Many Scandinavians will remember 5 August 2017 as the last time SEC series visited Sweden. But for riders that were there that night in Hallstavik, home of Rospiggarna, there is just the one thing that stands out - the weather.
Although it was sunny on the late summer evening when the race started, it had been raining in the afternoon. And it barely stopped all evening.
“It rained like hell!” recalls Jacob Thorssell who appeared in the race as a wildcard that night, “The conditions were very unusual, there was a long pause during the match when they resurfaced the track after a heavy downpour. But I like it when there is a challenge,” he says with a competitive glint in his eyes.
With all the rain, “the track was really heavy,” reminiscences Pontus Aspgren, who was track reserve that night. Then only 26 yrs, he raced the round as a replacement for the injured Nicki Pedersen. The aggressive Dane was the defending European Champion, but damaged his neck vertebrae in May 2017 and sat out the entire season.
But both Swedish riders more than justified their selection for the round, stunning international audiences with two outstanding performances. They beat many of that year’s top riders, included Artem Laguta (who won the overall silver in 2017 TAURON SEC), Krzysztof Kasprzak (POL), Przemyslaw Pawlicki (POL) and the Danish trio of Michel Jepsen Jensen, Leon Madsen and Kenneth Bjerre.
This was even more remarkable for Aspgren who was competing in his first ever competition at SEC or SGP level, “So to come home in fifth place was totally fantastic,” he says proudly.
Thorssell had only turned 24 yrs just one week before, but held his focus despite the tricky conditions and made his way to the final, “But there I missed the gate,” he says reliving the disappointment, “So, I came in fourth when I could have done better. That said, looking back, I am really pleased with my performance”.
So, it is no surprise that the duo have the SEC and SGP Challenge in 2021 as major targets for the coming year.
“I know that on a good day, I can beat any rider - just like I did in 2017 in Hallstavik. So, I’ve got full focus on the SEC qualifier and SGP Challenge this year,” he says confidently. “It is also why I decided to return to Smederna after a year at Indianerna in 2020. It was a hard decision, but I’ve been in Eskilstuna for three years [2017-2019] and I think I have the best opportunities there, including sponsors, to take me forward,” he reflects.
The younger Thorssell is coming off the back of one of the best seasons in his career. The 27-year-old won the Swedish National Championships for the second year in a row, only dropping one point at Målilla in August 2020. Not only that, but he was the top rider with Dackarna with a 2.132 average, by far the best score of his career so far.
Swedish fans may remember that Andreas “AJ” Jonsson came third that night in Hallstavik, but since then he finished his career in 2019. At the end of 2020, Antonio Lindbäck also announced his retirement from the sport after winning the Swedish season with Masarna.
With these two gone, Swedish speedway fans are looking for a new rider to take over their spot at the top end of the sport.
Understandably, Thorssell and Aspgren are keen to take that spot and will get their first chance to realise their dream at the beginning of May. That’s because both have been chosen by SVEMO to compete in the European Championship Qualifier in Plzen on 1 May, just six weeks before the first SEC final in Bydgoszcz on June 12.