Speedway review - we look back at an historic 2013 season
By Graeme Bailey - Tweet me: @graemebailey. Last Updated: 15/01/14 3:26pm
Tai Woffinden: 2013 speedway world champion
Another epic year of speedway on Sky Sports and we pick out our best and worst moments of 2013.
2013 will go down as one of the best in British speedway history as we welcomed home our eighth world champion when Tai Woffinden captured the sport's biggest prize.
Domestically and somewhat surprisingly, Poole Pirates came from nowhere to claim their fifth Elite League title whilst Poland captured the World Cup.
But little doubting 2013 has belonged to one-man - Australian raised but Scunthorpe-born, Woffinden was only in the Grand Prix series as a wild card entry and some even questioned that after his previous showing at the top level some two years earlier...
However, Woffinden was a different animal in 2013. As early as the second round he was showing his stuff - making the Grand Final in Bydgoszcz - but a world title still seemed somewhat in the distance with early favourites Jarek Hampel and Emil Sayfutdinov starting in blistering form.
His first ever GP win, though, soon followed as he brilliantly took the chequered flag at the Czech Grand Prix to throw himself into contention.
Then seemingly tragedy struck and in all places at the British Grand Prix. With Woffinden flying and looking well placed to take a big score from Cardiff, he crashed out in Heat 14 as he slammed into the air fence along with Nicki Pedersen. A broken collarbone was confirmed as he was ambulanced to hospital.
To make matters worse his main title rival Sayfutdinov took victory - surely Woffinden's hopes of even a top-seven finish let alone the world title were over... or maybe not.
Just two weeks later, after it was confirmed his collarbone was actually 'shattered' Woffinden rode in Gorzow in the Grand Prix of Poland - despite being in visible pain following each ride, he somehow managed to make the Grand Final, where he finished third - this momentous effort was to set him on the road to history.
A semi-final in Copenhagen at the Danish GP followed before the break for the World Cup but Sayfutdinov now had a 13-point lead - but Woffinden had a brilliant Italian GP which saw the gap cut to just five points, the battle for the world crown was now a straight two-horse race.
On to Latvia in mid-August and Woffinden took the lead with another Grand Final placing - with just three GPs left, the Brit was now at the top of the standings for the first time.
But just as everyone geared up for a grandstand finish to the season, fate dealt a cruel blow to Sayfutdinov as he crashed out in a Polish league meeting with multiple injuries including a broken arm. Although at the time he did not confirm it, his season was over and he all but handed the world crown to Woffinden.
Woffinden, though, still had to get the job done - he could not do it in Slovenia or Sweden, but in the final GP of the year in Torun - the title was his as British speedway got its first world champion since Mark Loram in 2000.
Domestically, Woffinden also have his best season ever as he actually captured the British title for the first time, which meant he is the first ever rider to hold the British and world crowns at the same time.
Woffinden's form for Wolverhampton also inspired them to outstanding displays in the Elite League. Wolves were very much tipped as outsiders at the start of the campaign, but actually led for most of the season before missing out in the play-offs. Woffinden also finished top of the Elite League averages to cap a momentous season.
Despite his injuries, Woffinden did manage to ride for Great Britain in the World Cup, and he was easily their best rider in the qualifying event and then the race-off where Team GB went out, finishing behind both Latvia and USA as Australia progressed to the finals in Prague.
The final saw Poland again take the honours for the sixth time in nine years as their dominance of the sport continued - although it was a closely fought contest with Denmark, who narrowly missed out on defending the title they won in 2012.
On the home front, and it was Poole who took the honours - but for much of the campaign it had seemed like the Pirates would miss out. The mid-season injury to Chris Holder was a huge blow, but their boss Matt Ford - the shrewdest of operators anywhere in speedway, persuaded American legend Greg Hancock to return to Britain as cover.
Poole picked themselves up and took the final play-off spot, only just edging out King's Lynn and Lakeside. Into the semi-finals and Poole got one over on their fierce rivals Swindon Robins to seal a Grand Final with league winners Birmingham - who were far too good for Wolves, who could not cope without the injured Woffinden.
But the Grand Final was dominated by Poole. They won the first leg by 21 points at Wimborne Road before then recording a 47-43 win at Perry Barr to secure a brilliant success, with the wonderful Darcy Ward leading them home.
Here is a run through of our highlights from the year...
Rider of the Year...Tai Woffinden
This title could read rider of the decade in British terms, what more can be said but a brilliant effort from the young Brit.
EL Star of the Year...Martin Smolinski
The German started the year as reserve at Birmingham - but he had a wonderful 2013 - finishing the campaign as their No 1. Coupled with the fact he booked his place in the 2014 Grand Prix series, it was certainly a year to remember.
Ride of the Year...Woffinden in Gorzow
It did not win him the world title, but his performance in Gorzow - two weeks after shattering his collarbone - was one of the sporting performances of 2013. Physically in huge pain, he made the Grand Final which highlighted his desire for the world crown which eventually came his way.
Team of the Year...Poole Pirates
For the second year in succession we are saying Ward, not least because he is now in the SPG field and could be in contention for a World title at the first time of asking. Also a mention for Birmingham who finished top of the tree and just ran out of steam at the final hurdle.
A year to forget for...Emil Sayfutdinov
The Russian looked back to his very best for much of the year and was just a few points off Woffinden when injury denied him a chance to push for the title. It will be interesting to see how he copes with the disappointment in 2014.
A year to look forward to for...Chris Harris
With Tomasz Gollob failing to settle his issues with the Grand Prix authorities, he has been ruled out of the GP series in 2014 - meaning a shock return to the elite for Britain's Chris Harris. A huge chance has fallen into Bomber's lap and with Woffinden flying the the flag at the top end, the pressure is surely off the Coventry star.
Rising star...Robert Lambert
The 15-year-old is one of the most talked about young riders in years. Has ridden most on the continent during his early years, but was snapped up by King's Lynn late last year and he has now been confirmed in their main team for 2013, when he will be just 16 - after he turned down the chance to enter the reserve rider draft. Looks like he has a huge future ahead of him.
Gone but not forgotten...Peterborough Panthers
One of the great names in British speedway dropped out of the Elite League - thankfully the club have been saved but will compete in the Premier League and not the top-flight, where their place has been taken by new-boys Leicester Lions.