and then go for a final spurt, which granted him the title: the winner of the Red Bull Romaniacs Epic Edition 15.
The competitors’ determination and skill was demonstrated throughout the day, for example Young and Lettenbichler rode between two checkpoints in exactly the same time down to the second!
Also, Mario Roman and Billy Bolt: Roman, showing no mercy to his injury, was riding the exact same time to the minute as Bolt from the start up until checkpoint 8. This level of competition to the second and to the minute has never been seen before.
Despite the craziness of the race and the unbelievable level of strain riders and bikes have to go through, it again shows how much the performance level in this sport has grown. For example, in 2009 Letti senior needed 35 minutes to pass through the section “Long Walk”. In 2017 Letti junior passed the same section in just seven minutes.
In 2004, the section “20 helpers” was named after the fact that 20 people were needed to assist the riders to cross it – no helpers are needed for the same section in 2018. And the Red Bull Romaniacs keep growing the difficulty: new sections were introduced this year, that are currently setting the bar and that are considered close to impossible to ride.
One of them is the section “Babysitter”, a steep wall (up) on roots and rocks. In a few years, the top guns can be expected to just be cruising through there.
Freinademetz said: “We had a great ‘Enduro Fest.’ I am deeply impressed by how ALL competitors fought it out – and the stamina, that brought everyone through the last days. I am also extremely proud of my team that made this event happen – with a full year of preparations and hardly any sleep during the last week. I think it was worth it – thank you everyone!!
“We had planned for Off-Road Day One to be a bit of tough one, to bring everyone into the ‘red zone.’ After that we had kept them racing at that level, which was far outside of their comfort zone. Each day we carefully modulated the track, depending on weather conditions and exhaustion levels of the competitors.
“As with any race organisation, each year there is room for improvement and lessons are learnt. We will continue to develop excellent race concepts, timekeeping, rules/regulations and the world’s best Enduro tracks for each class.”