Germany’s Martin Smolinski admits his 2020 FIM Speedway Grand Prix call-up is bittersweet as he replaces retiring Greg Hancock.
German national champion Martin Smolinski has been confirmed as Greg Hancock’s replacement in the 2020 FIM Speedway Grand Prix line-up, but wishes a dream opportunity had arrived under better circumstances.
As first series reserve, Smolinski has been promoted into the full line-up after the Californian announced his retirement from the sport last Friday.
Hancock sat out the 2019 season and has retired from the sport to support his family and his wife Jennie, who has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
Having lost mother Gabriele to breast cancer on Christmas Eve 1998, Smolinski would have much rather received the career-changing opportunity in different circumstances.
And Smolinski was quick to pay tribute to Hancock as he returns to the series for the first time since his debut SGP season in 2014.
He said: “I have to say big respect to Greg Hancock. It’s very sad for him and his family. It’s very sad that he’s retiring from racing. He’s a four-time world champion.
“Speaking personally, it’s not the way I would have wanted to get into Speedway Grand Prix.
“It’s always hard to fight against cancer. My mum also had breast cancer and I was only 14 years old when she died. She had been fighting it for more than two years. It was a hard time in my life and that’s a reason why I am sad for him.
“I must say thanks to Greg for making the decision so soon. I didn’t expect he would announce anything so soon.
“I want to keep my fingers crossed for him and especially his wife Jennie and their kids that everything goes the way they want and they have a good future life together.”
As first reserve, Smolinski admits he was already making preparations to compete in SGP rounds.
Now Germany’s first and only full-time SGP rider can’t wait to represent his country on the sport’s biggest stage.
He said: “I wouldn’t say I expected this, but my team and I have prepared to be in the line-up for the Grand Prix. We were planning for it a little bit even at the end of last season.
“Once again, I am the only German rider to be participating in the Speedway Grand Prix series – I’m part of the top 15 riders in the world.
“This shows the level we are at in German speedway. This opportunity is not just good for me – it’s good for my country to have a German rider in the Speedway Grand Prix series.
“It’s important for every single German club rider because the media will follow Speedway Grand Prix and after that, hopefully they’ll look at our league racing more closely too.”
Smolinski was the shock winner of the 2014 New Zealand SGP in Auckland on his full-time series debut. But he’s keen to show that triumph wasn’t a one-off and push for qualification for SGP 2021.
“I know I can be quite quick,” he said. “I showed the boys what I can do in New Zealand. My plan is to do the same again, but not only in one meeting.
“My goal is to score good points in every Speedway Grand Prix and the main goal will be the top six. I would like to stay in the Grand Prix.”
Smolinski, who will be racing on Anlas tyres, dreams of becoming Germany’s second world champion, following in the footsteps of 1983 World Final winner Egon Muller. But he’s keen to take his SGP adventure one step at a time.
He said: “Personally I would like to take it step by step. My first step for the 2020 season is to stay in the Grand Prix. Then I would say in 2021, we will be looking for the world title.”
With Smolinski promoted into the SGP 2020 line-up, European champion Mikkel Michelsen will now serve as the competition’s first substitute rider.
Former World Under-21 champion Bartosz Smektala is second reserve, with Anders Thomsen, Pontus Aspgren and Dimitri Berge next on the substitutes list.