Ekstraliga races to the finish: Unia Leszno, Sparta Wroclaw take narrow leads into 2nd leg
After Bartosz Zmarzlik took an ominous-looking lead in the Grand Prix series, the 2020 Ekstraliga season reached the play-off stage. Unia Leszno continued their quest for a fourth consecutive league title away at Zielona Gora, the only side to defeat them for the bonus point during the regular season. Elsewhere, latecomers to the play-offs Sparta Wroclaw played host to the resurgent Stal Gorzow, whose rise from the ashes that is the first half of their season would become the subject of legend if they could now go all the way.
Thirty heats from the final, here’s how the action unfolded…
Zielona Gora 44-46 Unia Leszno
A last heat maximum for Zielona Gora ensured they go into the second leg of the semi-final with just a two point deficit to overcome. The 46-44 victory for Unia Leszno was just reward for their second half superiority and will make them heavy favourites to advance to the final.
On a rare occasion where the outside line was the heavily favoured route to success, the early action was very even. Having slipped to an opening-heat maximum, Mateusz Tonder (6+1) sprung a surprise in the juniors’ race, opening a gap over the visitors’ pairing, who have been hugely impressive all season. Heat three then saw Michael Jepsen Jensen (7+1) make the gate ahead of Piotr Pawlicki before slowing the Pole enough to allow Patryk Dudek through into second position before the pair cleared off for a score-levelling 5-1.
After the sides traded two more maximums in heats four and five, Gora junior Norbert Krakowiak, who has produced a number of strong performances in recent weeks, almost produced another shock as he looked as if he was going to keep Emil Sayfutdinov behind him for another home 5-1 but eventually had to yield to the Russian’s superior speed.
Zielona Gora gave as good as they got against the league leaders.
Photo: PGE Ekstraliga
The early action continued in heat seven as Martin Vaculik (10) was excluded causing a crash for Piotr Pawlicki; the Slovakian drifted wide on the final bend of the first lap, clipping the Pole’s front wheel and sending him into the air fence. Pawlicki would pick himself up off the shale to win the re-run after diving up the inside of Antonio Lindbaeck.
Unia Leszno largely dominated the second half of the meeting; five straight race winners gave Piotr Baron’s side three consecutive heat advantages, opening up an eight-point lead with three races remaining. This would be halved, however, in heat 13 where, after trading places throughout, Pawlicki (8) eventually got the better of Patryk Dudek to follow Martin Vaculik across the line for the 5-1.
Another tight first corner, indicative of the entire meeting.
Photo: PGE Ekstraliga
Leszno’s victory was confirmed in the penultimate race, where the unpredictable Janusz Kolodziej (8) went outside Patryk Dudek and inside Martin Vaculik on the opening lap before clearing off to take the win. Holding a six-point lead into the finale, Unia Leszno would have been confident of taking a meaningful lead back to the Alfred Smoczyk Stadium. However, they didn’t account for the Vaculik/Dudek combination. Dudek (11+3), brilliantly clamped Emil Sayfutdinov (11+1) on the inside, allowing Vaculik to use the outside line to get round both of them. The home pairing then gapped Sayfutdinov to keep within touching distance going into the second leg.
|M. Jepsen Jensen||3||3||1*||0||–||7||1|
|Heat 1||Smektala, Sayfutdinov, Lindbaeck, Protasiewicz||60.93s||(1-5)|
|Heat 2||Tonder, Szlauderbach, Kubera, Krakowiak||61.67s||(4-8)|
|Heat 3||Jepsen Jensen, Dudek, Kolodziej, Pawlicki||60.82s||(9-9)|
|Heat 4||Lidsey, Kubera, Tonder, Vaculik||59.69s||(10-14)|
|Heat 5||Jepsen Jensen, Protasiewicz, Lidsey, Smektala||60.91s||(15-15)|
|Heat 6||Dudek, Sayfutdinov, Krakowiak, Kolodziej||60.34s||(19-17)|
|Heat 7||(Re-run) Pawlicki, Lindbaeck, Szlauderbach, Vaculik (exc.)||60.38s||(21-21)|
|Heat 8||Lidsey, Dudek, Tonder, Smektala||60.34s||(24-24)|
|Heat 9||Sayfutdinov, Vaculik, Kolodziej, Lindbaeck||60.13s||(26-28)|
|Heat 10||Pawlicki, Protasiewicz, Jepsen Jensen, Kubera||60.06s||(29-31)|
|Heat 11||Sayfutdinov, Lidsey, Tonder, Jepsen Jensen||60.44s||(30-36)|
|Heat 12||Kolodziej, Krakowiak, Szlauderbach, Protasiewicz||60.53s||(32-40)|
|Heat 13||Vaculik, Pawlicki, Dudek, Smektala||60.03s||(36-42)|
|Heat 14||Kolodziej, Vaculik, Dudek, Pawlicki||60.53s||(39-45)|
|Heat 15||Vaculik, Dudek, Sayfutdinov, Lidsey||60.16s||(44-46)|
Sparta Wroclaw 46-44 Stal Gorzow
An extremely tight affair at the Olympic Stadium saw an under-strength Sparta Wroclaw squeeze past Stal Gorzow 46-44, ending Gorzow’s dreams of winning the Ekstraliga.
The home side kept with Dan Bewley in the continued absence of Maksym Drabik, while Michal Curzytek replaced Przemyslaw Liszka in the junior position.
Heat three saw Tai Woffinden, coming out of gate four, ride the outside of the track for the entirety of the opening lap to round Jack Holder for the lead. Max Fricke kept an off-colour Niels-Kristian Iversen behind him to take the 4-2 advantage, extending their early advantage to six.
Sparta Wroclaw know they’ll have a tough prospect on their hands if they’re to progress to the final.
Photo: PGE Ekstraliga
Not to worry for Gorzow however, as world champion and new Grand Prix series leader Bartosz Zmarzlik entered the fray. But an odd first lap from the Polish Championship runner-up saw Michal Curzytek take a shock lead. Fellow junior Rafal Karczmarz then led the visitors’ charge, rounding Curzytek on the second lap before leading Zmarzlik home for their first maximum of the evening.
The Gorzow icon hit wasn’t at his imperious best in the following race either. Having missed out at the start, Zmarzlik relied on his raw speed to get up the inside of Australian pair Max Fricke and Chris Holder to follow in-form team-mate Anders Thomsen across the line for a second consecutive 5-1 to take the lead for the first time.
Heat seven saw British rider Dan Bewley make a brilliant start over while Wiktor Jasinski initially got the better of Maciej Janowski. But the GP riders’ pedigree quickly came to the fore, allowing the home side to regain the lead.
So much of Stal Gorzow’s resurgence in the second half of the season has relied on Zmarzlik’s brilliance; heat 11 saw him completely sacrifice the opening stages to send Janowski wide before cutting back to the inside and blasting from third to first before he’d even got to the third bend.
The Wroclaw crowd were treated to a thrilling evening’s Speedway.
Photo: Ewelina Wloch
But the rest of the Gorzow side has contributed to their rise from the bottom of the table too. This was showcased in heat 13 as Anders Thomsen “did a Zmarzlik” by going from the back to the front in a single manoeuvre before clearing off into the distance to take the win.
Wroclaw’s victory was only taken in the final heat of the night as Maciej Janowski was able to split the Thomsen/Zmarzlik pairing while Tai Woffinden took the chequered flag.
A two-point lead to take into the second leg isn’t what Wroclaw would have wanted, but they know how tough it’s going to be at Gorzow so any lead should be a positive for them. This should be a tight, tense affair with the potential for fireworks…
|Heat 1||Janowski, Thomsen, Wozniak, C. Holder||64.10s||(3-3)|
|Heat 2||Chuganov, Curzytek, Karczmarz, Jasinski||63.94s||(8-4)|
|Heat 3||Woffinden, J. Holder, Fricke, Iversen||62.83s||(12-6)|
|Heat 4||Karczmarz, Zmarzlik, Bewley, Curzytek||63.16s||(13-11)|
|Heat 5||Thomsen, Zmarzlik, C. Holder, Fricke||63.16s||(14-16)|
|Heat 6||Chuganov, Wozniak, J. Holder, Woffinden||63.46s||(17-19)|
|Heat 7||Bewley, Janowski, Jasinski, Iversen||62.97s||(22-20)|
|Heat 8||Zmarzlik, Woffinden, Thomsen, Curzytek||62.59s||(24-24)|
|Heat 9||Wozniak, Janowski, J. Holder, Bewley||62.77s||(26-28)|
|Heat 10||C. Holder, Karczmarz, Fricke, Iversen||62.95s||(30-30)|
|Heat 11||Zmarzlik, Fricke, Janowski, Wozniak||62.69s||(33-33)|
|Heat 12||J. Holder, C. Holder, Chuganov, Jasinski||62.44s||(36-36)|
|Heat 13||Thomsen, Woffinden, Chuganov, Karczmarz||62.61s||(39-39)|
|Heat 14||J. Holder, Chuganov, C. Holder, Wozniak||62.61s||(42-42)|
|Heat 15||Woffinden, Thomsen, Janowski, Zmarzlik||62.83s||(46-44)|
Note – BP= Bonus Points, scored when following a team-mate over the finish line (Cannot be scored if finishing last in the race)
We hope you enjoyed this article ‘Ekstraliga Round-Up: Semi-Finals, 1st Leg’. Who do you think will lift the Ekstraliga trophy? Let us know!
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