American legend Greg Hancock admits he was on a wing and a prayer in the FIM Doodson British Speedway Grand Prix final after surviving an epic first turn to triumph in Cardiff on Saturday night.
The Californian topped the rostrum ahead of Danish star Nicki Pedersen and Australian champion Chris Holder after winning a re-run final.
The first attempt at the race saw Emil Sayfutdinov hit the deck as he and Holder fought for supremacy. But even with the Russian excluded, there was barely daylight between the three remaining riders as they went into turn one in the restart.
Hancock, starting from gate four, kept the gas firmly on and powered around the boards to take charge and send his many fans at the Millennium Stadium wild.
He now leads the World Championship by 12 points after Polish racer Tomasz Gollob left Cardiff with a disappointing seven.
But the 41-year-old feared he had pushed it too far in the final and admits he was “praying” that he came out of turn one in the lead.[[QUOTE1]]
He said: “I really had no choice but to keep the gas on. I put myself out there going into the corner and it got to a point where I thought ‘I want to shut off now. I’m in too deep.’
“But I couldn’t shut off because had I done that, at least Chris and I would have gone down hard.
“The only thing I could do was pray. I couldn’t close my eyes, but I wanted to. I hit a big lump of dirt coming off the corner, it shot me forward and then I had time to clean my underwear!”
Following Gollob’s failure to reach the semis, Hancock is firmly in charge of the World Championship race as the competition takes its annual break for the FIM PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna Speedway World Cup.
The series resumes in the FIM Nice Italian SGP at Terenzano, where Hancock finished third last year. But the affable American is not taking his lofty position for granted.
He added: “It’s not over until it’s over. Don’t get me wrong; I’m very happy to be where I am right now. But anybody would be and there is a long way to go.
“It doesn’t matter where I am until the last race goes off. Every point is going to count. I’m just going to keep the focus and ride hard.
“I learnt last time I became champion (in 1997) that you don’t celebrate until you’re there. I can’t even think about winning the title now and it’s more just other people bringing it up. But the world title is why we’re here and I’m going for it.”
Hancock was 13th in the World Championship after last year’s British SGP and was struggling to get the best from his equipment. But the Zielona Gora and Piraterna star says his confidence could not be higher 12 months on.
He added: “When things are working, it just happens. You go to the tapes and you have a good feeling that you’re going to be first to the corner. That’s how it is for me right now. I feel great and I’ve got a great chance. I’m riding a wave and I’m loving it.”
With no SGP round in the United States, Hancock admits Cardiff has become the closest thing he has to a home round. And even though he no longer rides in the British Elite League, he was touched by the backing he received in the Welsh capital.
He said: “This is probably the best support I’ve had at this place. I don’t ride in the UK and I only come here a couple of times a year.
“I almost had a tear in my eye because I felt so darn good and the people here are amazing.
“The build up to it from Friday was great and I had people sending Twitter messages to me. I’m so grateful. I’m very, very grateful. This place is top of the list of places I’ve raced in my speedway career.”
It was a tough night for the Brits as SGP regular Chris Harris and wild card Scott Nicholls both failed to reach the semis. Harris, who picked up one race win, finished on six points, while Nicholls accrued five.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS (AFTER FIVE ROUNDS): 1 Greg Hancock 80, 2 Tomasz Gollob 68, 3 Chris Holder 57, 4 Jaroslaw Hampel 53, 5 Nicki Pedersen 53, 6 Jason Crump 50, 7 Emil Sayfutdinov 48, 8 Freddie Lindgren 40, 9 Kenneth Bjerre 38, 10 Andreas Jonsson 36, 11 Janusz Kolodziej 28, 12 Chris Harris 27, 13 Rune Holta 24, 14 Antonio Lindback 24, 15 Artem Laguta 10, 16 Magnus Zetterstrom 9, 17 Thomas H Jonasson 8, 18 Scott Nicholls 5, 19 Damian Balinski 4, 20 Matej Kus 3, 21 Mikkel B Jensen 2, 22 Tai Woffinden 2, 23 Simon Gustafsson 1.
FIM DOODSON BRITISH SGP SCORES: 1 Greg Hancock 20, 2 Nicki Pedersen 16, 3 Chris Holder 15, 4 Emil Sayfutdinov 13, 5 Kenneth Bjerre 11, 6 Andreas Jonsson 10, 7 Magnus Zetterstrom 9, 8 Jason Crump 8, 9 Janusz Kolodziej 7, 10 Tomasz Gollob 7, 11 Chris Harris 6, 12 Jaroslaw Hampel 5, 13 Scott Nicholls 5, 14 Freddie Lindgren 5, 15 Antonio Lindback 3, 16 Tai Woffinden 2, 17 Rune Holta 1, 18 Ben Barker 0.