Wednesday, November 30

NEW ZEALAND GETS MOTORCYCLE GP!

By Michael Esdaile

WESTERN Springs Speedway promotion principal Bill Buckley has pulled off a major coup with the announcement of the first Speedway World Championship race to be held in New Zealand.

This is just the second time the World Speedway Championship has been staged in the Southern Hemisphere.  In October 2002, Sydney hosted the event at Telstra Stadium.

This time, the March 31, 2012 event will be the opening round of the FIM World Speedway Championship Grand Prix series in which 15 International stars plus a New Zealand ëwild cardí will face the starting tapes for 20 heat races followed by two semi-finals and a grand final.

But before that can happen, the present clay surface that has been designed for 700 hp Sprintcars has to be dug up and replaced with a surface compatible for 500cc methanol-burning speedway bikes, and the concrete fence around the 413 metre track has to be covered with a wooden safety fence.

At the official media announcement of the event, held at Western Springs Speedway on Tuesday, November 29, FIM Speedway Director of Sports and former three-times World Speedway Champion Ole Olsen said he was working with local materials supplier Stevensons Group Ltd. to come up with the correct formulation for the new racing surface.

Replacing the Western Springs racing surface is a major undertaking that will involve two weeks work for 20 people, 2000 tonnes of clay being trucked away and 2000 tonnes of the special FIM aggregate being laid down.

Asked by Master of Ceremonies Peter Montgomery whether he thought the 20,000 plus seat natural amphitheatre would be filled on the big night, Bill Buckley said he was confident the New Zealand speedway fans would respond very positively to the event.

'We have already had an approach for seats from a group in Invercargill who are chartering a Boeing 737 to fly up for that weekend,' Buckley said, adding that there had also been strong interest in the corporate boxes.

As well as the concrete terrace seating, special grand stands would be built for the event and with ticket prices at just $120 for grand stand seats and $45 for general admission tickets, Buckleyís confidence is understandable.

The Speedway World Championship is the oldest of the Fédération Internationale Motocyclisme (FIM) motorcycle world championships, kicking off in 1936 with the World Final at Londonís Wembley Stadium.

Up until 1995, the World Speedway Championship was decided over 20 heats of racing on one night ñ the World Final. To make it to the World Final, speedway riders had to qualify through their national championships, regional championships and then an Inter-Continental Final to make it to the big night.

Proving that New Zealanders used to have what it takes to handle the pressure of a winner-takes-all World Final, Kiwi riders won no fewer than 12 world finals between 1954 and 1979. The men were Ronnie Moore (1954 and 1959, and three times the runner-up), Barry Briggs (1957, 1958, 1964 and 1966 and runner-up on three other occasions) and Ivan Mauger (1968, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1977 and 1979, and runner-up on three other occasions).

Briggs appeared in a record 17 consecutive World Individual Finals (1954-70), and a record 18 in all, during which he scored a record 201 points.

Mauger's achievements were no less sspectacular in 1970, two United States citizens, George Wenn and Ray Bokelman, vowed that if Ivan Mauger won three world finals in a row at Wrocaw (Poland), they would have the winning bike gold-plated. Mauger duly won the World Final that year, and true to their promise, the Americans took his bike back to the USA where it was duly gold-plated, and so was born the "Triple Crown Special."  The machine currently resides at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch.

Tickets to the FIM Speedway Grand Prix at Western Springs are on sale from Ticketmaster – www.ticketmaster.co.nz – or from the official website of world speedway: www.speedwaygp.com

The Ed and Barry Briggs on his recent visit: