Australian ace Darcy Ward admits world champ Tai Woffinden “definitely stamped a marker with his win in Prague” as he bids to overhaul the Brit for top spot.
Woffinden leads Ward by one point at the World Championship summit as the pair prepare for the Swedish FIM Speedway Grand Prix in Malilla on Saturday night.
Woffy stormed to victory at the Czech SGP in Prague on May 31 to go top on 46 points – level with American legend Greg Hancock in second. But Ward’s super 16-point haul in the Czech capital – featuring a 15-point maximum in his heats – puts him right on the Wolverhampton skipper’s tail with 45.
The Queenslander heads to his former Swedish home track Malilla, determined to get the better of Woffinden. But he knows the Scunthorpe-born star will take some stopping in a rich vein of form.
He said: “It’s going to be tough at the top. Woffy definitely stamped a marker with his win in Prague to show he’s back to good form and he’s going to be hard to beat.
“I think they’re all going to be hard to beat – it’s going to be tough. You can’t really predict it at the moment, but you can see a few guys who are a step ahead of the others.
“Woffy is going to be a very hard contender to beat. Greg Hancock is going to be there, but Greg’s gating is what he needs. He is a master of it. If I out-gate him, I feel comfortable that hopefully he won’t pass me. But on his good night, he’s still one of the best in the world.”
Ward says Polish star Krzysztof Kasprzak, leader ahead of the Czech round, could still pose a threat, despite nursing a torn cruciate knee ligament injury.
The Poole, Piraterna and Torun rider is battling the same problem, so Ward knows KK is capable of regaining his blistering early-season form once his knee settles.
He said: “KK was the quickest at the start of the year for sure. He will definitely bounce back to pretty good form. He didn’t show it in Prague, but I’m sure he’ll come back.
“I have the same knee injury and it takes about four weeks to get back to where you want to be. He’ll be stepping back up in Malilla, for sure.”
Things have been far from plain sailing for Ward as he scored just five points at the opening SGP round in Auckland, when he crashed and sustained his ligament damage. He then missed the semi-final in Tampere on eight points – the first time Ward has ever fallen short, having completed all five heat races.
So he’s delighted to be third in the standings and firmly in the World Championship chase.
He said: “To be one point off the lead after everything I’ve had this year; I’m really happy with that. I feel like I missed the round in New Zealand when I tore my knee ligament, and I’m still just a point off. The confidence is there.”
With just nine points separating Woffinden at the top from New Zealand SGP winner Martin Smolinski in ninth place, this year’s World Championship tussle could not be tighter as the series returns to Malilla’s G&B Arena after a year’s absence.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: 1 Tai Woffinden 46, 2 Greg Hancock 46, 3 Darcy Ward 45, 4 Nicki Pedersen 44, 5 Matej Zagar 43, 6 Krzysztof Kasprzak 42, 7 Chris Holder 40, 8 Fredrik Lindgren 38, 9 Martin Smolinski 37, 10 Niels-Kristian Iversen 35, 11 Jaroslaw Hampel 31, 12 Andreas Jonsson 31, 13 Kenneth Bjerre 22, 14 Troy Batchelor 21, 15 Chris Harris 12, 16 Adrian Miedzinski 5, 17 Joonas Kylmakorpi 5, 18 Kauko Nieminen 4, 19 Jason Bunyan 2, 20 Vaclav Milik 2.