The fight for top 8
Wednesday 22nd September 2010
As the tussle for World Championship qualification approaches boiling point, speedwaygp.com editor Paul Burbidge is shocked to see Nicki Pedersen scrapping for his SGP future.
The fight for the top eight places in this season's World Championship could not be fiercer - nothing new there. The only thing which has stunned pundits and fans alike this year is the identity of those on the outside looking in.
Danish star Hans Andersen is battling to avoid a second straight season outside the automatic qualification berths.
Re-crowned Swedish champion Andreas Jonsson will have to be at his best to join fellow countrymen Antonio Lindback and Freddie Lindgren in the series next year.
Despite good efforts in their World Championship debut seasons, Magnus Zetterstrom and Tai Woffinden are struggling to get in for 2011, unless they are granted a permanent wild card by BSI Speedway and the FIM in the winter.
But the one name down there which has surprised me the most is 12th-placed Nicki Pedersen.
The three-time world champion looked to have suffered a mere blip last season when his two years on top of the SGP rostrum ended with a disappointing sixth-place finish. But there is no doubt he would snatch your hand off if you offered him No.6 in the standings now.
It was great to see Pedersen back on form at the FIM Dansk Metal Nordic SGP at Vojens on September 11. He felt he had turned the corner after finishing fourth in the final and with the Odense-born racer's confidence climbing, he looks set to be a serious spoiler in the FIM Nice Italian SGP on Saturday evening.
He may be nine points off the top eight with just two rounds to close the gap, but the Gorzow, Lejonen and Holsted hero is a man you write off at your peril.
There was a time earlier this year when rumours were circulating about Pedersen's future in the Grand Prix series. But it seems unlikely he will give up on his quest to win a fourth world crown and I, for one, would love to see one of the sport's great entertainers back in 2011.
During my formative years covering the British Elite League at Poole, he became the man the Pirates fans loved to hate.
There were a number of reasons for this. His hard-charging style was not always conducive to making friends at away tracks and Pedersen never missed an opportunity to wind the Wimborne Road fans up.
But the sheer volume of points he racked up for Pirates' South Coast rivals Eastbourne meant he always left Dorset with the last laugh.
While he may not have won a popularity contest among opposing fans, there is no doubt he was the one rider who gained the biggest reaction from the terraces.
His presence in the away team undoubtedly lifted attendances as fans turned up, hoping to see their favourite riders get one over on the two-time FIM Speedway World Cup winner. Quite often Pedersen came out on top, but there was always drama when he was in town.
He is also one of the most honest riders you could wish to interview. I remember a night at Eastbourne in 2007, when Poole legend Craig Boyce punched him to the ground after Pedersen confronted him angrily about a hard first corner.
In some sports, the world's best performers would be mollycoddled away from talking about such controversial situations. But this does not happen in speedway and Pedersen was more than happy to stand there when asked and give his version of events.
While the red mist still descends on Pedersen in the pits from time to time, I think he would admit he has calmed down over the past five years or so. Let's face it - he had very little cause to be angry during his World Championship glory years in 2007 and 2008.
But Pedersen's unshakeable honesty remains and this could be the key to him surviving in the SGP series for 2011. He admitted after the Vojens round that he had stuck with his title winning set-ups of two years ago for far too long and had come to terms with the fact it was time to make changes.
While he clearly had the right formula in 2003, 2007 and 2008, speedway is not like mathematics. If Albert Einstein came up with a theory and proved it, he went home and had a beer. But in speedway, the winning formula varies from year to year - tracks change, bikes change and so do the riders.
Pedersen will hope his tweaks don't come too late to win a place in the top eight, but whatever happens, there is no doubt he will work his socks off to turn things around over the winter.
One of the most professional riders in the sport will leave no stone unturned, whether it's with building his pit crew or finding the right equipment, in his quest for world title No.4.
It's looking highly likely to be Tomasz Gollob's year this time around. But if Pedersen does return for 2011, he could prove his Gorzow team mate's biggest rival in the race for the gold.