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With the 2018 Long Track season about to commence, we take the opportunity to look ahead at the prospects for this year’s World Championship series.
Since the championship moved to a ‘Grand Prix’ format in 1997 it has had only eight champions with the Germans Gerd Riss and Robert Barth dominating. More recently Finn Joonas Kylmakorpi has claimed four consecutive titles and Erik Riss, son of Gerd, two wins. All have since retired or have chosen not to compete in the championship and in the absence of 2015 winner Dutchman Jannick de Jong the current titleholder Mathieu Trésarrieu is the only previous winner in this year’s competition. He must be seen as a major candidate for honours again but who are likely to be his main challengers?
The return of Frenchman Dmitri Bergé after a year’s absence could provide strong opposition. Fourth in 2016, he decided to take time to concentrate on his speedway career but now finds it possible to combine the two disciplines and he will be keen to add to his reputation on the Long Tracks.
Twice European Champion James Shanes made his debut in this championship last year and finished a creditable fourth, but this included a first place in the Eenrum Final. Another debutant last year was the precocious young German Michael Hartel whose determined attitude ruffled a feather or two but won him a deserved silver medal. He is another combining Long Track with a developing speedway career and he will be looking to improve on last year’s second place.
Romano Hummel from The Netherlands is another young rider to watch. The 19-year-old also has an exciting style and was originally a Substitute rider. He was drafted in after two rounds due to injuries but despite this he finished a creditable 7th place ahead of several more experienced riders. He is in good form again this year and was very unlucky to lose the recent Dutch Open Championship when his steel shoe came adrift and he was disqualified.
Another newcomer to the series will be Jérôme Lespinasse, a Frenchman who at 32 has over 15 years’ experience at national level but may have to raise his game a little if he is to compete with the best. Jesse Mustonen is another who qualified through the Long Track Challenge meeting and will be Finland’s only representative.
We cannot overlook the fact that there will be two top speedway riders in the draw for this series, both former Speedway Grand Prix winners. Martin Smolinski is returning to the Long Track World Championship on a permanent basis and will be a hard man to beat, particularly on the dirt tracks of his native Germany. Equally, Chris Harris is a tough competitor in every sense and although best known for his speedway exploits, started his racing career on the grass tracks of his native Cornwall in England. He returned to Long Track last year but endured a difficult start with mechanical problems and only a late-season rally secured his qualification for the 2018 Championship.
The remainder of the field is made up of experienced racers, any of whom could be a candidate for the podium at the end of the series. Josef Franc who took the bronze medal in 2017 needs only a little more consistency to improve on that place and Britain’s Richard Hall, third as long ago as 2013 could still prove a spoiler to some of the more fancied contestants.
Bernd Diener and Stephan Katt will be Germany’s remaining representatives. Last year only poor performances in the last two rounds prevented Katt from taking a medal but his 5th place was a good reflection of his ability. Dutchman Théo Pijper’s season followed a similar pattern but his vast experience at this level means that he can never be overlooked.
The chase for the World Championship begins in Herxheim, Germany on 10th May with the series visiting La Réole, France; Roden and Eenrum in The Netherlands before returning to Germany for the climax in Mühldorf at the end of September when the champion for 2018 will be crowned.
Fans unable to travel to all events will be happy that they can still enjoy their racing from the comfort of their own armchairs as, for the first time, all meetings including the Team Final in September will be streamed on the FIM YouTube Channel with live coverage of the racing as well as interviews, background clips and the draw for the following round.