A big star on the other side of the Atlantic, ‘Slammin’ Sammy’ Halbert got his first taste of FIM Flat Track World Championship action when he put his GASGAS on the podium with third at the opening round of this year’s championship in Great Britain at the start of last month.
The event at Belle Vue in Manchester went ahead despite torrential rain earlier in the day so while conditions were not typical for a European Flat Track race, the American legend could still take full advantage of the opportunity to check out his opposition.
“Given the situation and the rain I was happy to not crash, finish on the podium and get the season off to a decent start,” he said.“I really enjoyed Manchester a lot. It is quite a cool city and it was really impressive that we were able to race considering the rain.
“For sure I wanted to win, but the first time I rode that bike was on race day and the racing and also the organisation is different too so it is a new situation for me so it was good to get an understanding of that and also understand the opposition a bit more.”
The thirty-five-year-old is a former American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Grand National Champion and X-Games gold medallist and while he visits Europe on an almost annual basis, he knows he faces a steep learning curve when it comes to racing over here.
“I do not have a lot of experience of racing in Europe. I have raced at Valentino Rossi’s One-Hundred Kilometre Race of Champions at his track pretty much every year and that is a really cool experience. Outside of that, I did a Flat Track race at the EICMA show in Milan one year, but I am teaching a school [in the Netherlands] and doing a race after that as well.”
Speaking from Austria where he was working on his bike set-up ahead of round two of the FIM Flat Track World Championship at Debrecen in Hungary on Sunday 10 September, Halbert is determined to get his new machine dialled in as he bids to become the first non-European rider to win the coveted title.
“Set-up changes a lot depending on the track and I think most of the tracks on the FIM calendar are similar although I haven’t been to them all. In America the level is very high and I have been at the pointy end of the sport for many years so while overall I was happy with my result in Manchester, for me to come over here and not win is not really successful.
“At the same time, no matter where you go there is always someone at whatever track you go to who is going to be challenging to beat, but winning is always better.”
In between Manchester and Debrecen, Halbert has also managed to fit in a race in the Czech Republic and he will head to Hungary with a clear mission.
“For sure, my goal is very simple and that is to win the FIM Flat Track World Championship, although at the same time I want to help raise the level and the awareness of the sport and get the series more exposure through my social media.
“I think it is working already – when I went back to America after Manchester many of the AMA riders were asking me about it. People are paying attention and many of the American riders are interested.”
The focus now switches to the second of this year’s five Finals of 2023, scheduled for Debrecen in Hungary on Sunday 10 September.