HERBIE: BULLET FIRED ME TO NZ WIN
World champion Greg Hancock admits his winter workout with old friend Billy Hamill made the difference as he stormed to glory in the inaugural FIM Buckley Systems New Zealand SGP in Auckland on Saturday.
Herbie won the final World Championship round of 2011 in Gorzow last October. And he picked up where he left off by beating world No.3 Jaroslaw Hampel, Danish star Nicki Pedersen and Aussie favourite Jason Crump in the final.
Hancock is four points clear of Hampel at the top of the SGP standings after taking 22 points out of a possible 24 at Western Springs.
This result was the perfect reward for the 41-year-old, who has practiced tirelessly in his native California over the winter. He also made a flying visit to Britain in mid-March to ensure he was race-sharp.
Hancock did the bulk of his practicing with his former Team Exide partner, 1996 world champion Hamill.
The Bullet is set to make his international return in the FIM Monster Energy Speedway World Cup qualifiers this summer and has been pushing Hancock hard as he limbers up in the States.
Herbie admits these winter training sessions have left him in great shape to chase SGP title No.3.
"Iâ€™ve enjoyed my time here and itâ€™s so satisfying to come away with a win from the first one. It has started out tremendously."
- Greg Hancock
He said: “He practiced with me last winter too. We rode quite a bit and it’s really fun. The two of us know each other so well and we have so much respect for each other on and off the track.
“The fact I rode with him nearly every single day I went practicing was great. He was there and he’s getting himself up to speed for the World Cup, which is going to be fantastic. He definitely helped me get the speed here too.
“It has definitely been good to have someone like him to run with. I appreciate the fact he makes the trip to come out practicing and I think it works well for both of us.”
Hancock won his first world title in 1997, but endured a disastrous first Grand Prix in 1998 – scoring just six points at the Czech SGP in Prague.
He had no intention of repeating that faltering start and has been chomping at the bit to launch his defence.
He said: “It has all been about the anticipation for this particular day. In the last three weeks, I’ve just wanted it to come.
“I was tired of talking about it and waiting to get here. I’ve travelled a long way. I’ve been to Europe and back and I’ve done a lot of travelling.
“But I’ve enjoyed my time here and it’s so satisfying to come away with a win from the first one. It has started out tremendously.”
Hancock is the undisputed master of the Southern Hemisphere, having won the 2002 FIM Australian Grand Prix in Sydney - the only other SGP event staged outside of Europe in the competition’s history.
“I like coming to new places because it’s level pegging,” he said. “You don’t know what to expect.
“You’ve just got to go there, it’s a new track, a new shape, new material and everything that goes with it. I embrace it with open arms and it’s a race to see who can find the right lines and right setup.”
Hampel completed an impressive turnaround to bag the silver medal after starting his night with two third places. He said: “This is a really hard job when you start and something is wrong because then you have to think a lot in the pits about what’s going on.
"I had a bit of trouble with my bike and I couldn’t find good speed. It’s strange because we had two day’s practice, but sometimes speedway is strange.
“I worked really hard with my team in the pits and we found a good setup on the bike. I found a good line on the track and everything was much better in the middle and end of the meeting.
“In the final, Greg was fantastic. He was incredibly fast, but second place is good for me.”
Bronze medallist Pedersen worked wonders to reach the rostrum after crashing hard in heat 16, when Russian racer Emil Sayfutdinov lost control and inadvertently clattered him on turn four.
But he ended his heats with nine points, before fending off Tomasz Gollob in semi-final one and bagging third in the medal race.
Having taken a heavy blow to the head and twisted his ankle, Pedersen was delighted to leave Auckland with 13 points.
He said: “I wanted to have a good start and I got on to the rostrum. That’s good and I just want to be consistent this year. There’s a month now until the next Grand Prix, so I have time to get better again after my crash.”
The world’s finest riders return to Europe on Monday and are back in Grand Prix action on April 28 in the FIM European SGP at Leszno.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS AND FIM BUCKLEY SYSTEMS NEW ZEALAND SGP SCORES: 1 Greg Hancock 22, 2 Jaroslaw Hampel 18, 3 Tomasz Gollob 15, 4 Nicki Pedersen 13, 5 Antonio Lindback 13, 6 Jason Crump 12, 7 Emil Sayfutdinov 8, 8 Freddie Lindgren 8, 9 Bjarne Pedersen 7, 10 Hans Andersen 6, 11 Chris Harris 5, 12 Andreas Jonsson 4, 13 Kenneth Bjerre 4, 14 Chris Holder 4, 15 Peter Ljung 4, 16 Jason Bunyan 1.
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