|Chris Holder with Nikki Pedersen (left) and Greg 'Herbie' Hancock|
Wow, what a night that was in Torun, Poland. Poole Pirates skipper, the living Aussie legend, Chris Holder won the World title after one of the most exhilirating seasons of Grand Prix racing and possibly the most controversial final night in a long time.
The second semi-final will be remembered for a long time and will debated by speedway fans for years as one of sports great, 'what if?' moments. At the start of the second semi-final Holder had 157 points and his only rival for the world title was the, three times World Champion, Danish rider Nicki Pedersen on 152 points. For Pedersen to win the title he would have to be one of the two riders qualifying from the semi-final (with Holder finishing at best second) and then finish first or second in the final (in the final points count double) with Holder, assuming he had qualified, finishing third or fourth.
What happened at the start of the semi and its aftermath showed not just how cruel sport can be but also how intense it can be when a title is on the line. Holder was in Gate 1, Pedersen in Gate 2, Emil Sayfutdinov in 3 and Antonio Lindback in 4. As the tapes went up Pedersen cut across Holder as they headed for turn one, Holder responded by straightening up and in doing so clipped Pedersen's bike sending the Dane and Sayfutdinov crashing to the shale. Now anybody watching it, assuming you were in the Holder camp, would have feared for the worst immediately, nine times out of ten Holder would have been eliminated for causing the race to be stopped, for some reason the British referee Craig Ackroyd ordered all four riders to restart - cue pandomonium.
The Polish crowd were delighted, Torun is Holder's home track in Poland, Pedersen was livid. Having walked down the home straight he walked up to Holder and spoke to him, his left hand on Holder's shoulder. What must have started as the usual Pedersen wind-up clearly got to Holder who after listening quietly reacted, cue Holder's brother and entourage to join in leaving Pedersen and a couple of his crew to defend themselves. It was a lot of handbags to be honest but it tainted what had been a fantastic end to a fantastic season.
When the race was re-run Holder won with Pedersen finishing third and eliminated from the final. Holder was World Champion. Just to rub salt in Pedersen's wounds Holder's engine blew up in the final and he finished fourth!
Interviewed after the celebrations Holder told millions watching around the world: "It’s unbelievable. You race speedway to be the world champion. I’ve done it and it’s unreal. To come out for the semi-final with me and Nicki next to each other was a massive pressure for me. That was the biggest race of my life. I’m over the moon. I’m so happy.”
Nicki Pedersen who is the speedway rider everybody loves to hate showed that once the heat of battle has cooled down he wasn't such a bad bloke after all, "Congratulations to Chris. I raced him all I could all the way to the end. But fair play; he finished it off in Torun.”
FINAL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS:
1 Chris Holder 160,
2 Nicki Pedersen 152,
3 Greg Hancock 148,
4 Tomasz Gollob 142,
5 Emil Sayfutdinov 133,
6 Jason Crump 126,
7 Antonio Lindback 122,
8 Fredrik Lindgren 119,
9 Andreas Jonsson 88,
(table courtesy Fullnoise)
The top eight riders from the final Grand Prix standings automatically qualify for the following season, Jason Crump retired after this years event and more or less everybody in the Polish crowd stood and applauded him after his final race.
There is now the small matter of the two leg Elite League Grand Final between Poole and Swindon with the first leg at Swindon tomorrow night, followed by the return a week tomorrow. Swindon have been Poole's bogey side this season and with both sides having demolished their semi-final opponents (Birmingham and Lakeside respectively) it should be a great final.