The countdown is on to one of motorsport’s most eagerly anticipated events – the first round of the 2013 FIM Speedway Grand Prix series.
Speedway’s ruthless high-speed SGP series returns to Auckland this Saturday after breaking new ground last season when it rolled in to New Zealand for the first time.
Thrillingly, round one’s 15,000-capacity venue is no stranger to epic racing – Auckland’s Western Springs circuit has hosted motor sport for 77 years. Now it is raring to go for this weekend’s Buckley Systems New Zealand FIM Speedway Grand Prix.
The world’s top speedway riders all want to write their name into the history books as winner of the season’s first SGP and none more so that current world champion Chris Holder.
The 25-year-old launches his title defence against three former champions in Nicki Pedersen, Greg Hancock and Tomasz Gollob on the fast and furious, 413-metre Western Springs circuit.
They will be joined by former SGP silver medallists Jaroslaw Hampel and Andreas Jonsson, ex-world No.3 Emil Sayfutdinov, plus Swedish hotshots Antonio Lindback and Fredrik Lindgren.
The Auckland event sees Australian sensation Darcy Ward and last year’s SGP first reserve Martin Vaculik (Slovakia) both make their full-time World Championship debuts, while Krzysztof Kasprzak (Poland), Matej Zagar (Slovenia), Niels-Kristian Iversen (Denmark) and Tai Woffinden (Great Britain) are all back in the big time.
Much of the focus will be on Holder as he makes the short trip across the Tasman Sea from his native Sydney for his first competitive meeting since damaging knee ligaments in a crash at Peterborough last October.
The Poole, Torun and Piraterna rider is confident he won’t be too rusty on his return, but says none of his rivals will be at full race sharpness so early in the season.
Asked if he expected any trouble with his knee, he said: “Not at all. The leg feels good. I’ve been riding pretty much every weekend on speedway and then motocross through the week. I’m feeling really fit and strong.
“I might be a little bit sluggish from the start, but I don’t think everybody is going to be as sharp as normal. They’ve only done one or two meetings, which, to be honest, counts for nothing.
“You don’t know who will be strong. Anyone can pop out and win. Everyone is going to want to start off well.
“It’s hard to say who’s looking really fast until after the first round of races. Everyone can beat everyone and there’s a lot of depth in the field, which is good for us all.”
Holder lines up in the No.1 race jacket for the first time on Saturday and admits the enormity of his World Championship win at Torun last October is starting to hit home.
He added: “It’s all starting to sink in now that we’re back here and getting ready for round one on Saturday.
“It’s good to see everybody. I haven’t seen the other guys since Torun pretty much. I went and saw the bikes for the first time and I’m getting pretty excited. They look awesome.
“My mechanics, the three boys, have done an awesome job. So I have to say a big thank you to them and they were happy to see my face. They did pretty much everything.”
Holder is set to bring an army of friends, family and fans to Western Springs and he will have two very special guests in the grandstand, partner Sealy and their son Max.
The tot was born in the early hours of the morning on March 31, 2012 – the day of last season’s New Zealand round. Chris listened in on the phone from Auckland as Sealy gave birth in the UK, but he struggled to four points after his action-packed night.
Holder is pleased to have them at his side this time around and would love to give Max the perfect early birthday present – a victory in the land of the long white cloud.
He said: “I’m stoked he’s here and Sealy is here. Hopefully he can see me clean up on Saturday.
“I want to bounce back and put last year to bed. Whenever anyone talks about the New Zealand SGP, it’s not good. So I want to talk about a good one. I’ll be giving it everything on Saturday.”
Official practice starts on Friday, with the draw for the main event at 4pm local time (3am UK/4am CET). Saturday’s race takes place at 4pm.