Danish champion Niels-Kristian Iversen hopes he has put himself back on course for 2017 FIM Speedway Grand Prix qualification after a priceless triumph in Torun on Saturday.
NKI won the FST Grupa Brokerska Torun FIM Speedway Grand Prix of Poland, overhauling triple world champion Greg Hancock in the final, while Poland’s Bartosz Zmarzlik finished third and Matej Zagar of Slovenia claimed fourth place.
The night started in tough circumstances in heat three, when then World Championship leader Jason Doyle crashed hard on turn three, forcing him out of the meeting with shoulder, elbow and lung injuries. Hancock capitalised by gaining an 11-point lead at the World Championship summit.
Iversen refused to let Grin claim victory on the night, though, as he earned a 15-point haul that puts him ninth in the standings on 79 points – just three short of Freddie Lindgren, who occupies the eighth and final automatic qualification place for 2017 on 82.
With Iversen tied on 79 with Zagar and Antonio Lindback, it’s set to be a tense fight for the top eight at the season-closing QBE Insurance Australian SGP in Melbourne on October 22.
But the former world No.3 hopes his Torun heroics will go a long way towards booking his World Championship place for next year, whether or not he makes the top-eight cut.
He said: “I think that relieves the pressure on me a bit. I’m the best Danish rider in the leagues and I have made the most finals this year.
“It hasn’t been brilliant – especially at the beginning and especially at Grand Prix level. But I have showed over the last month and a half that I’m sort of back where I want to be. If things work out and I can get results like this, it just gives me a really good feeling.
“It has been hard work so far this year. I worked really hard over the winter. I thought I was in with a shot for the top. But it didn’t matter what I did at the beginning of the year, it just didn’t work out. That’s frustrating. It hits your confidence and it hits everything.
“Now I’m here and I’m top of the podium. It’s my best Grand Prix this year points-wise. It’s a little bit emotional. The pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place and it has saved a lot of my pride. It’s just awesome.”
Iversen admits some mental coaching behind the scenes has played a key role in him turning his season around with two final appearances in three rounds.
He said: “I’ve been trying to put my focus in different places and working a little bit with Johnny, my mental coach who I’ve been working with for years and years.
“He has come in and out when we’ve needed him. I’ve been spending a little bit more time with him over the last couple of months. I’ve been working with him since 2010. He has changed a lot for me.
“You have to have the mental side in the right place. Your mentality is 70 percent of what you need to get great results. You really have to build yourself up to that.
“I hope I’ve learned a lesson and maybe I’ll focus more on that aspect for next season. But I’m here now, I’m on the top, and it’s a good thing to build on.”
Iversen also saluted his team for their backing through a tough year. He said: “My mechanics are brilliant. They’re all in like me – they want to win as much as I do. They have been with me for almost 10 years now, so they know me better than anyone. They can see from my body language when things are not working out.
“They give me input in between every race and I’m just happy people kept believing in me.
“I’ve changed a lot with my equipment and that has paid off as well. When you feel like you have something going for you, it helps your riding. It gives you a bit more confidence and makes a huge difference. There is such a small difference between winning and losing in speedway. You need all these things to fall into place and you need a bit of luck as well.”
Second-placed Hancock is now just 11 points away from guaranteeing his fourth FIM Speedway World Championship in Melbourne. But he was gutted to overhaul Doyle in such tragic circumstances, when the Newcastle-born star crashed hard after being collected by the falling Chris Harris.
Grin said: “It’s bad luck. I can feel for Jason because I have been there. He’s a tough guy and I hope his injuries are not so serious that he can’t come back in Melbourne. He deserves a fair shot. Seeing his accident hit me inside. I know he didn’t go in there very well.”
Hancock was content with his sixth final outing of 2016, despite Iversen snatching victory away.
He said: “We had it going well there and things slipped a bit in the last two laps. Niels was a man on a mission. He was determined. I’m bummed that I lost the win, but I was in another final and I got good points.”
Third-placed Zmarzlik is now fourth in the World Championship and just two points behind Tai Woffinden, who currently occupies the bronze-medal spot. A rostrum finish in his SGP debut season would be some feat for the World Under-21 champion.
But the Gorzow and Vetlanda hero isn’t putting himself under any extra pressure heading to Melbourne after guaranteeing his pre-season target of a top-eight finish.
He said: “A medal is not a must. I just wanted to take some good points into the next round and maybe put myself in a position to go for one there. I don’t think third position in Torun is so bad and I am very happy.
“I had a very big problem in the first two heats. I was not happy because I only had two points. After that, I had very good speed.”
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: 1 Greg Hancock 134, 2 Jason Doyle 123, 3 Tai Woffinden 115, 4 Bartosz Zmarzlik 113, 5 Chris Holder 109, 6 Piotr Pawlicki 91, 7 Maciej Janowski 85, 8 Fredrik Lindgren 82, 9 Niels-Kristian Iversen 79, 10 Matej Zagar 79, 11 Antonio Lindback 79, 12 Peter Kildemand 64, 13 Nicki Pedersen 62, 14 Andreas Jonsson 46, 15 Chris Harris 36, 16 Michael Jepsen Jensen 21, 17 Patryk Dudek 8, 18 Martin Smolinski 8, 19 Pawel Przedpelski 8, 20 Danny King 7, 21 Krzysztof Kasprzak 7, 22 Anders Thomsen 5, 23 Kim Nilsson 5, 24 Peter Ljung 4, 25 Vaclav Milik 3, 26 Tobias Kroner 2, 27 Denis Stojs 1, 28 Jacob Thorssell 1, 29 Nick Skorja 1, 30 Daniel Kaczmarek 1, 31 Kacper Woryna 1.
FST GRUPA BROKERSKA TORUN SGP SCORES: 1 Niels-Kristian Iversen 15, 2 Greg Hancock 16, 3 Bartosz Zmarzlik 13, 4 Matej Zagar 15, 5 Chris Holder 11, 6 Michael Jepsen Jensen 10, 7 Piotr Pawlicki 10, 8 Fredrik Lindgren 9, 9 Pawel Przedpelski 8, 10 Tai Woffinden 8, 11 Andreas Jonsson 7, 12 Maciej Janowski 5, 13 Antonio Lindback 5, 14 Chris Harris 3, 15 Peter Kildemand 2, 16 Kacper Woryna 1, 17 Oskar Bober 0, 18 Jason Doyle 0.