DARCY Ward’s Grand Prix campaign got off to the worst possible start with three spills and a trip to hospital.
The Poole Pirates captain had already fallen twice in the opening round in New Zealand before being wiped out by surprise eventual champion Martin Smolinski in heat 14.
Ward was third on the final bend at Western Springs when GP debutant Smolinski smashed into the side of his machine after slipping across the track.
Briefly unconscious, Ward was swiftly placed in a neck brace by medical staff and taken to hospital in an ambulance, with reports locally suggesting he was suffering from concussion.
The two-time world under-21 champion underwent a check-up in the light of a head injury he had suffered previously.
While his head appears to have sustained no serious damage, the Echo understands that Ward's knee is giving cause for concern and an X-ray has been performed.
The youngster's participation in Pirates' Elite League opener against Eastbourne on Wednesday has been thrown into doubt.
However, Ward appeared to have at least retained his sense of humour following the incident, tweeting a couple of hours later: "First gp don't count".
Nevertheless, it was a hugely disappointing end to a night that had started in promising fashion, with Ward opening the meeting with two second places.
In front of a sizeable Aussie contingent, the Queenslander was blocked out on the first bend of heat one by Kenneth Bjerre and Jason Bunyan, but eventually managed to catch the latter on the final lap.
Ward claimed the scalp of Jarek Hampel in heat six as he passed the reigning New Zealand champion at the close of the first lap, but Belle Vue’s Matej Zagar was untouchable out front.
Matters took a turn for the worse in heat 10 when Ward went down at the first bend and although all four riders were brought back, the 21-year-old fell on the re-run and was excluded.
The Wimborne Road star’s night then ended in heat 14, a race in which he held second place early on, with Smolinski unsurprisingly excluded.
Former Bournemouth Buccaneer Andy Aldridge got an outing as a result of Ward’s misfortune, but the track reserve was left in the dust in heat 18.
Bearwood resident Chris Holder was eliminated in the first semi-final, which was won by former Wolverhampton number one Freddie Lindgren.
Holder went wheel-to-wheel with Nicki Pedersen for second place and a spot in the last-four showdown.
The Pirates asset was given an unfavourable outside gate but nipped up the inside on bend two of lap two after the Dane ran wide.
However, on lap three Pedersen bit back and then shut the door on the final bend as Holder attempted to rip round the outside.
German Smolinski capped a memorable debut in the Grand Prix with a stunning ride in the final.
Pedersen, Krzysztof Kasprzak and Lindgren all got in each other's way and Smolinski shot up the inside on the back straight of the last lap to take a sensational victory.
Grand Prix standings after round one: Pedersen 19, Kasprzak 17, Smolinski 15, Lindgren 13, Holder 11, Bjerre 11, Hampel 8, Woffinden 7, Jonsson 7, Iversen 6, Hancock 6, Zagar 6, Ward 5, Batchelor 4, Bunyan 2, Harris 0.