Australia earned a hard-fought victory in FIM Speedway of Nations Semi-Final 1 as Finland upset the odds to snatch second place and reach their first world final of the 21st century in Vojens on Wednesday night.
In the most exciting FIM SON Semi-Final yet and the first of a new era for the sport under new global promoter Discovery Sports Events, the Roos held their nerve to join hosts Denmark in Saturday’s Final.
Aussie champion Max Fricke raced to 15 points, with Jack Holder picking up 14 and Jason Doyle six – earning them victory on 35 overall.
But runners-up Finland provided the night’s biggest story on 34 points as national No.1 Timo Lahti bagged 18 and SGP2 sensation Timi Salonen added 16, firing their country into their first-ever FIM SON Final. They sensationally forced eight-time FIM Speedway World Cup winners and pre-event favourites Poland, who scored 31, to contest the Final Qualifier, with fourth-placed Germany, who totalled 30.
Double world champion Bartosz Zmarzlik and partner Patryk Dudek delivered when it mattered most to seal a fine 7-2 win over German pair Kai Huckenbeck and Norick Blodorn to clinch the last spot in the FIM SON Final.
Aussie team manager Mark Lemon admited it was not an easy night for his side and paid tribute to his Roos for creating the team atmosphere that helped them see off the competition in Vojens.
“We never make these Semi-Finals the easiest for ourselves. It was just a really classic speedway meeting tonight – you could throw a blanket over the whole lot of the teams at one point,” Lemon said.
“We were obviously experimenting with our team and riders to try and find the optimum pairing on the night. Max and Jack stepped up when necessary and captain Doyle managed to do his bit too, as he always does.
“There was a really good cohesion and team atmosphere. We worked really well tonight. It was just a really trying and tense World Championship meeting.
“We achieved our objective by qualifying for the Final, and that’s what we came here to do. Now we can reassess that objective,” Lemon concluded.
Finnish hero Lahti led his country to fifth place in their FIM SON Semi-Final at Latvian track Daugavpils in 2021.
While Finland finished fifth in the 1982 and 1989 FIM World Pairs Championship Finals, the chance to compete in Saturday’s FIM SIN Final makes this their most famous triumph of the modern era.
“I have been around the team for 13 or 14 years and we always fight for the last places. Tonight we managed to battle with the countries like Australia and Poland. It was fantastic,” Lahti said.
The Finnish skipper also hailed teammate Salonen, a rider who lines up in this season’s SGP2 FIM Speedway Under-21 World Championship series. He has also made a huge impression racing for Polish club Gorzow’s under-24 team, as well as Second Division side Rzeszow.
With Salonen piling up the points, the Rospiggarna star is in a confident mood ahead of Saturday’s FIM SON Final.
“It’s amazing the progress Timi has made,” he said. “I hadn’t seen him race this year, but the way he is riding, we could even fight for the top positions on Saturday.”
Polish skipper Bartosz Zmarzlik was delighted to stay cool in the Final Qualifier and hopes his side can benefit from a testing night when they take their place in Saturday’s title showdown.
“I didn’t like the last heat because there was a lot of pressure for Team Poland. But I am happy and proud of us because now we are in the Final. Our business is done for today,” Zmarzlik said.
“There were many changes in the setup today, and now the boys know more about the track ahead of Saturday. We will see what the track is like on Saturday and we will be there.”
The battle for the last three spots in the FIM SON Final takes place on Thursday night as world champions Great Britain launch their title defence in Semi-Final 2 against Sweden, France, Czech Republic, Italy, Slovenia and FIM SON debutants Norway.
FIM SPEEDWAY OF NATIONS SEMI-FINAL 1 SCORES:
1 AUSTRALIA 35: 1 Jason Doyle 6, 2 Max Fricke 15, 3 Jack Holder 14.
2 FINLAND 34: 1 Timo Lahti 18, 2 Timi Salonen 16, 3 Jesse Mustonen 0.
3 POLAND 31: 1 Bartosz Zmarzlik 15, 2 Maciej Janowski 6, 3 Patryk Dudek 10.
4 GERMANY 30: 1 Kai Huckenbeck 18, 2 Norick Blodorn 12, 3 Michael Hartel 0.
5 USA 25: 1 Luke Becker 19, 2 Broc Nicol 6, 3 Dillon Ruml 0.
6 UKRAINE 18: 1 Marko Levishyn 18, 2 Stanislav Melnychuk 0, 3 Vitalii Lysak 0.
7 LATVIA 16: 1 Francis Gusts 2, 2 Jevgenijs Kostigovs 7, 3 Olegs Mihailovs 7.