Thursday 10 May sees the start of the 2018 FIM Long Track World Championship on the 964m track at the Waldstadion in Herxheim where the traditional Ascension Day or Father’s Day meeting always attracts the fans in their thousands.
The chase for the title will be led by current champion Mathieu Trésarrieu the first Frenchman to win a track racing world championship and the only former winner in the field. However, the path will not be an easy one for the likeable racer with a host of other riders looking to steal his glory and with the accent on the younger brigade.
Britain’s James Shanes has started his season well with a win at the first major Long Track meeting in Dingolfing beating local favourites Michael Hartël and Stephan Katt in the process. The 21-year-old double European Champion will be looking to improve on his performance last year, his first in the World Championship, when he finished in fourth spot. Hartël too is a precocious talent and took the silver medal in 2017. Just a year younger than Shanes he combines his Long Track racing with a blossoming career in speedway and will not be lacking in support from the German spectators.
Another rising star is Dutchman Romano Hummel, at 19 the youngest competitor, whose exciting style brings him new fans wherever he rides. No respecter of reputations he seems certain to be one of the main contenders for the title.
At the other end of the age scale is Bernd Diener nearing 59, the oldest competitor and with a wealth of experience to call on. From a racing family, his two brothers also raced, he was placed second in 1996 and is still capable of upsetting the favourites. Stephan Katt is another with a long history of racing at this level but has only a bronze medal in 2011 in his trophy cabinet. He was in contention in the early part of last year’s competition but poor returns in the last two rounds saw his podium chances disappear and he finished in 5th place.
The two Speedway Grand Prix riders in the championship can never be overlooked. Martin Smolinski is currently the top German track racer and is returning to the World Long Track Championship this year with renewed enthusiasm. His result as a Wild Card in Mühldorf last year proved that he is still a formidable racer and a full season should see him well placed in the final classification. Britain’s Chris Harris started his career on the grass tracks of his native Cornwall but made his debut in this championship only last year. Mechanical problems restricted his results until the end of the season, but he is back again determined to prove that he is still capable of mixing with the best.
In a very competitive field there are others who should not be overlooked. Dimitri Bergé, third in 2015, opted to take time out to concentrate on his speedway commitments but now returns looking to make up lost ground and veteran Théo Pijper will have hopes of improving on the silver medal he won in 2010 as will Josef Franc who was third last year.
Wild Card for this meeting will be German Max Dilger.
Jury President for this event will be Christian Bouin from France with Referee Mika Laukkanen from Finland. Racing in Herxheim on Thursday begins at 13.30 local time although practice on Wednesday will also include some national races and for those fans unable to travel, the meeting will be streamed live on the FIM YouTube channel.