PIRATES captain Darcy Ward bounced back from an early spill to grab third place on his British Speedway Grand Prix debut in Cardiff.
The Aussie moved into third in the world championship standings courtesy of a 15-point haul at the Millennium Stadium.
Former Poole number one Greg Hancock triumphed after beating Tai Woffinden into second in the final, with Woffinden hitting the front in the world title race as a result of his 18-point salvo.
Ward was happy to earn a podium place but admitted his task in catching GP series pace-setters Hancock and Woffinden was not getting any easier.
He said: “I’ll take third any day, I’m really happy with that.
“It was a very similar track to Copenhagen and I think all three of us (Ward, Hancock and Woffinden) struggled with that, so I think we all had a bit of redemption to get back.
“I felt much better today, I felt like I had a win in me but obviously the other guys did as well.
“We had the bikes working very aggressive to get as much speed out as we could, and the track bit me when I wasn’t ready (in heat eight).
“Besides that, we had some more points. In many respects it’s disappointing that these guys keep scoring points because they are making my life harder in trying to catch them.
“I need to try and peg back some points gradually but they keep doing what I’m doing, so it’s hard.”
Ward got his Cardiff debut off to the best possible start in heat one. Placed on the outside gate, he beat his rivals into the first corner and was never troubled by nearest rival Michael Jepsen Jensen, a late replacement for Ringwood-based injury victim Chris Holder.
British wild card Craig Cook thrilled the home support with a second-placed finish behind Nicki Pedersen and reigning world champion Woffinden then took a grip on proceedings with two straight race wins.
Cardiff dealt its first major surprise when Andreas Jonsson and Niels-Kristian Iversen both passed Hancock on the final lap of heat six, before 2007 winner Chris Harris kept the Union Flag flying next time out.
Ward appeared to have heat eight wrapped up after flying out off the inside, but the Aussie lifted on bend two of lap two and was thrown to the deck, only just stepping off the shale in time to avoid oncoming riders a lap later.
Harris kept his semi-final hopes alive with two points behind the flying Jepsen Jensen, while in heat 12, Ward made a wonderful last-ditch move to steal two points.
Placed third heading into the final two bends, the 22-year-old stormed spectacularly around Woffinden to whip second away from under the nose of the Wolverhampton captain.
A semi-final berth was not long in coming for Woffinden, though, as he took his tally to 10 points after diving inside Freddie Lindgren.
Ward was made to work hard by Kenneth Bjerre in heat 16 – scoreless in his first three rides – but the Pirates talisman lined up his Danish rival on the second lap and charged into top spot on the second bend.
With a slice of luck, the Queenslander made sure of his last-eight spot. Third early on in heat 20, he found a route past Hancock and then took a clear path to the front when Nicki Pedersen hit a bend-two bump that forced him wide.
Woffinden gated in the first semi and cruised into the final with Hancock in tow, before Ward avoided carnage in securing victory in the second semi.
The Poole captain gated and was well out of the way when Jepsen Jensen was flung from his machine under pressure from the resurgent Krzysztof Kasprzak.
However, in the final Hancock was just too quick and Ward could not find a way past Woffinden, who pushed Hancock all the way.
RIDERS’ SCORES AND HEAT DETAILS
1 Michael Jepsen Jensen (2-2-3-2-0-f) 9, 2 Andreas Jonsson (1-3-2-1-1) 8, 3 Matej Zagar (0-1-1-2-2) 6, 4 Darcy Ward (3-f-2-3-3-3-1) 15, 5 Nicki Pedersen (3-1-1-1-2) 8, 6 Craig Cook (2-0-0-0-0) 2, 7 Jaroslaw Hampel (0-2-3-0-0) 5, 8 Freddie Lindgren (1-3-2-2-1-1) 10, 9 Troy Batchelor (0-0-0-1-2) 3, 10 Niels-Kristian Iversen (3-2-0-3-3-1) 12, 11 Chris Harris (1-3-2-0-0) 6, 12 Krzysztof Kasprzak (2-1-3-1-1-2-0) 10, 13 Tai Woffinden (3-3-1-3-3-3-2) 18, 14 Greg Hancock (1-1-3-3-1-2-3) 14, 15 Kenneth Bjerre (0-0-0-2-2) 4, 16 Martin Smolinski (2-2-1-0-3-0) 8, 17 Ben Barker, reserve (DNR), 18 Jason Garrity, reserve (DNR).
Ht 1: Ward, Jepsen Jensen, Jonsson, Zagar, 55.5.
Ht 2: Pedersen, Cook, Lindgren, Hampel, 55.8.
Ht 3: Iversen, Kasprzak, Harris, Batchelor, 55.2.
Ht 4: Woffinden, Smolinski, Hancock, Bjerre, 55.2.
Ht 5: Woffinden, Jepsen Jensen, Pedersen, Batchelor, 54.7.
Ht 6: Jonsson, Iversen, Hancock, Cook, 54.9.
Ht 7: Harris, Hampel, Zagar, Bjerre, 54.9.
Ht 8: Lindgren, Smolinski, Kasprzak, Ward (fell), 56.3.
Ht 9: Jepsen Jensen, Harris, Smolinski, Cook, 55.7.
Ht 10: Kasprzak, Jonsson, Pedersen, Bjerre, 55.5.
Ht 11: Hancock, Lindgren, Zagar, Batchelor, 55.4.
Ht 12: Hampel, Ward, Woffinden, Iversen, 55.9.
Ht 13: Hancock, Jepsen Jensen, Kasprzak, Hampel, 55.1.
Ht 14: Woffinden, Lindgren, Jonsson, Harris, 55.4.
Ht 15: Iversen, Zagar, Pedersen, Smolinski, 55.7.
Ht 16: Ward, Bjerre, Batchelor, Cook, 55.6.
Ht 17: Iversen, Bjerre, Lindgren, Jepsen Jensen, 55.5.
Ht 18: Smolinski, Batchelor, Jonsson, Hampel, 55.7.
Ht 19: Woffinden, Zagar, Kasprzak, Cook, 55.6.
Ht 20: Ward, Pedersen, Hancock, Harris (retired), 56.6.
Semi-final one: Woffinden, Hancock, Lindgren, Smolinski, 55.1.
Semi-final two: Ward, Kasprzak, Iversen, Jepsen Jensen (fell), 55.9.
Final: Hancock, Woffinden, Ward, Kasprzak, 56.0.