SPEEDWAY GRAND PRIX 2021 – THE FULL LOWDOWN FROM GREG HANCOCK
The 2021 FIM Speedway Grand Prix series presented by Monster Energy is back, and the world’s top racers are ready to suit up and go balls-to-the-wall in search of glory again this year.
It’s been nine months since we last saw the best 15 riders in the world go bar-to-bar in the Grand Prix series but now we’re just days away from an 11-round sprint to the line – with the winner crowned speedway world champion.
We wanted to get the full lowdown on this year’s championship, the venues, the format, the set-up and the 15 men chasing their dream, and who else better to do that than someone who has been there, done that, got the t-shirt…
Well, he’s got more than one t-shirt, actually. And four of them say ‘World Champion’ on. Greg Hancock is the all-time record SGP appearance maker and a four-time world champ, and we caught up with him to get his take on the season ahead.
Take it away GH…
“Last year we had a lot of double-header races, with two races on one weekend, and I am all for that so I’m glad we’ve got some again this year. I think it’s a great system, when I was watching it last year I thought there were pro’s and con’s but there’s a lot more pro’s than con’s I think.
“One of my biggest concerns was what would happen if there were engine checks or bike tear-down’s after a race, what would the guys do with that equipment the next day? Just put it all back together? Would you have your engine tuner with you every round? I didn’t hear much of that last year but it was interesting to me.
“The rest of it is fantastic, the fact that you minimise the amount of time you spend just waiting around is awesome – at a regular GP event there’s a lot of free time. You might get there on a Thursday night, practice isn’t until Friday afternoon, then you have nothing until the race on Saturday night. This way you can get there, practice and then you’re straight in to a race on Friday night.
“If you have a bad first night you have the chance to make it right the next day, you aren’t waiting a week or however long to put things right. The difficult side is that you may feel like you have to go back to the drawing board totally and you have less than 24 hours to figure out what your issues are – but I would’ve loved the challenge of it.
“Another side of it is that it’s a better schedule for the mechanics this way too. Before, they will arrive on Thursday or Friday morning, get ready for practice, have practice, clean the bikes down on Friday night, back to the track on Saturday morning, race Saturday night then pack the van and drive to Poland for a league race the next day. That’s too much, it’s better this way where they are in the same place for a whole weekend and there isn’t a crazy rush to get back for the league programme on Sunday. It’ll be less stress, less travelling, it’s much better.”
“Obviously most of the venues have been around for a little while but we have a couple of new ones in there and that’s going to be fun.
“Lublin is one of those and it’s growing all the time, the guys there put so much time and money into that circuit and when they’re finished, the place is going to be phenomenal. As a track it isn’t the best for racing, the shape isn’t great and I think there are some plans to change it in the future, but all of the guys will have raced there plenty of times before in the league so they will have an idea of how to ride it already.
“Togliatti is just a great racing track, I can’t wait for that event. It’s the first time we’ve had an individual world championship event in Russia and it’s going to be bitchin’, honestly. It’s a long, long way to travel but they’ll have plenty of time to get there and get settled in and I think everyone will enjoy it.
“Some of the guys will never have been there before and that’s a challenge I used to love, I would try and get on the track as soon as possible to try and figure it out. I wanted to see the racing lines, the camber, everything. That’s the challenge for the riders who haven’t raced there before and they have the first day to get it figured out and then day two to perfect it and try to really zone in. It’s an exciting challenge because you have to get your head in the game straight away, it’s going to be fun to watch who can do it the fastest.”
Bartosz Zmarzlik (current world champion)
“Last year was really interesting to me to see how determined he was to retain his title and I really think that opened a lot of eyes with the other riders. He started a bit slowly but once he got his wheels in motion he was just on a different level. He is so at peace with his equipment, at one with his bikes, that he just doesn’t see any problems or issues – he just finds solutions.
“He is still the man to beat, that’s for sure. He’s had an interesting start this year because he’s been beaten in league racing by some of the other guys so he has his work cut out but he’s definitely the favourite. He has an aura sometimes where I think his opponents look at him and think ‘he’s unbeatable’ but he is losing a few races at the minute so he’s not.
“Maybe he’s just testing a few things right now, who knows? Mentally he has it nailed, it’s really tough to retain a world championship – trust me – and I always think that winning that second one is the hardest. You win the first one and think ‘what now?’ You ask yourself how much you really want to do it again, if you still have the spark, and last year Bartek found that out but he pulled it off again and came through it. He’s a great competitor.”
“I am lucky enough to see Tai close up in my role with his Polish club Wroclaw and I see a different person this year. Maybe he’s been a little too head-strong sometimes, he’s perhaps overplayed how good he feels mentally and physically, and to be honest I don’t think he’s been on his best game this last couple of years. When you consider his results, that’s pretty impressive.
“I think he’s hungrier now, what I see in him is a different approach, a different mentality. He’s so focused and man he is so fast. I’ve seen what he and his team are doing, the little changes they’ve made, and they’ve got a seriously good thing going at the moment.
“I’ll offer him some advice here and there, if I see something I will point it out and suggest some things, but he’s got a great program right now and he’s riding really well. He’s moved to Wroclaw with his family and that’s a really positive move for him, he gets to spend a lot more time with them and you can’t underestimate what a difference that makes.”
“It was a great move by Monster to sign Freddie by the way! He’s been on the brink of a word title for years now, he’s had the strength and the speed but it just hasn’t happened for him. He’s having a bit of a tough start to the season but he never gives up, that’s one thing you know about Freddie.
“I know he’s testing a lot, working hard and trying to find new ways to win so I’m sure it’ll click into place soon. I think he’ll turn up for the first round and be fine. You can’t ever underestimate him, sometimes you think that he is down and out and he comes back so you can never, ever rule him out from winning a GP. He’s a bit of an elder statesman now but he’s got a tonne of experience behind him and this is a really important season for him.”
“Look, everyone knows Magic is a personal favourite of mine and he’s someone I’ve mentored since I was young. I honestly think he is really the man to keep Zmarzlik on his toes this season, alongside Tai. He is absolutely flying right now.
“It doesn’t matter if he makes the start or not at the minute, it’s just a case of when he wins and not if. His mental state, his physical state, he’s got absolutely everything in place right now to win it. He’s in such a good place in his life, he’s got a brilliant set up with his team, his home life, he’s got everything he needs to do it so now he just has to make sure he brings it all together.
“He’s ready now, I really believe that.”
“Leon is a funny one, he can be so dominant when he wants to be but then sometimes things can go wrong for him and he drops off it. He’s had a few injuries these last couple of years and that’s tough to find a rhythm, but he’s had a solid start to the year.
“He’s an interesting guy, he keeps everyone guessing and I think he likes that. Sometimes I think he plays on his injuries to keep everyone on their toes, but he can beat anyone and you can never rule him out of contention. This is a really tough field and he’s one of the guys who can always win a GP.”
“You know, we haven’t seen the best of Jason since he won his world title. He’s made a lot of changes and had some hard times but now he’s establishing himself again and he looks good. I don’t know much about his team but whatever they’ve got seems to be working, his bikes are good, he’s scoring big points and maybe he’s ready to be a serious charger again now.
“When the chips are down and you need a big ride, he’ll put his elbows down and run the gauntlet and that takes character. If he carries on his league form, he’ll be up there.”
“Artem is a strong, strong kid. Mentally good, extremely fast and his starts are phenomenal 99% of the time. He makes such good starts on such a consistent basis, and the slicker tracks now really suit him because he’s very smooth.
“He trains really well, he’s in great shape, he has a good team around him, honestly I think he’s a really solid package and he’s got what it takes if he can just put it all together on a consistent basis. He can win any GP and he can do it big, but he’s got to be ready to win every race and to not have a dip. If he can do that he’s a dark horse.”
“Emil is a real fan favourite, wherever you go everyone talks about him and the start he made when he burst on to the scene when he was just a young kid. So many people want to see that Emil and to see him win the world championship and he has the talent to do it.
“I don’t know why he hasn’t been able to put it all together yet and get over the line, but he’s in damned good form at the moment. It’s going to be hard for him, this is a tough line up and he’s got to bang bars with some really good guys but he’s a threat to them all.”
“Martin is a very dedicated racer, he loves the game and works so hard. What I like about Martin is that he probably doesn’t have the talent of some of the others but he works harder and has to push himself more.
“He has a gift, of course, but he gets the best out of himself by hard work and I like guys like that. Sometimes he can over-ride and that’s something he can improve on, but he’s a great racer and a good gater. If he can master the consistency side, and really get into the habit of winning races every round, he’ll be towards the top.”
“I’ve always liked Max. He’s quiet, humble, easy-going, he doesn’t need to do the talking because he’s does the walking on track. He has a nice technique, he’s good on the starts, very quick, mentally he’s strong.
“Maybe the people around him look for too many changes sometimes, and that can be a problem, but he has a good set-up. I honestly believe that he has the ability to win the world championship, maybe more than once, but he has got to believe in himself. If he does, the world is his oyster.”
“Matej has been around a long time! He’s no youngster but he has a wealth of talent and experience and on any one night he could put it all together and dominate. When the track conditions get difficult or hard to ride, Matej shines but the tracks now are more slick and smooth so it’s not as easy for him.
“He’s a tall guy so it’s harder for him to move his weight around the bike sometimes and maybe he gets too upset when he doesn’t win and lets his frustration get the better of him, but I think he’s better at that side now. He can be really fast.”
“Anders will upset the applecart! He’s still young in the game, new to the GP’s and he likes to bang bars and run hard – and that’ll help him. At this level, though, making starts is the name of the game and his can be a bit up and down so that’s something he has to work on.
“He has a spectacular style, it’s leg back, a bit different, but it works really well for him when he gets his bikes hooked up. He’ll definitely cause a few upsets but he’ll see this as a learning year and he needs to soak up as much as he can.”
“Oliver has always wanted to get to this level and he got a good break to get his spot, so now he’ll be out to prove he deserves to be where he is. The turning point for him was finding a set up for his size, he made some changes to his bikes so they suit his frame more now and since then he’s been getting great results.
He’s riding really hard, going great in the leagues, but it’s going to be a hard year for him and he knows that. You have to be prepared to take the bad with the good and just keep plugging away, he can’t let the competition get the better of him, and just try and learn as much as possible.”
“Robert is an interesting one. I feel like he’s the kid the Brits have been waiting for ever since Tai burst on to the scene and he’s delivering. He has so much talent, he can really ride the bike and he’s fast and I think he’s going to win a lot of races this year. He will struggle at times and have great results at others.
“I think he learned a lot from Tai in the time they spent together, you could see his improvement and now I think Robert is paving the way for the other British riders in the way Tai did for him. It won’t be an easy year but I think he’ll qualify in the top eight and he might just be running with the big dogs at the top too.”
“It’s a shock to see him back in! Hats off to him, he did what he needed to do to get his place back. He’s a hard one to predict, sometimes he’s on fire and other times he’s way off it. Mentally he can beat himself up and try too hard, and he ends up trying to make trouble for others rather than focusing on his own racing.
“He needs to be a bit more clever and not look for the dirt too much, if he calms down a bit and focuses on his own thing he can be a really good rider.”
“It’s so hard to nail a top three, especially in order, but I’m going for Magic to win, with Tai and Zmarzlik close behind him. I just feel he’s got all the pieces of the puzzle in place now and it’s his time. It’s going to be an exciting season whoever wins, and I’ll be watching closely.”
1st: Maciej Janowski
2nd: Tai Woffinden
3rd: Bartosz Zmarzlik