Greg Hancock is targeting a spot in the FIM Monster Energy Speedway World Cup Race-Off after leading the United States to a famous victory in their qualifying round at Slovenian track Ljubljana on Saturday.
The world champion bagged four points as the men in the Stars and Stripes scored 44 points to see off hosts Slovenia, who finished on 40, the Ukraine (24) and Italy (20).
The meeting also featured a stunning international comeback for 1996 world champion Billy Hamill after five years out of European racing, and the 41-year-old rolled back the years to collect 10 points.
Ricky Wells bagged 11 and Ryan Fisher racked up 10 as the USA booked their spot alongside SWC champions Poland, Denmark and Russia in Event One at Polish circuit Bydgoszcz on July 7.
The winners of that meeting earn a spot against hosts Sweden in the SWC Final at Malilla on July 14.
They join the top side from Event Two, which will be contested by Team Great Britain, Australia, Germany and the Czech Republic at British venue King’s Lynn on July 9.
The second and third-placed sides from Bydgoszcz and King’s Lynn will go into the Race-Off at Malilla on July 12, where there will be one further SWC Final berth up for grabs.
All the sides which reach this stage of the competition are guaranteed a spot in the following year’s SWC and Hancock admits avoiding next season’s qualifiers is the American dream.
He said: “Who knows where we’ll go from here? But our goal is to make it to the Race-Off. We’ve made it to Event One, so we’re halfway there.
“It’s definitely not going to be an easy task and we know that. You’ve got to have goals and you’ve got to make them achievable.
“For us, it’s going to be very hard, but the Americans are back in the game and, no matter what happens, we’re giving it one hell of an effort and the Race-Off is what we’re looking at. I’m really excited.”
This will be the first time the Americans have raced in the SWC proper since they were knocked out in Event Two at Coventry in 2007. So Hancock was over the moon to take one of world speedway’s sleeping giants back into the big time.
He said: “It’s awesome. We did what we wanted to do, and so much came out of it. We anticipated that Ricky and Ryan would step up their game and with Billy coming in, it raised the bar for the whole group.
“Everybody rose up to it and it was a good feeling; just like the old days. I hope this will help us with the rebirth of American Speedway.”
Hamill retired from racing in Europe at the end of 2007, but he was determined to do his bit to make the Americans a force in world speedway again.
Hancock was over the moon to be reunited with his good friend and admitted he was taken aback by his former SGP rival’s hunger.
He said: “Maybe I was surprised Billy jumped into it as much as he did, but it was awesome.
“One thing Billy and I talked about, and maybe he didn’t realise this, was how much he was going to raise everybody’s game. We all wanted to get more points than he did. He was making a comeback and we’ve all been in it for a while.
“It was nothing but good, positive energy and results for us. He deserves a lot of credit for that because he really helped to generate the comeback of the Stars and Stripes.
“To come back into this kind of competitive racing after such a long lay-off from it was impressive. Of course he was nervous – we all were. But with every race, you could see he got more and more comfortable. He started to relax on the bike even more and I really believe that he started enjoying himself.
“It was a pleasure to watch and you could see the signs of the Billy Hamill everybody knows coming out again. It was great.”
It’s not yet confirmed that Hamill will be taking his place at Bydgoszcz due to his work commitments in the States. But Hancock hopes his fellow Californian will line-up alongside him in Poland.
He said: “I hope Billy is able to make it for the semi-final, but that’s just not for sure at this stage. He has a lot going on in the States and whether those commitments will allow him to do it, I don’t know.
“He has got the desire to do it, for sure. But the first step was doing this meeting, which he always said he would. We’ve made it through and we’ll see how things work out.”