Greg Hancock wrapped up his fourth World Speedway Championship before Chris Holder delighted the home fans by winning the QBE Insurance Australian FIM Speedway Grand Prix at the roofed Etihad Stadium in a rainy Melbourne on Saturday 22 October.
When the 46-year-old American got the better of Pole Piotr Pawlicki in Heat 4 he put the 2016 title out of the reach of his rivals, but he failed to finish the meeting.
Even without Hancock there was plenty at stake and the minor placings in the championship were ultimately not decided until the final.
The 20 heats produced quality racing and excitement, boosted particularly in the last round as five riders were still battling for the last two places in the top eight for the season.
Both Maciej Janowski and Fredrik Lindgren fell by the wayside and out of the automatic qualifiers for 2017, but Niels-Kristian Iversen, Matej Zagar and a resurgent Antonio Lindback progressed to what was a clear-cut top eight for the semi-finals on the night.
Bartosz Zmarzlik (12) was top qualifier ahead of a quartet – Tai Woffinden, Holder, Lindback and Iversen – on 11. One point behind were Zagar and Michael Jepsen Jensen, the latter again replacing the still injured Nicki Pedersen. Pawlicki got the final berth with eight.
Holder worked hard for his points with a second and then three wins before a clutch failure left him pointless in his last heat.
The rest of the Aussies were involved in some good contests, particularly in the early races, but they got little reward for their efforts.
Brady Kurtz dropped a chain at the tapes in one heat, but like Sam Masters he battled hard. Both reserves Max Fricke and Jack Holder had falls as part of their induction to SGP racing.
The best moment for local fans came when Jack Holder grabbed a stirring second place in his first SGP outing.
Andreas Jonsson, Chris Harris and Peter Kildemand all bowed out without much of a whimper, and certainly for the first two it may be their last ever SGP round.
The first semi-final produced a decisive win for Lindback, with Zmarzlik passing Zagar as Jepsen Jensen trailed. Losing second place and a subsequent extra ride in the final eventually cost Zagar a place in the top eight for the season.
Holder further lifted the home fans by passing Woffinden to win the second semi-final and while Iversen was eliminated, the third place he earned by passing Pawlicki proved his most crucial point of the season.
With 21,729 fans roaring him on, Holder took control at the first corner of the final. He held off Lindback before Woffinden and Zmarzlik both got by Lindback too, but they couldn’t catch the Aussie.
Holder wins and grins
It was Chris Holder’s first Speedway GP win since Cardiff in his world title-winning year of 2012.
“To win an Aussie GP is the next best thing to being world champion,” said Chris.
After a frustrating year he said: “To finish the year on a high is a big plus, it’s good to know you can still do it in good competition.”
Holder narrowly failed to haul in deposed champion Woffinden and sensational debutant Zmarzlik in the quest for the championship rostrum places, finishing fourth in the 2016 series.
But spare a though for Jason Doyle
Of the 11 SGP rounds this year there were seven riders who each won one –Kildemand, Woffinden, Janowski, Lindback, Hancock, Iversen and Holder.
Doyle won FOUR rounds, yet could only finish fifth overall. Though he was no certainty to win the title before being badly injured in Poland, he was in the lead.
Let’s hope he mends well and is back better than ever for the 2017 season.
Story- Peter Baker
Images- Stephen Hope Photographic