American icon Greg Hancock admits the FIM Speedway Grand Prix competition is only getting tougher as he prepares to celebrate his 200th SGP appearance in Stockholm on Saturday.
The Friends Arena, set just several hundred yards from the flat where father-of-three Hancock and wife Jennie started their family, is a fitting location for Hancock to hit such a huge milestone.
Grin has appeared in all but one of the FIM Speedway World Championship rounds since the Grand Prix format replaced one-off World Finals in 1995.
With 21 wins and three world titles to his name, Hancock is already among the sport’s all-time greats.
He has the chance to add a fourth World Championship this season as he leads Aussie ace Jason Doyle by five points at the top of the standings going into Saturday’s Stockholm SGP.
With defending champion Tai Woffinden also 13 points behind Hancock in third, Grin knows he’ll have to maintain top form to lift the SGP trophy at the final round in Melbourne on October 22.
In his three previous title-winning years in 1997, 2011 and 2014, Hancock has usually had the title virtually wrapped up going into the final round. But he knows he may not have that luxury this season as his rivals pile on the pressure.
He said: “In previous years when I’ve won it, I’ve always had the other guys right there and managed to hold them off.
“Now I have to concede the competition is much more stiff and consistent than it used to be. A lot of guys were up and down, but now they’re all in form.
“The guy with the best of the bad days is the one who will have the best shot at it. So we’re trying to keep away from bad days altogether.
“It’s tough at the top! We’re all chasing the dream and I can’t control what other people are doing. I can only control what I’m doing. I just have to go for it, keep looking up and chase what I want most.”
The 46-year-old has smashed a host of SGP records and making his 200th appearance in the series is another awesome achievement.
“My wife and I talked about it recently,” he said. “She asked me ‘what’s the 200 all about?’ I said ‘Teterow was the 200th GP. Stockholm will be my 200th.’ We just looked at each other, thinking ‘oh my gosh!’ It’s crazy, but pretty cool at the same time.”
Great Britain star Tai Woffinden, winner of the 2015 TEGERA® Stockholm SGP, is determined not to release his grip on the World Championship trophy as he bids to close the gap on Grin.
He said: “I’m not giving up on my goal. There are still lots of points to race for with three rounds remaining and I’ve done well in Stockholm before. I want to take it to the last round and I won’t give up until the end. It’s not my style.”
The battle for 2017 FIM Speedway Grand Prix qualification is hotting up ahead of the final three rounds, with Sweden’s Antonio Lindback clinging on to the eighth and final automatic berth in next season’s series with 70 points.
Danish icon Nicki Pedersen in ninth on 62 sits out this weekend’s action after suffering a broken neck, wrist and ribs at the Golden Helmet meeting in Pardubice last Sunday.
This presents Freddie Lindgren (59), Niels-Kristian Iversen (57), Peter Kildemand (56) and Matej Zagar (49) a golden opportunity to close on the top eight.
Lindgren in 10th has already qualified for 2017, having finished third at the GP Challenge in Vetlanda on September 3. But he’s still determined to climb the standings in Stockholm as he targets his first SGP final of 2016.
He said: “I just want to try and finish as high as I can and score as many points as possible.
“If that gets me into seventh or eighth position, it would be great. It’s just about climbing as high as I can. That’s what’s in my mind, and making a final. That’s top of my wish list at the moment.”
Tickets for the Stockholm SGP are still available. Visit: http://friendsarena.se/evenemang/sgp2016/?lang=en#Tickets.
STOCKHOLM SGP LINE-UP (in ranking order with rider numbers): 108 Tai Woffinden (Great Britain), 45 Greg Hancock (USA), 52 Michael Jepsen Jensen (Denmark – substitute for 3 Nicki Pedersen), 88 Niels-Kristian Iversen (Denmark), 69 Jason Doyle (Australia), 55 Matej Zagar (Slovenia), 71 Maciej Janowski (Poland), 23 Chris Holder (Australia), 25 Peter Kildemand (Denmark), 100 Andreas Jonsson (Sweden), 37 Chris Harris (Great Britain), 66 Fredrik Lindgren (Sweden – substitute for 33 Jaroslaw Hampel), 95 Bartosz Zmarzlik (Poland), 777 Piotr Pawlicki (Poland), 85 Antonio Lindback (Sweden), 16 Jacob Thorssell (Sweden – wild card), 17 Kim Nilsson (Sweden – track reserve), 18 Peter Ljung (Sweden – track reserve).
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: 1 Greg Hancock 109, 2 Jason Doyle 104, 3 Tai Woffinden 96, 4 Bartosz Zmarzlik 88, 5 Chris Holder 85, 6 Maciej Janowski 72, 7 Piotr Pawlicki 71, 8 Antonio Lindback 70, 9 Nicki Pedersen 62, 10 Fredrik Lindgren 59, 11 Niels-Kristian Iversen 57, 12 Peter Kildemand 56, 13 Matej Zagar 49, 14 Andreas Jonsson 39, 15 Chris Harris 33, 16 Patryk Dudek 8, 17 Martin Smolinski 8, 18 Danny King 7, 19 Krzysztof Kasprzak 7, 20 Michael Jepsen Jensen 7, 21 Anders Thomsen 5, 22 Peter Ljung 4, 23 Vaclav Milik 3, 24 Tobias Kroner 2, 25 Denis Stojs 1, 26 Nick Skorja 1, 27 Daniel Kaczmarek 1.