Hawkeye's View on the GP's
Is the World Championship Grand Prix series losing its sparkle?
A couple of days ago Hackney Speedway had a chat with our old mate Birdbrain (John You Know Who) about speedway things in general. We touched on the Grand Prix and Birdie said he thought it might be losing its sparkle.
I asked him what he meant and you know him, he never uses a hundred words when a thousand will do, so I ended up with a red ear.
However, I was interested in his mutterings and asked him if he would put his thoughts in writing. Below is what he said.
“We are under way with the 2015 Grand Prix series and are all aware the event got off to an ignominious start.
It's nice to see Chris Holder getting back to something like his best, but the severe injuries he has sustained in recent years must surely have taken their toll.
Attendances -- and I use that word in its loosest sense -- at two of the stagings were abysmal and it will be worrying if that trend continues.
Cardiff is always flagged up -- especially by the British Press and TV -- as the big one and I believe it attracts the largest crowd of the series.
I'm no statistician and have little or no connections behind the scenes these days, so I am unaware whether crowds in the Welsh capital have improved, held up or declined.
The question I ask myself is whether the excitement and quality of the Crump, Rickardsson, Gollob, Loram, Pedersen and Hancock era is a thing of the past – although the latter two are still in the mix.
There is obviously a problem with some of the tracks and the racing strips put down for the one-off meetings have, of late, left a lot to be desired.
One would have thought that after countless years of laying these racing strips, the curators would be able to overcome the lumps, bumps and ruts that regularly appear.
We must never forget the riders are the protagonists and the way in which they qualify for the series -- top eight from the previous year; top three in the final qualifier; four permanent wild cards; and one wild card at each round -- is arguably fair and square.
The system should mean that the vast majority of the world's top riders go to the tapes for each round -- but injuries (which regrettably will always occur), bad luck in the final qualifier and other less clear-cut reasons put a spanner in the works.
Emil Sayfutdinov was box office but he (for reasons I am not party to) has turned his back on the series; and Darcy Ward -- who I feel sure would have been well in the running to be crowned World Champion this year -- had to serve a year-long ban for what I feel sure he will admit was a naive indiscretion.The recent accident to Jarek Hampel (through no fault of his own) rids the event of a rider who has always been there or thereabouts.
Neils-Kristian Iversen had a nasty knock towards the end of the 2014 Grand Prix series and he, like Holder, appears to be on the way back, but only time will tell if he regains the superb form that saw him finish third in 2013.
Now to the remarkable Greg Hancock and a comment I don't like making; one which I'm sure many fans will disagree with and for which I will get a lot of stick.
Herbie currently sits third in the World Championship table and can never be written off. His electric starting will always ensure he is in the fray.
My concern, however, is that his age may be about to take its toll -- it does on all of us -- and he may not, in the future, be as sharp as what we have always come to expect. I can feel the brickbats already.
Chris (Bomber) Harris will always give it all he's got but his inability to make competitive starts will, against quality riders, always be a handicap.
Andreas Jonsson is another nearly man and arguably the most unpredictable rider in the field. He can be brilliant one minute and off the pace the next. He is another rider who has had bad luck with injuries.
Matej Zagar is a class act and can, on his day, beat everybody; Krzysztof Kasprzak, who came close to being crowned World Champion last year, has had a slow start this time round; Australians Troy Batchelor and Jason Doyle will, I think, cause a few upsets; Michael Jepsen Jensen is on a learning curve; and Thomas H Jonasson is out of his depth.
That leaves us with the current top two, Tai Woffinden and Nicki Pedersen; plus the fast improving Macej Janowski. If I were a betting man I would have a wager on those three being on the podium come October – although Greg Hancock (and injuries) could cost me money.
The unfortunate Jarek Hampel is out of the series; Darcy Ward is set for a speedway comeback soon. Would the powers that be replace the Pole with Ward as a permanent wild card? I doubt it. Then again, if Ward were offered the chance of an immediate GP comeback, would he accept it?
I believe the GPs still give trackside spectators and armchair viewers throughout the speedway fraternity some excellent entertainment. However, the event has recently stabbed itself in the foot with unwanted shenanigans.
The ‘man made’ tracks must be improved; the decision making must be sharper and more constructive; the powers that be must realise that fans who attend the GPs have been short changed recently and any more of this nonsense will have an adverse affect on crowd figures.
Speedway racing in all its formats remains a decent product. The GP series is, or should be, the crème de la crème. Those who run it must dust themselves down; be given to introspection; and if they are making a pig’s ear of it, hand the reins over to those who know what they’re doing."