Nicki Pedersen insists reaching the World Championship’s top three remains his target, despite putting himself into title contention by winning the FIM Mitas Czech Speedway Grand Prix in Prague on Saturday.
The Danish champion defeated Aussie legend Jason Crump, Polish icon Tomasz Gollob and world champion Greg Hancock in a star-studded final, contested by four men with nine world individual titles between them.
This result handed Pedersen 19 points and leaves him fourth in the World Championship on 42. But 20 points for Crump puts him top on 44. Hancock and Gollob are sandwiched between them on 43.
After putting three difficult seasons behind, Pedersen’s form and determination suggests he has the steel and hunger to lift title No.4.
Six of the last eight Prague winners have gone on to claim the World Championship in the same season. But Pedersen isn’t getting carried away by his Czech triumph.
He said: “I wanted to close the gap. That was my target. To get into the final and win it was even better. That’s just a bonus. What I’m fighting for is the top three. If you’re in the top three, anything can happen.”
Asked how confident he feels of winning his first world title since 2008, Pedersen replied: “I’m always confident when things are working, but it’s way too early to start talking about that. I’ll just focus on the next Grand Prix in Gothenburg.”
Pedersen has finished 10th in the World Championship for the past two seasons and had become disillusioned with life in the competition as he struggled to get back to his brilliant best.
But the Odense-born man has shown he has the stomach for a fight this year. He finished third in Auckland despite a heavy crash which left him with an injured foot and concussion. He also battled his way into the Leszno semi-finals and exited on 10 points.
Pedersen has not dropped below double figures in any of his league matches in Poland, Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic this season. This run of results is great news for his home fans with the FIM Dansk Metal Danish SGP approaching on June 9 and the rider is delighted to have brought this form on to the SGP stage.
The 35-year-old said: “That’s what I’ve been waiting for. I’m over the moon about it. My league form is good and I’m enjoying speedway again. The way my starts have been working in the leagues has been extremely good. To take that into the Grand Prix is a different thing, so that’s great. That’s working really well and it’s something I can continue with.
“A lot of different things have changed from last year – the engines, the team, myself, my form and I’m enjoying it again. I feel hungry.”
Pedersen started off his night with a last place in heat four, but hit back with two second places and two race wins to end his first five rides on 10. He then stormed to victory over Gollob, Chris Holder and Emil Sayfutdinov in the semi, before taking the gold medal.
Having had such a shaky start, the two-time FIM Speedway World Cup winner was pleased to turn things around.
“I started off with a zero in the first race and that was a huge blow,” he said. “My clutch didn’t really work. The engine didn’t really have the right setup. I changed the bike and changed the setup completely. From there, everything was working.
“We were working hard in the pits, but I think everybody was. The track was extremely slick. I’m glad my starts seemed to come back again. The things we did with the clutches and stuff worked great in the last three heats.”
Pedersen appears to have the confidence in his kit that he has lacked over the past few years. “I’ve been working with these engines for more than a year and I know what’s happening with them,” he said. “Whenever I modify things on the bike, I can feel the difference. That’s a huge difference because before, I wasn’t in harmony with my bikes. It didn’t really work for me. I can still get beaten, but now I can also get back on the pace and know what I’ve done wrong and right.”
Runner-up Crump’s wait for his first Grand Prix win since April 2010 goes on. But he was more than happy to leave the Czech capital leading the World Championship. He said: “I was close to a win, but in the final Nicki just made too good a start for me off gate two. I couldn’t get there with him. It has been a good night. I got a fair few points. I got a good total in the heats, won my semi and obviously six points in the final would have been nicer than four, but you can’t win them all. I was as surprised as anybody when they told me I was leading the World Championship. That’s a bonus.”
Third-placed Gollob, who won in Prague in 1999 and 2010, added: “I’m very happy with third place. Maybe next year I can win here again, but congratulations to Nicki and Crumpy. I scored some very important points and it will be my night next time in the Grand Prix.”
Next up is the FIM Swedish SGP in Gothenburg’s Ullevi Stadium on May 26.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS : 1 Jason Crump 44, 2 Greg Hancock 43, 3 Tomasz Gollob 43, 4 Nicki Pedersen 42, 5 Jaroslaw Hampel 39, 6 Chris Holder 35, 7 Antonio Lindback 26, 8 Emil Sayfutdinov 25, 9 Fredrik Lindgren 22, 10 Andreas Jonsson 20, 11 Hans Andersen 17, 12 Kenneth Bjerre 15, 13 Bjarne Pedersen 15, 14 Peter Ljung 15, 15 Chris Harris 14, 16 Josef Franc 9, 17 Przemyslaw Pawlicki 7, 18 Jason Bunyan 1.
FIM MITAS CZECH SGP SCORES : 1 Nicki Pedersen 19, 2 Jason Crump 20, 3 Tomasz Gollob 12, 4 Greg Hancock 12, 5 Chris Holder 12, 6 Emil Sayfutdinov 10, 7 Josef Franc 9, 8 Antonio Lindback 9, 9 Hans Andersen 6, 10 Jaroslaw Hampel 6, 11 Bjarne Pedersen 6, 12 Chris Harris 6, 13 Fredrik Lindgren 6, 14 Peter Ljung 5, 15 Kenneth Bjerre 3, 16 Andreas Jonsson 3.