Flying Dutchman Romano Hummel raced to a commanding win in the fifth Final of the 2023 FIM Long Track World Championship at Morizès in France on Saturday night, but the main focus was on the two riders who finished second and third.
While Hummel was streaking to victory – his first at this level in six years despite winning the title after an abbreviated 2021 series – the championship fight between Chris ‘Bomber’ Harris and Germany’s Martin Smolinski remained as fierce as ever with Smolinski, champion in 2018, taking second ahead of his British rival.
The result cuts Harris’ championship advantage to just a single point with only the sixth Final – scheduled for Mühldorf in Germany on Sunday 17 September – remaining to decide the eventual destination of the title.
On a night disrupted by a power failure caused by a thunderstorm followed then by heavy rain after the first two Heats, the meeting was only rescued by heroics from the track team whose expert efforts ensured the action continued, although the programme was not completed until the early hours of Sunday morning.
It has not been a smooth season so far for Hummel, but the twenty-four-year-old was in fine form and dominated in the early stages to lead Britain’s Zach Wajtknecht on maximum points after the opening three blocks of racing.
With two wins and a second-placed finish, Smolinski was also in contention ahead of Denmark’s Kenneth Kruse Hansen who won last time out in Scheessel, but Harris was back in seventh and without a Heat victory.
Tensions were running high in the fourth block of racing and Harris dug deep to win his penultimate Heat race from Smolinski and then Hummel claimed a second behind the Czech Republic’s Josef Franc before Hansen followed Dutch racer Dave Meijerink across the line.
With the top three scorers transferring directly to the Grand Final and getting the all-important first gate picks, it was Hummel, Smolinski and Hansen who booked automatic places in the main event with victories in their fifth Heat races which left Wajtknecht, Harris, Meijerink, Franc and Jacob Bukhave from Denmark to fight it out in the Last Chance Heat for the remaining two places behind the tapes.
A mechanical problem immediately sidelined Wajtknecht and Harris claimed a vital victory from Meijerink, but the pair were forced to choose inside starting positions for the Grand Final as Hummel, Smolinski and Hansen lined up in the favoured outside gates.
Firing off the line from gate five, Hummel swept across his rivals into a lead he refused to surrender with Smolinski slotting into second and Harris lying an initial fourth behind Meijerink. If the positions remained unchanged then Smolinski would take the series lead, but Harris – after resisting pressure from Hansen – made a brave pass around the outside of Meijerink at the end of lap three to retain his position at the top of the standings.
All eyes will now be on Mühldorf where the 2023 FIM Long Track World Championship looks destined to come to a thrilling climax as Harris and Smolinski go head-to-head for the sport’s biggest prize.
The action from Mühldorf is available as a Pay-Per-View broadcast via a livestream package on the Tapes Up TV channel.