Home hero Tai Woffinden took the lead of the World Speedway Championship during an action-packed British Grand Prix at the Millennium Stadium but minutes later lost it following an almighty crash.
The Briton had been a point behind Russian sensation Emil Sayfutdinov after four of the 12 rounds but the scores at the end of three rides each had seen the pendulum swing the way of Woffinden.
He had won his opening race and finished runner-up in the other two to rack up seven points, two more than Sayfutdinov, who had started slowly with two third-place finishes.
But Sayfutdinov, the winner of the European and Swedish GPs, had turned on the power when they had met, keeping Woffinden and popular American veteran Greg ‘Herbie’ Hancock, a former world champion, at bay.
Czech GP victory Woffinden had another difficult assignment on his plate in heat 14 against multi-world champion Nicki Pedersen, Slovakia’s Martin Vaculik and Sweden’s ‘Fast’ Freddie Lindgren.
It was hair-raising racing as no quarter was given and you could have thrown a blanket over the top of the quartet as they entered the third turn pushing the very limits and barely in control.
Vaculik was going too quick and wide and had to bale off his 500cc machine to avoid piling into the safety fence. His fall was gentle compared to what was happening ahead of him.
Woffinden’s bike reared up on the bumpy surface and his front wheel collided with the rear wheel of Pedersen, causing them both to lose control.
Woffinden was flung over the handlebars and cartwheeled along the track, at about 50mph.
Unfortunately, when he came to a halt his bouncing bike arrived and landed heavily on a leg. Medics were quickly on the scene and had to give him pain relief before he was put on to a stretcher and wheeled to a waiting ambulance.
Woffinden managed to wave to the crowd but the news from pit lane wasn’t so good – the meeting doctor had advised the 22-year-old not to attempt to continue racing at the meeting.
Pedersen, who was riding with a broken left wrist, hit the air-filled fence in the melee and ended up on the shale further along the track but, thankfully, was soon back on his feet.
The only rider to stay upright, Lindgren, was blamed for the accident and was excluded from the re-run, which was won by Vaculik from Pedersen.
Woffinden’s misfortune – he was high on confidence and was gunning for back-to-back GP triumphs – took some of the gloss off the meeting among the partisan British fans and enabled Sayfutdinov to reclaim top spot in the world standings.
Sayfutdinov could only finish third behind heat winner Niels Kristian Iversen (Denmark) and reigning world champ Chris Holder (Australia) in his next race.
But fending off Vaculik in heat 17 ensured he had made the semi-finals and would be leaving Cardiff with an increaed lead in the championship.
Millennium Stadium track specialist Holder, winner here last year and in 2010 as well as finishing third in 2011, was the leading qualifier for the semi-finals with 13 points, two more than Pedersen, Hancock and Iversen.
But only Iversen, who kept Sayfutdinov at bay in the second semi-final, made it through to the final.
Pedersen’s bike packed up in the first while Holder was a distant third behind winner Lindgren and Pole Krzystof Kasprzak. Hancock fired as badly as Pedersen, going backwards to finish last.
Kasprzak was first away when the starting tapes went up for the final but Sayfutdinov was probing for an opening when the third-placed Lindgren was flung off bucking bronco style, Iversen being fortunate to avoid by scooped up in the mess.
The race was stopped and Lindgren, who was unscathed, was excluded from the re-run. Sayfutdinov powered around the outside to grab the lead but was pushed all the way.
Kasprzak got closer and closer and tried to dive up the inside entering the final bend. Sayfutdinov shut the door on him and forced a mistake, allowing Iversen to sneak through for second.
“Of course it’s special to win here – there was a magnificent atmosphere,” beamed Sayfutdinov afterwards.
British Grand Prix Result: 1, Emil Sayfutdinov (Russia); 2, Niels Kristian Iversen (Denmark); 3, Krzystof Kasprzak (Poland).
World Championship table (after five of 12 rounds): 1, Sayfutdinov 69 points; 2, Tai Woffinden (Great Britain) 61; 3, Nicki Pedersen (Denmark) 56.