Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Speedway: Grand German wins prix

Martin Smolinski (Germany) leads Chris Holder (Australia) at Western Springs last night. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Martin Smolinski (Germany) leads Chris Holder (Australia) at Western Springs last night. Photo / Sarah Ivey

If this is the last Speedway Grand Prix event on these shores, then what a way to finish. Germans aren't generally known for their flair but Martin Smonlinski produced a once in a lifetime move to take out the final last night.

Smonlinski is already making waves in Germany - the first rider to compete at this level in decades- but will be a headline grabbing hero now.

He had been a strong performer throughout the night but drew the unfancied outside gate for the final. He was last off the start before pulling an audacious move on the third lap.

From the upper bank of the track, behind his three rivals, he swung through on the inside channel in a devastingly narrow angle. Riders had struggled near the inside edge all night - that area of the track was as smooth as ice and had little traction - but Smonlinski somehow stayed upright and held on to take the chequered flag ahead of Nicki Pedersen and Poland's Krzysztof Kasprzak.

There was further controversy around Pedersen, with Swede Fredrik Lindgren confronting him angrily after the final.

It was a night of surprises, as world champion Tai Woffinden failed to make the semifinals while Greg Hancock also missed the last eight.

Speedway at this level is an amazing spectacle. Unlike Formula One, or V8 Supercars, which can be quite processional, in this sport you expect the unexpected. There were passes in each of the first three heats - which set the tone for the night.

In all forms of motorsport the start is one of the most exciting elements and as Danish speedway legend Ole Olsson likes to point out, in a speedway grand prix meeting there are 23 starts to catch the eye.

There was an electric beginning to yesterday's racing, with Bunyan producing the perfect start in the first race, nestled just behind the leader. He held on to second until the last lap, when Australian Darcy Ward produced a superb move to slip under him.

The next heat was one of the highlights of the night, as Pedersen - the most hated man in the sport - managed a stunning ride to win from the outside gate.

The momentum continued for Bunyan, as he grabbed another third place finish, beating home two time world champion Hancock. There was an element of luck, as the American caught his front wheel in the gravel to slide to the outside but the Kiwi made the most of his good fortune.

The event attracted a colourful crowd. Most of Auckland's Polish population seemed to be at Western Springs to cheer on defending champion Jaroslaw Hampel and there was a large contingent of Australians - even a boxing Kangaroo - in support of their three riders. There were kilted Scots, large and loud Germans and a costumed Captain America and Wonder Woman, presumably in support of Californian Hancock. The riders' partners - with their indentification badges labelled 'WAG' to defray any doubt - provided the glamour, along with the grid girls.

Across the night there were moments of pure magic. There was Woffinden and his arch rival Pedersen separated by the barest of margins for an entire race; there was Chris Holder pulling a wheelie for almost the entire length of the straight and there was Pedersen producing a brilliant cornering manoeuvre to slither between two rivals and go from first to third in an instant.

Ward, recognised as one of the fastest riders on the circuit, had a horrible night. He crashed three times, the third the most serious as Smolinski took him out after losing his racing line and an ambulance was brought onto the track. The Australian was concussed and took no further part in the racing.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 26 Oct 2014 12:17:35 Processing Time: 35ms