Triple world champion Nicki Pedersen admits this summer’s Danish revolution sparked a dramatic turn in team spirit after inspiring his country to FIM Monster Energy Speedway World Cup gold.
Denmark triumphed on 39 points at Malilla’s G&B Arena in Sweden, pipping pre-tournament favourites Australia, who scored 36. Russia clinched their first World Cup rostrum place since 1975 after finishing third on 30, while Sweden were fourth on 24 points.
Pedersen and skipper Niels-Kristian Iversen lifted the Ove Fundin Trophy in 2006 at Reading and 2008 at Vojens. But FIM Speedway Grand Prix trio Bjarne Pedersen, Hans Andersen and Kenneth Bjerre, who all featured in those victories, were dropped for this summer’s competition.
Team manager Anders Secher handed FIM Monster Energy SWC debuts to 20-year-old Michael Jepsen Jensen and 17-year-old Mikkel B Jensen – the youngest man ever to appear in a World Cup Final. The gamble paid off as they weighed in with 11 and eight points respectively. Pedersen, who notched nine, says his country’s changing of the guard gave them a title-winning team spirit.
He said: “All of a sudden, the team we have had for seven years didn’t really work anymore. The team spirit which we thought we had had slipped away. Whenever we stood together, we had the team spirit, but there must have been something in the team spirit that wasn’t quite the way it should have been. I don’t know where it came from, but this has been such a fun week. Everyone was open-minded – talking together about setups, everything. The new boys definitely gave us a real boost and no-one had to beat each other.”
While Pedersen knows his team had the morale needed to win gold, he was still somewhat taken aback by their victory ahead of title favourites Australia. With the men from Down Under tracking World Individual Championship challengers Jason Crump and Chris Holder, as well as double World Under-21 champion Darcy Ward, the Aussies were highly fancied by the bookmakers. “The Australians are definitely a good team – no doubt about it,” Pedersen admitted. “Darcy Ward is the biggest talent in the world – the biggest we have ever had. I don’t know how on earth we actually beat them. But I think the way we did it was team spirit, we were confident about it.”
Pedersen paid a special tribute to Mikkel B after the Naestved-born man was left out of the Danish team, which won the FIM Monster Energy SWC Race Off at Malilla on Thursday to qualify for the last four. The teenager was omitted to accommodate Pedersen, who missed Denmark’s opening meeting in Bydgoszcz last Saturday due to a family holiday in Gran Canaria. But he returned to the side when Leon Madsen managed just four points in the Race Off. Pedersen was delighted to see the level-headed shooting star bounce back in style. He said: “He could have been so nervous, but he said that the way we were talking to him just pushed him all the way. If he can carry on the way he is racing at the moment with this boost in confidence, I can tell you the future. He’s only going one way …”
Australian captain Jason Crump went into heat 20 with his side just two points behind the Danes. But both the triple world champion and Iversen made poor starts and NKI got the point he needed to seal gold for the Scandinavians. Crump said: “It was tough racing and there was not so much you could do. The Danish team scored more than us and won. We tried our best all night, but it just didn’t go for us. There is nothing you can say apart from ‘well done’ to the Danes. We gave it everything we had.”
Russian star Emil Sayfutdinov was proud to put his country back among world speedway’s superpowers after blasting to 17 points and leading his team to third place. Sayfutdinov’s side were nine points behind Sweden on five after nine races. But after winning four of the last five heats, the SGP star was delighted to take his place on the podium. He said: “For us, this bronze medal is very important. I think Russian speedway will be much better now. We’re working hard – our whole team is working hard. The beginning of the meeting was really tough because we had a few problems. But later we found good setups and it went much better.”
Dejected Swedish team manager Bo Wirebrand was at a loss to explain the hosts’ poor performance in Malilla. He said: “I don’t know what happened. I can’t put my finger on it. We gated too badly and we made too many mistakes during four laps. I tried to take my joker early (with Andreas Jonsson in heat eight) to put some more power into the guys, but it didn’t happen.”
FIM MONSTER ENERGY SWC FINAL SCORES:
1 Denmark 39: Nicki Pedersen 9, Niels-Kristian Iversen 11, Michael Jepsen Jensen 11, Mikkel B Jensen 8.
2 Australia 36: Jason Crump 10, Darcy Ward 7, Davey Watt 3, Chris Holder 16.
3 Russia 30: Emil Sayfutdinov 17, Grigory Laguta 8, Artem Laguta 5, Roman Povazhny 0.
4 Sweden 24: Andreas Jonsson 11, Fredrik Lindgren 9, Peter Ljung 1, Tomas H Jonasson 3.