A competitor in his fifth season, Šonka was masterful in Porto. The Czech pilot set the track record in practice sessions and held his nerve right through an intensely competitive Final 4 to claim the race win and leapfrog from third to first on the overall leaderboard. He did so at the expense of the USA’s Kirby Chambliss, who fell from first to third, and Japan’s Yoshihide Muroya, who slid from second to fourth.
Statistics show that in two of the three previous Porto races, the winner went on to clinch the World Championship, which may bode well for Šonka. But don’t forget about the pilot now in second place overall, Pete McLeod of Canada. The Canadian has been Mr. Consistency in the latter part of 2017, taking pole position for the last four races in a row, and converting that advantage to a second-place finish three consecutive times. Similar consistency propelled Great Britain’s Nigel Lamb to the title in 2014 despite winning only one race all season.
Now a spread of 10 points separates Šonka (54 pts) and his three closest rivals McLeod (50), Chambliss (47) and Muroya (44), making the 15 points on offer to the Lausitzring winner especially precious. Also valuable will be the speedway experience: the Lausitzring stop is the first 2017 race over land, and the first at a speedway. The stop is key not only in its own right, but also as a warmup for the all-important season finale at another impressive motorsport oval: the USA’s Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
While spectators will have a lot to get excited about at the Lausitzring, the biggest cheers will undoubtedly be for the local hero, reigning World Champion Matthias Dolderer. The German pilot has had up-and-down results this year, and in sixth place overall he is a longshot for the title. But he’s a beloved figure who finished second in Lausitz last year behind Australia’s Matt Hall. A win in front of home fans would be just the thing to turn Dolderer’s season around.