BLOG: UNPREDICTABLE PODIUM
Speedwaygp.com editor Paul Burbidge looks at what could be an historic World Championship medal ceremony after the Torun FIM Speedway Grand Prix of Poland on Saturday …
If you had told me in March that none of last season’s SGP top eight would be occupying the medal positions going into the Torun season finale on Saturday, I would have been astonished.
Should the top three remain unchanged, it will be the first time in SGP history that none of the previous season’s top eight have appeared on the podium the following year.
British champ Tai Woffinden and Poland’s Jaroslaw Hampel – both wild card entries – will fight over speedway’s biggest prize at the Marian Rose Motoarena. Niels-Kristian Iversen – third in last season’s GP Challenge – holds third place and could still pip Hampel to silver.
Admittedly outgoing world champ Chris Holder and Russian sensation Emil Sayfutdinov’s hopes were dashed by injury. Nicki Pedersen in fifth place and Greg Hancock in sixth have had their seasons disrupted by crashes as well.
But it shows the strength of this year’s SGP field that two wild cards go head-to-head for the gold at the sold-out Marian Rose Motoarena. If the pre-Torun top three have one thing in common, it’s that they have got where they are through sheer hard work, desire and dedication.
Woffinden wouldn’t have made the breathtaking progress he has achieved without serious graft. He has trained furiously to get his body into a condition so fit, even fracturing his collarbone twice – an injury which could have ended his championship – couldn’t keep him off-track.
He has made the big transition from JRM to GM engines over the past two seasons with engine tuner Peter Johns. The pair have worked tirelessly together to find a winning formula. Woffinden has also assembled a brilliant back-up team, featuring mechanic Jacek Trojanowski and manager Peter Adams.
To have brought all this together within less than 12 months of being handed an SGP wild card is nothing short of extraordinary and Woffy will have thoroughly earned the gold medal if he finishes the job in Poland this weekend.
Hampel isn’t afraid of putting in the hours either. His 2012 season was destroyed by a broken ankle suffered at the Danish SGP in early June. Prior to that, he won silver in 2010 and bronze in 2011. It’s likely he would have been in medal contention again last year but for his injury.
But coming back from missing the busiest three months of the season takes something special. Hampel struggled when he got back on track at the tail end of last year.
He didn’t plan on struggling again at the start of this season. He grafted hard during the winter to regain his fitness and you only had to speak to him after the Buckley Systems New Zealand SGP to see how happy he was to get straight back to his best after such a serious break.
After three SGP wins this term, he is the only man who can stop Woffinden becoming Britain’s first world champion since Mark Loram in 2000.
And even though he’s 16 points behind, the Torun crowd might just give him the boost he needs to join former champs Jerzy Szczakiel and Tomasz Gollob in Polish racing folklore.
While Hampel being in the top three is no major surprise, Iversen was not tipped to occupy such a lofty position. If you study the double Danish champion’s league form, the fact he is chasing a silver medal should be no shock. He has been one of the top performers in the Swedish Elitserien with Indianerna and the Polish Ekstraliga for Gorzow for the past two seasons. He has lifted back-to-back Super League championships with hometown club Esbjerg as well as winning the GP Challenge at Poole in August.
But producing the goods on the SGP stage is a challenge on a different level entirely, and it’s one he has risen to. After gaining in confidence from his Italian SGP triumph in Terenzano, Iversen was nothing short of devastating as he blew away his rivals to win the Rockklassiker Scandinavian SGP in Stockholm on September 21 with 18 points.
Six straight race wins at this level proves Iversen’s class and this doesn’t appear to be a one-off – this man has properly established himself among world speedway’s super heavyweights.
Like Woffinden, he has also benefitted from a demanding training regime, a great relationship with his tuner Anton Nischler and the confidence that comes with being older, wiser and winning.
If the Torun SGP of Poland isn’t enough to be excited about, the prospect of next season’s title race is even more tantalising. As well as the current top three, the likes of Sayfutdinov, Pedersen and Hancock will all fancy their chances of getting involved. Had Darcy Ward raced the whole season, he surely would have been up there this year. He will be a big danger in 2014. Holder and Gollob will have a huge part to play in the title race if they’re handed wild cards.
So take your pick! It may be between Woffy and Hampel for the 2013 title, but you’d be brave to pick a winner when the SGP elite return from their winter recess …
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