Grand prix excitement at the springs

By Eric Thompson

New Zealand solo speedway champion Jason Bunyan gets another chance to pit his skills against the world's best riders at the opening round of the 2013 FIM Speedway Grand Prix world series.

The world speedway circus made its first appearance last year at Western Springs, and again will take to the track for the 2013 Buckley Systems New Zealand FIM Speedway Grand Prix, on Saturday, March 23.

The eight-time New Zealand titleholder spends his time back home during the European off-season and picked up his latest championship last month at the Rosebank track putting him one short of Larry Ross' record haul of nine championships between 1976 and 1990.

The 33-year-old (in the #16 race jacket) is the wild card entrant for the opening round of the championship.

Bunyan is joined in the meeting by New Zealand championship runner-up Dale Finch (#17 jacket) and third-placed Sean Mason (#18 jacket). They will serve as track reserves if any of the main field are forced to miss a race through injury, illness or any other reasons.

"Racing at the Grand Prix last year was a good platform for going back and racing in England," says Bunyan. "I got my act together towards the end of the year and started scoring some good points [for his club, Rye House].

"I've had better preparation this year as we have some data from last year's GP to go on and winning the national title again has helped getting another wild card.

"Even though there's a big difference between league racing and world series, if you're confident enough you can always do better than you think. "In 2012, I won a point, but because we are better prepared this time around I think I could get four or maybe even five points. Who knows, I might even win a race. This year we're not on the back foot and can approach the meeting like we're running rather than walking."

Last year, Bunyan was unable to practise with the GP riders and it took him the first few races to suss out what the others were all about.

"Once we got on the pace we were able to make relevant changes to the bike and managed to get a point at the end," says Bunyan.

New Zealand has one of the best world solo speedway championship records. Since solo speedway became an International Motorcycling Federation (FIM) world championship in 1936, three New Zealand riders have won 12 world titles - Ivan Mauger, Ronnie Moore and Barry Briggs.

Nine Kiwis have made it to the world finals.

The last time world championship solo speedway visited the Southern Hemisphere before 2012 was in 2002 in Australia. The driving force of New Zealand's ability to host a world champs round is Bill Buckley, of internationally renowned Buckley Systems. Without his passion for the dirt and his involvement with Western Springs, fans here and in Australia would not see some of the most exciting two-wheel action live.

"We're looking forward to putting on another good show," says Buckley. "Last year, a lot of people got caught short and didn't realise what a great event they'd missed. Many mentioned after the meeting that they had wished they could have gone, especially after seeing the television coverage.

"There's still room to get a few more thousand to come and watch, especially on the hill. The whole event will be much better this year and even the commentators will be better briefed to explain what's happening to the crowd, who may not fully understand the ins and outs of the how it all works."

The top eight riders automatically get a berth for the world championship in any given year. Of the next seven, the series organisers pick three riders, and then there are various qualification events in England for the remaining four places.

The top eight are pretty consistent, but the qualifying procedure for the bottom places allows emerging talent to have a go at making it among the travelling 15 riders who contest the 12 Grand Prix races.

The 16th place is normally reserved for a local wildcard, if he's good enough.

Bikes and riders fire up at 4pm. Ticket prices start at $60 for adults and $30 for children.

The Field

Chris Holder, Australia

Nicki Pedersen, Denmark

Greg Hancock, USA

Tomasz Gollob, Poland

Emil Sayfutdinov, Russia

Antonio Lindback, Sweden

Fredrik Lindgren, Sweden

Andreas Jonsson, Sweden

Krzysztof Kasprzak, Poland

Matej Zager, Slovenia

Niels Kristian Iversen, Denmark

Martin Vaculik, Slovenia

Jaroslaw Hampel, Poland

Tai Woffinden, England

Darcy Ward, Australia

Jason Bunyan, New Zealand

- NZ Herald

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