Martin Smolinski was delighted to defy his doubters and claim a shock New Zealand FIM Speedway Grand Prix triumph in Auckland, and now he wants to put German speedway back in the limelight.
The Munich-born hero won one of the greatest SGP finals in recent memory after sitting at the back for two laps, before scything majestically past Nicki Pedersen, Krzysztof Kasprzak and Freddie Lindgren to collect his first Grand Prix win on only his second SGP appearance.
Smolinski, now third in the World Championship with 15 points, has come a long way since failing to score on his debut in the 2008 Final SGP at Polish circuit Bydgoszcz, where the European SGP takes place on April 26.
The 29-year-old returns there full of confidence after picking up the biggest victory for a German rider since Egon Muller won the 1983 World Final.
Smolinski was written off by the pundits after qualifying via the 2013 GP Challenge at Poole, so he was over the moon to make the speedway world sit up and take notice with a hard-charging masterclass in the land of the long white cloud.
He said: “I can’t put this into words. I can’t really believe what has happened here at the moment. The main reason I’m sitting here and I won is the hard work I have done and my team has done over the winter.
“I’ve had big issues in the press – no-one believed in me because I don’t race in Poland, I don’t race in Sweden and I don’t race in Britain. I’d like to say a big thank you to all the people in my team, my engine tuner, my girlfriend and the people who believed in me.
“My fans at home in Olching got up at 6am. They had a party and watched me. I bet they’re going mad. There were 250 people watching at home on the big screen.
“This was a big result for my fans, for German speedway and hopefully we can make a big step and get the sport back where we had it in the seventies and eighties with Egon Muller.”
Smolinski rode the Western Springs circuit in his own, unique style, showing astonishing speed around the white line to rack up 10 points in his heats, before following Kasprzak home in semi-final two.
After picking off Lindgren in the final, he then showed remarkable patience and poise to pounce up the inside as Pedersen and Kasprzak scrapped for the lead to claim the biggest victory of his career.
He said: “There were three riders there who had some of the best bike control in the series. They work at a very high level. We were very hard, but we were very fair and we left some room to race.
“I’ve been working a lot over the winter with my mental and fitness coach. I’ve done a lot of boxing and it’s about having the fight.
“You also have to be in the right position at the right moment and maybe make a step backwards and think what’s happening. You have to have a clear head in these extreme situations.
“The guys were fighting against each other at the front. I waited one lap, two laps, three laps, I read them. Every lap is different, every book and every page is different. It’s the same with speedway. The track was good and everything was good. The right moment came and bang, I was gone. I was leading.”
Despite this result, Smolinski insists his target remains a top 10 finish in the World Championship, even if his awesome Auckland performance will prompt others to set the bar higher.
He said: “My target is still the top 10. I was in the GP Challenge for the first time in 2005 and that’s nine years ago. But everything comes at the right time. I’ve taken it step by step.
“I’m not going to say I’m going to be world champion straight away. But I do want to be consistent and be on a good level. Then maybe I can go up a step again.
“Nobody can make five steps in one go. You have to go step by step and that’s the way we’re working. You never know what can happen. But I believe in me and my team.”
NZ SGP runner-up Pedersen leaves Auckland as the World Championship leader on 19 points after blitzing to a 15-point maximum in his heats, before finishing second to Lindgren in semi one.
He was delighted to build on his 2012 and 2013 bronze medals in Auckland after playing his part in an enthralling final.
He said: “I think I have to go back many years to remember a final like this. I don’t remember seeing a guy who was last for a couple of laps win the Grand Prix.
“Fair play to Martin – I think everyone had a fair chance in this final. I’m happy with second place. I rode well all night and I got one place better than I have done in the last two years, so I can’t complain.”
Third-placed Kasprzak was content to leave New Zealand with a massive 17 points, leaving him second in the World Championship.
He said: “I am very happy and it was a good evening for me. Congratulations to Martin – that was a good debut in the GP and I hope the next round will be as good as it was in Auckland.”
Smolinski’s only low point was being excluded from heat 14 after appearing to hit a rut and clatter Aussie star Darcy Ward, who was briefly knocked unconscious. The Queenslander withdrew from the meeting, suffering with concussion.
It was also a tough night for the British riders as world champ Tai Woffinden missed the semi-final cut on countback with seven points. Chris Harris failed to score on his SGP return after a year out of the series.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: 1 Nicki Pedersen 19, 2 Krzysztof Kasprzak 17, 3 Martin Smolinski 15, 4 Fredrik Lindgren 13, 5 Chris Holder 11, 6 Kenneth Bjerre 11, 7 Jaroslaw Hampel 8, 8 Tai Woffinden 7, 9 Andreas Jonsson 7, 10 Niels-Kristian Iversen 6, 11 Greg Hancock 6, 12 Matej Zagar 6, 13 Darcy Ward 5, 14 Troy Batchelor 4, 15 Jason Bunyan 2, 16 Chris Harris 0.
NEW ZEALAND SGP SCORES: 1 Martin Smolinski 15, 2 Nicki Pedersen 19, 3 Krzysztof Kasprzak 17, 4 Fredrik Lindgren 13, 5 Kenneth Bjerre 11, 6 Chris Holder 11, 7 Jaroslaw Hampel 8, 8 Andreas Jonsson 7, 9 Tai Woffinden 7, 10 Greg Hancock 6, 11 Matej Zagar 6, 12 Niels-Kristian Iversen 6, 13 Darcy Ward 5, 14 Troy Batchelor 4, 15 Jason Bunyan 2, 16 Chris Harris 0, 17 Andrew Aldridge 0, 18 Grant Tregoning DNR.