Nicholls on right track for elusive British win

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The Independent Online

Intense expectation from a partisan crowd can sometimes prove a disadvantage. Scott Nicholls who is preparing for his eighth British Speedway Grand Prix, at the Millennium Stadium here tonight, admits that he has taken time to adjust to the patriotic anticipation placed on his shoulders.

"The first couple of years when I went there and competed I was very young and it was pretty daunting," said the 30-year-old Eastbourne Eagle. "The pressure would get to me. Ahead of my first meeting [in 2001] I was a bag of nerves. It's only the past two or three years really that I have turned it around. I would get immense 'butterflies', wobbly knees and everything. When you have not performed in front of that many people before, your head doesn't tell you what to do and your first reaction is to be nervous."

Prior to Chris Harris's unexpected win here last year, in his fifth ride on the Grand Prix circuit, the last British victory anywhere was in 2000, when Martin Dugard won at the Brandon Stadium in Coventry. That made for 59 grands prix without a win. This season has been barren – none of the British riders have even won a heat.

Nevertheless, a crowd of more than 40,000 is expected this evening. Harris's dramatic emergence was as unforeseen as, unfortunately, his recent form has been disappointing, so it is Nicholls, the Great Britain captain who is 11th in the world championship table, who most are hoping will finally deliver.

His record at the Millennium Stadium – on a specially designed, unique track – is relatively impressive, producing five successive semi-finals. A place in the final, however, has eluded him.

"I can sympathise with [Andy] Murray and what he's going through [at Wimbledon]," he said. "I have now learnt to turn [the support of the fans] to my advantage. It spurs me on. I'm determined to do well there. I'm determined to be that British rider on the top of that podium."

A month ago, Nicholls regained his national title from Harris, winning it for the fifth time. "This was one of my most memorable wins," he said, "given that I hadn't been pressured so much in the past."

Despite the odd engine problem and mixed results this season, contentment off the track has certainly helped matters. Nicholls recently celebrated the first birthday of Maya, his daughter with Sophie Blake, a former Sky Sports speedway reporter.

Still, he feels he has yet to hit his peak. "I'm getting there," he said. "I'm learning more, maturing more. In the next couple of years at least, I would look to be exactly where I want to be."

British Speedway Grand Prix, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, tonight, 7pm