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MIKKEL MICHELSEN

HERE’S talk in the Speedway GP paddock that the FIM Speedway Grand Prix Qualifying Practice format could be due for an overhaul.

The current system sees riders take to the track in groups of three for three blocks of two minutes – during which they bid to set the fastest lap time, with the fastest rider earning first choice of starting positions.

That is a very worthwhile carrot to dangle and has added intrigue to what was otherwise a simple hour-and-a-half practice session prior to 2019. While useful for the teams, it was dull as ditchwater for the casual viewer.

Riders taking laps on their own, tweaking a set-up which may end up being irrelevant if weather and track conditions are different for racing, offered absolutely nothing for fans – other than the absolute diehards.

The current format is undoubtedly a step up. But is it time to add some jeopardy and a storyline to proceedings?

Formula 1 is often heralded as the benchmark for all motorsports. Not all of their ideas work on the shale. But splitting qualifying into sessions with each rider fighting to progress to the next round may be a great option for speedway.

All 18 riders – including the two track reserves – could line up in Q1, with the group being reduced to the 12 scoring the fastest times.

The top 12 then take to the shale again for Q2, with the six clocking the best times progressing to the third and final round – Q3.

The top six then battle it out in the final shoot-out, with the fastest rider scoring first pick of starting positions for the evening’s racing.

The times from each session would not be carried over to the next, meaning teams could not simply sit back, play with their set-ups and take it easy – or possibly test a new engine.

This may not suit every rider – and there’s no doubt some are happy to sacrifice first choice of starting positions in favour of ensuring they can find the best set-up possible for the track. Under this plan, the only way to secure more track time is to qualify for the next session.

With Discovery Sports Events putting a great focus on bringing fans to their events for longer – and offering them a whole afternoon and evening of entertainment on and off the track – starting the day with the drama of a qualifying shoot-out could be the perfect appetiser for the day’s action.

The word ‘Practice’ should also be dropped from the name of the lunchtime showdown. The name ‘Qualifying Practice’ suggests fans will be watching a fairly casual affair with a timing screen.

Speedway GP is very fortunate to have electronic timing with the sport largely devoid of this at league level. Since its introduction, it’s almost laughable to go to a British match and accept times taken by an official using a stopwatch.

There may be times when they react quicker or slower, get distracted or get replaced by a colleague for another meeting, who may be quicker or slower on the button.

Put simply, you may as well time races using a sundial for all the accuracy offered by a human being with a stopwatch.

The sport’s biggest event has moved with the times and a three-stage Speedway GP Qualifying Shoot-Out is exactly what’s needed to take the use of electronic timing to the next level.

T TRACKSIDE UROPEAN Champion Mikkel Michelsen has confirmed he will not race in this Saturday’s Kaeser FIM Speedway GP of Sweden – Malilla after admitting the pain of a broken ankle became too severe. The Dane sustained the injury in the warm-up for his Polish club Lublin’s PGE Ekstraliga semifinal, first leg in Torun on Friday, September 2,

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DESPITE a phenomenal effort to stage the FIM Speedway of Nations at just two weeks’ notice in July, Vojens bosses were not rewarded with the crowd levels a fantastic tournament deserved.

But one of the sport’s most professional clubs was rightly delighted as 12,451 fans packed into Denmark’s national speedway stadium for the FIM Speedway GP of Denmark – Vojens, sponsored by ECCO.

The mix of age ranges was also very refreshing to see. Speedway in the UK and Scandinavia has a reputation for having an ageing audience. But clearly the younger generations will turn out when they are served a world-class line-up, marketed well and with plenty of entertainment beyond the racing – including the chance to sit in an F16 fighter jet in the fanzone.

Some of the entertainment got a bit lost in translation. Their bid to recreate Iceland’s iconic thunderclap, which took off spectacularly during Euro 2016, was greeted with an enthusiastic golf clap.

But with all three Danes fighting their way into the semi-finals and Leon Madsen finally delivering his first Vojens final, it was a night everyone should remember for the right reasons.

AS A nation with its own royal family, the Danes joined the Speedway GP world in paying a fitting tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II following her passing last Thursday.

Following the Danish national anthem, fans observed an impeccable moment of silence, with celebrations on the podium after the racing muted and no champagne sprayed.

Runner-up Robert Lambert grew up in rural Norfolk – not far from the royal family’s Sandringham estate.

He was pleased with the gesture made to tone down the victory celebrations in Vojens and wished he could have taken the win in tribute to Her Majesty.

He said: “It would have been quite nice. It would have been an honour. Obviously it is very sad news and you could see we had the moment of silence and no champagne. That was very respectful on Discovery’s side.

“I think everyone appreciated that and it was a great gesture in the Royal Family’s time of mourning.”

• Robert Lambert, right, congratulates Bartosz Zmarzlik and incredibly still raced three meetings that weekend.

He finished second on the Vojens scorechart with 11 points to reach the semi-finals but exited with nine championship points after finishing last in semi two.

Michelsen may be gutted he didn’t leave with more points to show for a phenomenal effort as he raced through the pain.

He underwent checks at a Polish hospital on Monday and while the break is stable, doctors have ordered him to miss the Malilla round.

Posting on Instagram on Monday, he said: “Since the crash in Torun, I’ve been battling the pain of a broken ankle. The medial malleolus is broken all the way through which is bad news, but we already knew that Friday night.

“The good news is for the time being, despite having raced five meetings since the crash, the bones are still stable and sitting in the right position which means no surgery is needed.

“Unfortunately the pain has become unbearable and the doctor has submitted me to bed rest and light rehabilitation which means no @SpeedwayGP in Målilla Saturday.

“For how long I’ll be out, we don’t know yet but I will definitely do everything I can to be ready for the second final in Lublin (September 25). Thank you once again to Klinika Nieborowice and Doctor Krzysztof Onaczyszyn for the quick turnaround and professional approach as always.”

Speaking after the meeting, Michelsen was rightly content with his performance. But admitted: “I feel like I have been run over by a truck.

“Apart from that, it was a pretty decent night. I am pretty happy with it. Of course I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t make it to the final. I finished second on the scorechart after the 20 races, so to be last in the semis and be ranked No. 8 on the night is disappointing.

“I came here and did everything I could, without being 100 per cent fit. I guess in the end I need to be happy with that.”

The Speedway GP paddock is made up of riders, mechanics, officials, sponsors and staff from all over the world. Many nations change their heads of state every four to eight years following an election.

But no matter where they arrived from, the Speedway GP family offered nothing but respect to one of the 20th and 21st century’s most dedicated and dignified leaders.

12 speedway star September 17, 2022

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