Saturday 22md July 2017 17.00
F.I.M. Speedway British Grand Prix
1st Maciej Janowski (Pol)
2nd Jason Doyle (Aus)
3rd Matej Zagar (Slo)
4th Bartosz Zmarzlik (Pol)
Att 40,234 at Principality Stadium, Cardiff
It had been roughly 10 years since my last speedway GP at the now rebranded Millenium Stadium, in Cardiff. I found myself using the old routine, parking in the side streets of Newport, then using a group saver to get a return the one stop to Cardiff Central for around £3.45. It still works well, apart from the bloke who’d had a beer in Bridgewater, tried to get to Taunton, and woke up in Newport. At least he amused the carriage-full of Poles!
I’d remembered my first visits here for speedway, marvelling at how the 74,500 capacity stadium is crammed into the space between the office blocks, the River Taff, and the Arms Park. It’s why the stadium is egg-shaped, the North Stand has one less tier and uses the concrete structure of the old National Stadium the new stadium replaced, as to build a wholly three tier structure would have meant the demise of the Arms Park, something Cardiff RUFC were unwilling to countenance.
But as I walked from the station I found myself asking more and more questions. Has the stadium maintained it’s “Wow” factor? How would the temporary track hold up, and how would British speedways blue riband event compare to it’s footballing equivalent?
I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s FA Cup Final and seeing some speedway fans hankering over a return to Wembley got me thinking. For me, the unique feature of the UK’s 4th biggest stadium is that it has a fully retractable roof, and for a sport as weather-dependent as speedway, that is hugely important. I suspect that if this event had been staged anywhere in else in the UK it would have been washed out. And I suspect anyone still taking about Wembley with a promoter in earshot would have got the retort “Try filling 74,500 seats before worrying about 90,000!”
Here’s another maxim on the large event; there will always be people who complain at the cost. The trick is to understand the way these things are priced and adapt your behaviour accordingly. Parking is always going to be expensive, as will any hotel within a short distance, particularly in a capital city. But while £25 bought the cheapest ticket available, the great advantage of modern stadia is that there are no truly appalling views and in a less than full stadium you can move around! Also, am I alone in thinking that some of the cheap areas had the best views and vice-versa?
Some complained about paying £10 for the programme, which was exactly the same price as the FA Cup final version, but I am bound to comment the footballing magazine didn’t contain a seemingly random fixture list for Newport County! Some also fretted at the long queues for the heightened security. This one I do have mixed feelings over, the doors opened only 90 minutes before the the event start time, which is makes searching 40,000 people difficult, but in these times of heightened tension anyone who thinks they can turn up 5 minutes before the start and get to their seat in time needs to take a long look at themselves. I do wonder though how the security detail would have coped if the rain had have arrived in the time preceding tapes up? One marked difference with the FA Cup Final was that the searches were conducted inside the stadium, after the turnstiles.
Big events like this are expensive wherever you hold them, that’s a fact of life, but I think this one still represents excellent value for money, you just have to play the system a little! The big difference was how the sport in the UK has diminished still my last GP.
There was a time when there would be 3 or 4 British riders in the permanent roster, and the line-up would be similar to the traditional season closer, the British League Riders Championship. Now there’s just Tai Woffinden, and only 3 riders regularly ply their trade in the British Premiership. I remember the final British GP before the move to Cardiff, at Coventry in 2000 when Martin Dugard won as a wild card. Sadly the 2017 British Champion Craig Cook rode his heart out here, but his 2 point return was a fair reflection on how he found riding against the 15 best riders in the world.
The meeting will almost certainly be Woffinden’s only UK appearance. His estrangement from the BSPA is a shame, but the economics of being a top rider means that from being a hugely important league, the UK is rapidly becoming a backwater. I watched Tai’s father ride, and the one remaining link from my speedway upbringing Greg Hancock lasted only 1 heat before succumbing to a damaged shoulder. I remember Greg replacing Nikki Pedersen at Oxford and despite having a lower average galvanising a team in a way the controversial Dane couldn’t. I hope the gentleman American finds whatever it takes to keep riding.
Part of being a fan of a defunct track seemed to be part of the GP experience. I know a coach ran from Oxford Speedway Suppporters’ Trust , and I saw their banner early on. It was also poignant seeing fans from the recently closed Coventry Bees. Perhaps this is the place for orphan fans to meet, watch, and hope for a revival.
But this was a night for Poland and those magnificent fans. As disappointing as Woffinden’s lack of progress beyond the heats was, 3 Poles in the semi-finals and 2 in the final was a summary of how Poland dominates speedway in a similar fashion the Scandinavians did in the 80’s and 90’s. Maciej Janowski was a worthy winner, and sent thousands of Polish fans home happy.
I found a restaurant and let the queues at the station die down. In so many ways the GP was so very similar to what I’d seen back in the day. Times change as they must, I’m not sure John Davis’ “Linda Lusardi” van would work these days, and the bikes are so much faster these days but the fundamentals, of 500cc, clutch start, 4 laps and no brakes are the same as always, and in the end that’s what brings us all back for more.