With excitement building ahead of the Adrian Flux British Grand Prix, we asked Speedway Star’s Andrew Skeels to give us a taste of what’s in store at Cardiff next weekend.
Home fans will have three riders to support at the Adrian Flux British Grand Prix in Cardiff on Saturday, July 9 – but it is reigning World Champion Tai Woffinden who will be the centre of attention.
The tattooed titan of world speedway is chasing his third title in just four seasons, an unprecedented achievement for a rider born on these shores.
When Woffinden was crowned No 1 for a second time in Melbourne last October, he hoisted himself onto the same pedestal as legendary stars of the shale Freddie Williams (1950 and 1953) and Peter Craven (1955 and 1962), who had previously been Britain’s only double World Speedway Champions.
Now, more than half a century after Craven’s last triumph, the 25-year-old Woffinden is seeking his own entry into the record books as the first rider with the Union Jack on his race-jacket to win it three times.
Can he do it? Four rounds into this year’s 11-round series, it’s largely been a case of so far, so good for the Scunthorpe-born rider, who was joint top of the standings with Australia’s 2012 World Champion Chris Holder heading into the Czech Republic Grand Prix in Prague last weekend (June 25).
He came away from the Marketa Stadium with a nine-point score, but failed to qualify for the night’s big race after being excluded from his semi-final heat following a tangle with Poland’s hot prospect Bartosz Zmarzlik.
That enabled evergreen American Greg Hancock to open up an eight-point advantage over Woffinden at the top of the leaderboard as he followed home Australian Jason Doyle in the Grand Final to boost his seasonal total by 18 points.
Woffinden, with huge home crowd support behind him, will be fully focussed on overturning that deficit, and regaining the series lead, when the riders reconvene for round five in Cardiff’s Principality Stadium a week on Saturday. But although outright victory in the Adrian Flux British GP would be another career highlight, the rider says he wouldn’t want it to be at the expense of his ultimate goal.
“Winning at Cardiff would be awesome,” says Woffinden, who has never won his home round. “But it’s not really about winning at Cardiff, it’s all about scoring the points I need and being World Champion at the end of the season.”
Woffinden’s Great Britain team-mate Chris Harris is one rider who does know what it’s like to hoist the winner’s trophy aloft at the end of the evening in Cardiff, which has been the biggest night on the domestic and world speedway calendar since the event was first staged there in 2001.
The Coventry Bees star provided one of the sport’s most memorable moments of recent seasons when his last bend swoop snatched victory from Hancock’s grasp right on the line in the Grand Final of the 2007 British round.
Harris has endured a difficult GP campaign so far this year and few pundits would expect him to repeat his ’07 heroics, but a much-improved display in Prague, where he finished third last weekend, may just be the spark the ever-popular ‘Bomber’ needs to ignite his season ahead of Cardiff.
The third Briton going to the tapes in the Principality Stadium knows he will be a rank outsider – but newly-crowned British Champion Danny King will revel in his task of bloodying a few big name noses on his Grand Prix debut.
King, a team-mate of Harris at Elite League Coventry as well as being top dog for Premier League Ipswich Witches, earned his place in the field as the evening’s wild card by virtue of his impressive victory in a rain-affected British Championship at Belle Vue.
He has first-hand experience of the Cardiff atmosphere, having been a meeting reserve on Harris’ night of glory nine years ago, but for King to get even remotely close to emulating his fellow Brit’s performance would be viewed as a huge upset.
He is, however, certainly capable of taking points from the bigger name stars, most of whom will be heading to Cardiff trying to make in-roads into the veteran Hancock’s lead as the World Championship race approaches the halfway mark.
Arguably the biggest surprise so far is three-times World Champion Nicki Pedersen’s position outside the top eight, which guarantees automatic qualification for the 2017 series.
The Danish superstar has made an indifferent start this year, with a top score of only 10 and just one Grand Final appearance in the four rounds to date. He currently finds himself lagging well behind leader Hancock, some 24 points off the pace, and that is a gap he cannot permit to widen further in Cardiff if he is to retain realistic hopes of a fourth world title.
Pedersen’s fellow Dane Niels-Kristian Iversen, last year’s Cardiff victor and a rider who finished third in the world in 2013, is another who has made a slow start. With only 30 points on the board, Iversen desperately needs a good score in Cardiff if his chances of a podium position are not to recede further.
The third Dane in the field, Peter Kildemand, in his first full GP season; Sweden’s Antonio Lindback, a two-time GP winner; and the emerging Poles, Maciej Janowski and Bartosz Zmarzlik, currently occupy the lower half of the top eight qualifying positions for next season and also remain very much in the medal hunt.
Jason Doyle’s maiden GP win in Prague hoisted him up to fourth on the leaderboard and to within two points of compatriot Chris Holder, whose poor night in the Czech Republic (just five points) resulted in the Sydneysider slipping back to third, four points adrift of Woffinden in second.
But at the age of 46, it is the vastly experienced Hancock who leads the way into Cardiff.
The American, who has remarkably missed only one round through injury since the inception of the Grand Prix tournament way back in 1995, continues to make a mockery of the assumption that speedway is a young man’s sport.
A three-times World Champion, the Californian also has three previous wins at Cardiff on his CV. There are few who would bet against him making it four…in either category.
CURRENT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: TOP 15
(after four rounds of 11)
Greg Hancock (USA) 56
Tai Woffinden (Great Britain) 48
Chris Holder (Australia) 44
Jason Doyle (Australia) 42
Maciej Janowski (Poland) 41
Bartosz Zmarzlik (Poland) 38
Antonio Lindback (Sweden) 35
Peter Kildemand (Denmark) 34
Nicki Pedersen (Denmark) 32
Fredrik Lindgren (Sweden) 32
Matej Zagar (Slovenia) 31
Niels-Kristian Iversen (Denmark) 30
Andreas Jonsson (Sweden) 28
Piotr Pawlicki (Poland) 23
Chris Harris (Great Britain) 20