Danish star Mikkel Michelsen has joined the 2020 FIM Speedway Grand Prix line-up after Martin Smolinski was forced to withdraw due to injury.
The German international suffered a broken and dislocated right hip, as well as damage to his peroneal nerve, in a training crash near Leipzig on May 22.
Despite undergoing intense rehabilitation in the months that followed, the Bavarian has reluctantly conceded he will not be ready to compete in this year’s World Championship.
As a result, 2019 European champion Michelsen, this year’s first reserve, takes his place and will compete in all eight SGP 2020 rounds, which get underway with a double-header in Wroclaw on August 28 and 29.
The Lublin rider has been in fine form over the past two seasons across Europe’s top leagues. And while his dream opportunity has arrived less than two weeks before the opening round, Michelsen insists he will be ready to take on the world’s best.
He said: “Luckily for me the season has been going on for a while in Poland. I have been racing a lot. It’s not like I’m not ready for it.
“My team and I have been preparing for it for years now, so we are ready. Now we just have to get all the pieces together and put in a good performance.
“I’m that kind of rider – I go out to win every race and I’m going to put my heart on the track in every single race.”
Michelsen could arrive in Wroclaw with his spot in the 2021 FIM Speedway Grand Prix series already guaranteed, should he finish in the top three at this Saturday’s GP Challenge in Gorican, Croatia.
Getting through this fiercely-competitive qualifier wouldn’t lower Michelsen’s expectations for this year, though.
He said: “You still want to go in and do well. I am definitely going in with the mindset and goal to reach the top six. I know it’s going to be hard. There are 15 other good riders in the meetings who want to do the same.
“But the way I live and the way I do things, I believe anything is possible and I don’t see anything as impossible. I always see opportunities in everything and that’s how I am going to look on the GP series as well.”
Michelsen can’t wait for what will be his first full SGP season, but the Rybnik-based rider admits it is far from ideal to be handed his chance due to Smolinski’s misfortune.
He said: “That’s a part of racing of course, but it’s a shame for Martin. You don’t wish for any of your colleagues to get injured. I’m just happy he decided to take care of his wellbeing instead of risking permanent damage.”
Smolinski threw everything into his recovery, and has spent the last couple of weeks at Eden Reha in Donaustauf – a world-class treatment centre used by Germany’s national football team.
But the 2014 New Zealand SGP winner admits he was forced to listen to his body and rule out a full-time return to the SGP series after a six-year absence.
He said: “Along with everyone in my team, I tried everything to make the best out of the situation. I tried everything I could to get back to racing as soon as possible and get my body fit. But I have to listen to my body and my body says it’s too early.
“The accident was not a normal one. It wasn’t just a broken bone and the trauma I have is still very hard for my body to deal with.
“Even though I’ve had some very good, intense rehab care, it is not at the point of getting better that I personally expected.
“I had some people who told me ‘you can’t do this.’ I tried it, but I did some tests last week; I spoke on the phone to my doctors and physios, and it is just not possible.”
Paul Bellamy, Senior Vice President of Motorsports Events at IMG, paid tribute to Smolinski and welcomed Michelsen into the SGP field.
He said: “It’s obviously a great shame that Martin cannot join us this year. It’s clear he has put a lot of effort into his rehabilitation and we know how keen he was to take his place in the series. We wish him well in his recovery.
“It’s great to see Mikkel get his opportunity to race in the World Championship full-time, and I’m sure Danish fans will be particularly excited to have three riders in the SGP 2020 line-up.”
Armando Castagna, director of the FIM Track Racing Commission CCP, said: “It is never nice to see a rider denied the chance to take their place in the World Championship due to injury, and we are well aware how hard Martin has worked to return to the SGP series. I hope he makes a full and successful recovery very soon.
“I’m sure Mikkel will be delighted with this opportunity and I look forward to seeing him race against the best riders in the world. I believe he will be an excellent addition to a strong line-up.”
FIM & BSI