The championship has been close and competitive all season with no clear favourite for the crown, but in the end the fireworks from the first five Finals fizzled out and the German took his second FIM Long Track World Championship title without needing to turn a wheel in the Grand Final.
At the start of the day the thirty-eight-year-old from Munich, racing on his home track, trailed Chris ‘Bomber’ Harris by one point, but when the British rider failed to join Smolinski in the Grand Final following a disastrous run of results in the Heats the destination of the coveted crown was decided.
Smolinski claimed the 2023 championship to go with the crown he won in 2018 without winning a Grand Final this season, but his incredible consistency – and, of course, his spectacular speed – proved key and second place at Mühldorf behind Denmark’s Kenneth Kruse Hansen saw him take the title by seven points from Harris.
On a warm day in the south-east of Germany, a big turn-out of fans lined the track to cheer on their home hero and they did not go home disappointed.
If Smolinski was feeling any nerves he did not show them as he cruised through his Heat races with three wins and two seconds to qualify directly to the Grand Final alongside Britain’s Zach Wajtknecht with four wins and a third and 2021 champion Romano Hummel from the Netherlands who won two of his Heats.
Harris’ day got off to a troubled start when he trailed home pointless in his opening Heat. A win second time out appeared to put him back on course, but a mechanical failure in his third Heat saw him playing catch-up once again and struggling to stay in contention for a place in the Last Chance Heat.
He managed to keep his championship dream alive with victory in his final Heat race, but went into the Last Chance Heat with the final choice of gates and was forced to start at a big disadvantage near the unfavoured inside.
When the tapes went up he started third, but quickly lost a place to the Hynek Stichauer and by the time he managed to retake the position from the Czech racer there was just a lap left and he was unable to reel in Josef Franc from the Czech Republic and Hansen and he was out.
Hansen then capped a great day with his second Grand Final win of the season and when Hummel made a late pass on Wajtknecht for third the dynamic Dane was also elevated into third in the championship on a tie-break with the British rider.
With the first six finishers from this season awarded an automatic place for the 2024 championship, Hummel and Franc – who won the series opener at Herxheim in Germany in May – booked their places with fifth and sixth in the standings.
Report and Feature Image by FIM Long Track