One of the best sporting events to come to New Zealand shores again proved to be a winner. The opening round of the solo Speedway Grand Prix world championship at Western Springs in Auckland turned on the style for a second time.
In a close tussle through the heats and semifinals, Jaroslaw Hampel, Tomasz Gollob, Nicki Pedersen and Greg Hancock rolled up to the tape for the final four laps of the evening.
Hampel, who had to sit most of last season out because of a leg injury, flew off the line fastest and held off the chasing riders to take the opening round of the series from Gollob and Pedersen.
"It's an amazing feeling being on the podium considering my accident last year," said Hampel.
"I can now forget about last year and my injuries and I hope the season continues the same way.
"It's a great track to race on in front of a good crowd, and I'm very happy because I won."
While all credit rightly goes to Hampel as the round winner, a new young talent was on display during the afternoon in one Darcy Ward. The young Australian is touted as the best young prospect in solo speedway and in his first GP meeting he certainly turned on the style.
The heats with the closet racing all involved Ward and some of his passing was just this side of the ragged edge, but he made it look easy. In heat 14 he got it all squirrely and out of shape with the front wheel pawing the air, but held it all together. Ward made it to the first semifinal, finishing third - not good enough for a place in the final.
"We all want to win and I know there's more to come," said Ward. "We got some good points today, and I'm really happy with the way it went.
"It was my own fault in the semifinal when I made a mistake off the line. It happens with inexperience but I had a good night.
"If I keep getting to the semifinals I'll win one soon."
Adopted Kiwi rider Jason Bunyan found the going hard, crashing in heat 16 and just like last year only gaining a single championship point.
Other than the great racing, the crowd were most entertained when the track commentator came on the PA and announced there were more people at the speedway that at the cricket at Eden park. He got an even bigger roar of approval when he said, "And do you know what the score is? Who cares ..."
The one real gripe though, and one that was commented on by many of the spectators in attendance was that some of them had bigger televisions in their lounge than the "big screen" at Western Springs.
While fans could see the race and replays, it was impossible to see the point scores on the screen.
For those who are not aficionados of the sport, keeping score would have been a lot easier if they could read the screen.
Other than that it was a great night with some brilliant racing and let's hope Bill Buckley and his crew can get it back next year.
The Speedway Grand Prix circus now heads to Bydgoszcz, Poland, on April 20.
Championship points after round one
1 Jaroslow Hampel - 18
2 Tomasz Gollob - 17
3 Nicki Pedersen - 13
4 Darcy Ward - 12
5 Greg Hancock - 11
6 Andreas Jonsson - 11
7 Chris Holder - 9
8 Tai Woffinden - 9