Teenage Russian rookie Emil Sayfutdinov conjured up a dream Grand Prix debut by becoming the youngest-ever winner of a GP in the opening round of the 2009 series in Prague.
The 19-year-old from Salavat crowned a spectacular performance by seeing off Fredrik Lindgren, Jason Crump and Leigh Adams in the final to annex top spot on the podium at the Marketa Stadium in the Czech capital.
But despite his stunning victory, it was runner-up Lindgren who came out of the first round as the early leader of the World Championship title race, banking 19 points to the Russian’s 17.
Reigning champion Nicki Pedersen, winner at Prague in each of the last two seasons, failed to reach the final after finishing behind Sayfutdinov and Adams in the second semi-final, which was re-run after the teenager came to grief in a tangle with Pedersen on the run to the first corner.
In the re-run the gifted Russian produced a breathtaking first turn to slice under Pedersen as the fast-starting Dane overshot the first turn in deference to Adams on his outside.
Sayfutdinov gave notice of his intentions in an exciting first outing in Heat 3 that was full of youthful exuberance, but also bordered on reckless abandon. His tenacious chase of Crump saw him make contact with the Aussie’s rear wheel at one point as he diced dangerously with the former World Champion.
He followed that second place by trailing in last in his second ride, but then got a second when he overhauled Pedersen on the inside and Scott Nicholls on the outside in Heat 12, and a first in Heat 15 before squeezing into the semi-finals as the last qualifier on eight points after overtaking Rune Holta for third place in Heat 17.
The impressive Lindgren topped the qualifying on 13 points, and looked quick and focused going into the semis. He had led Pedersen for three and a half laps in Heat 8 before being surprised by an inside pass going into the final two turns.
Pedersen, despite running a last place in his third ride, bagged 11, the same as Andreas Jonsson and Adams, and veteran American Greg Hancock recovered from an engine blow-up at the start of Heat 2 to collect 10, though he had cause to question a photo-finish awarded to Adams in Heat 18.
Crump won Heat 3 but then looked sluggish on a slick surface, though his nine points gave him the same as Kenneth Bjerre and a semi-final spot.
Tomasz Gollob never looked at the races and failed to make the cut on seven, Hans Andersen underachieved on six, and Brits Chris Harris and Nicholls both made disappointing starts, scoring six and four respectively.
Rune Holta and Sebastian Ulamek both won races, but those victories were just crumbs of consolation for what were bit parts in the proceedings.
Crump, despite having last choice of gate position, won the first semi with a determined start off trap three ahead of Lindgren, Bjerre and Jonsson, and then plumped for the same starting position in the final. But the Aussie was left battling for the minor placings with Adams after lifting out of the start and Sayfutdinov, off the inside, fended off a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge from Lindgren entering the back-straight for the first time to take control and race away for an amazing success.
Sayfutdinov said: “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could win my first Grand Prix. I have dreamt of being a Grand Prix rider since winning my first World Under-21 championship - but not winning a GP.
“I will continue to take each round as it comes, and I would like to thank everyone, especially my mother and father, and my girlfriend, who have helped me along the way.”Lindgren, who has now finished runner-up in two GPs, and been top scorer both times, said: “I have been second twice now, in Gothenburg last year and tonight. I am learning all the time and I am more experienced this year.
“My form this year has been very good and I am obviously looking forward to going back to the Ullevi Stadium this year.” Crump said: “I never really expected to reach the final, having the last pick of gates in the semi-final. But having got to the final I am disappointed not to have won.
“I made a stupid mistake to allow Emil through. I thought I stopped doing that 15 years ago. “I never believed that this year's World Championship was just between Nicki and me. There are 15 riders who can win as a Grand Prix and there are some terrific youngsters coming through. Just look at Emil, he wasn't even born when I first started out.”
FIM Czech Republic SGP scores: Fredrik Lindgren (Sweden) 19, Emil Sayfutdinov (Russia) 17, Jason Crump (Australia) 14, Leigh Adams (Australia) 13, Nicki Pedersen (Denmark) 12, Andreas Jonsson (Sweden) 11, Greg Hancock (USA) 10, Kenneth Bjerre (Denmark) 10, Tomasz Gollob (Poland) 7, Hans Andersen (Denmark) 6, Chris Harris (Great Britain) 6, Grzegorz Walasek (Poland) 6, Sebastian Ulamek (Poland) 5, Scott Nicholls (Great Britain) 4, Rune Holta (Poland) 3, Matej Kus (Czech Republic) 1.