Danish champion Niels-Kristian Iversen set his sights on achieving his “childhood dream” of a World Championship medal after guaranteeing his FIM Speedway Grand Prix spot for 2014.
Iversen won the FIM Grand Prix Challenge at British track Poole on Saturday with 13 points to secure his SGP status, regardless of where he finishes in this year’s World Championship.
NKI is joined by current SGP regular Krzysztof Kasprzak, who booked his spot for another season after he finished second on 12 points, while Denmark’s Kenneth Bjerre returns to the competition after a one-year absence. He claimed third place on 11.
Iversen is currently fifth in the World Championship and if he stays inside the top eight, his qualification place from the GP Challenge will be handed to German racer Martin Smolinski, who pipped Team Great Britain skipper Chris Harris to fourth on countback after they tied on 10.
Smolinski would become his country’s first full-time SGP rider if Iversen retains his lofty perch in the standings. The Esbjerg-born rider is up for the task, as he switches his attention to closing the six-point gap between him and Polish star Jaroslaw Hampel in third place and claiming the bronze medal.
Iversen said: “If I can get a medal, it would be absolutely fantastic. It would be achieving a childhood dream to finish on the rostrum in a World Championship.
“There are still three rounds to go and I’ve got heavy competition for that bronze medal. There is still much to ride for, but I don’t have much to lose anymore.”
NKI was over the moon to triumph comfortably in the Challenge after finishing third following a gruelling five-man run-off in the 2012 qualifier at Gorican in Croatia last September.
Iversen cruised to victory in his opening four rides to put qualification beyond doubt, before third place in his last outing secured the gold medal.
While he had the safety net of a likely top eight finish to fall back on, the triple FIM Speedway World Cup winner was determined to make a statement and claim Challenge glory.
He said: “I got what I came for and that was to win the meeting and book my place. It was a good meeting for me and I’m happy to have won it. I can ride the rest of the Grand Prix series without too much pressure on myself and just enjoy the meetings.
“I knew if I failed in this one, I still had a chance of the top eight. But I was still very motivated to win the meeting. I wanted to make it very clear that I want to stay in the Grand Prix.
“I think I proved that today and I proved I am the man for the job. No matter if I finish in the top eight or not, I’ve won qualification.”
Kasprzak may be 12th in the World Championship and 20 points adrift of the top eight, but he will now return for the 2014 SGP series, regardless of where he finishes this season.
He was delighted to follow up his GP Challenge win at Gorican in 2012 with silver at Poole – the track he calls his spiritual home in the UK. But Kasprzak hopes this will be his last Challenge as he targets the world’s top eight in 2014.
He said: “I’m very happy. Last year I won the Challenge. Now I am second and maybe I don’t need to race in the Challenge next year. Maybe I will be in the top eight.
“Everything worked really well and I’m so happy because this was such a tough meeting for me. There was big pressure. I know I know this track very well, but you need some luck and good engines and I had that. I was attacking hard. I knew this was an important meeting for me and I showed the best I could do. Before the meeting, we spoke as a team and agreed we needed a minimum of two points from every race and then we’d be alright.”
Bjerre’s SGP career was halted by a broken leg suffered in a crash at Peterborough on August 23, 2012. But almost a year to the day, he earned his place back in the SGP elite and can’t wait to return.
The Esbjerg-born rider, who won the 2008 GP Challenge, said: “I didn’t know if I had done enough. Luckily Smolinski didn’t win his last race. I had to win mine and I couldn’t do anything else. I made some really good starts, but I was riding stupidly. I got passed in two races and that’s not like me. But I’m pleased I got it done.
“It’s a lot of organising for the winter now and it’s going to be tough. But it’s what I want. I want to be world champion and I want to give it a go again. I’m back and I did it by myself again.”
GP CHALLENGE SCORES: 1 Niels-Kristian Iversen 13, 2 Krzysztof Kasprzak 12, 3 Kenneth Bjerre 11, 4 Martin Smolinski 10, 5 Chris Harris 10, 6 Troy Batchelor 9, 7 Michael Jepsen Jensen 7, 8 Hans Andersen 7, 9 Daniel King 7, 10 Piotr Pawlicki 7, 11 Daniel Nermark 7, 12 Maciej Janowski 7, 13 Tomas H Jonasson 6, 14 Vaclav Milik 5, 15 Timo Lahti 2, 16 Peter Kildemand 0, 17 Ben Barker DNR, 18 Lewis Bridger DNR.