World champion rider Tai Woffinden starred as Team GB reached the Speedway World Cup final to thrill a bumper crowd at the Norfolk Arena.
Woffinden with 12 points headed a proper GB Lions team effort where every member bagged double figures in the first event of the 2014 Monster Energy FIM Speedway World Cup hosted by a packed Lynn stadium.
Thousands of international fans converged on the Saddlebow Road venue on Saturday night in glorious weather as home team GB defeated Australia, the USA and Italy.
Wolves ace Woffinden, who took a week’s rest in the period leading up to this star-studded clash after saying he was suffering from burn-out, was leading the Lions for the first time.
World-championship-chasing Greg Hancock (sitting just three points behind Woffinden in the Grand Prix series) top-scored with 19 points. America’s main hope scored 16 out of 24 points here for the USA last year.
Lions boss Alun Rossiter said: “I’m very, very proud. I had this belief and gut feeling and as it showed tonight the boys really wanted it. I believed in all the riders.”
On all four members reaching double figures, ‘Rosco’ added: “You couldn’t ask for more. I’m led to believe that is the first time we’ve gone straight to the final in my first time in charge of a GB side.
“It was an amazing atmosphere – you’ll never beat it.”
Commenting on Saturday’s forthcoming final where GB join hosts Poland in Bydgoszcz on Saturday, Rossiter said: “Anything can happen. I just cut out the negatives – that’s the biggest problem in British speedway.”
For the Aussies, Cameron Woodward replaced the injured Chris Holder. It meant former Lynn rider and ex-U21 world champion Darcy Ward assumed the Australian captaincy.
Other ex-Stars riders on display in front of an estimated 6,000-strong crowd were GB’s Simon Stead and Australian Troy Batchelor.
Stead made it a perfect home opening by streaking from the gate – as he had done the previous week for Leicester against the Lynn Stars – and beating Ward for the three points in Heat 1. Stead topped this by out-gating and defeating two times world champion Hancock, arguably the best rider on the planet at the moment.
Hero Stead commented on his former fans: “The crowd were the extra man.
“I’m not one for looking at who’s in the races. I just got my head down and knew I’d got good gate positions when the track is at its most favourable for me.
“It was an amazing feeling. We just chilled out in the hotel last night so the lead-up to the meeting was perfect. Rosco installed the belief in us, and that’s what he’s renowned for.”
Woffinden in his first outing during Heat 4 couldn’t get past second-place USA man Manzares but GB led Australia 9-8, with USA on 6 and the struggling Italians on 1. However the home skipper’s first win in Heat 8 meant the Lions enjoyed a three-point advantage.
By the halfway point at Heat 10 it was becoming a three-horse race. Italy only managed their first win via Nico Covatti in the 11th outing.
A second triumph for Woffinden meant the Lions led 27-20-20-6 following Heat 12. At this stage in 2013 the Brits were already 10 points behind Denmark!
Teams were allowed to play their double-scoring tactical joker when six points behind. A Heat 14 tactical victory for Hancock put USA right in it, immediately followed by a tactical win for Australia’s Jason Doyle.
Ward basically threw away the meeting by pulling up and complaining he saw a red light in Heat 18. He was excluded and Chris Harris’s victory in the re-run earned GB’s first final spot since 2010 with two races to spare.
It left Australia and USA to fight it out in the Race-Off on Thursday at the ZKS Polonia Stadium, where they meet the second and third-placed sides from Event 2 at Vastervik tonight.
Event 2 involves Czech Republic, Latvia, Denmark and hosts Sweden. Lynn number one Niels-Kristian Iversen is rested for Denmark but should feature in the final if they progress.
Lynn reserve Lewis Kerr (24) was named in the GB squad of 10.
n Teams, Great Britain (red helmets): 1 Tai Woffinden (captain) 12, Danny King 11, Chris Harris 11, Simon Stead 10. Total: 44.
n Australia (blue): Darcy Ward (c) 6, Jason Doyle 15, Troy Batchelor 14, Cameron Woodward 1. Total: 36.
n USA (white): 1 Greg Hancock (c) 19, Gino Manzares 9, Max Ruml 4, Ricky Wells 5. Total: 37.
n Italy (yellow): 1 Mattia Carpanese (c) 1, Nicolas Vicentin 0, Michele Paco Castagna 2, Nicolas Covatti 7. Total: 10.