New speedway track gets the thumbs up
The world's best speedway riders have had their first taste of Western Springs ahead of tomorrow's world championship round in Auckland.
The FIM Speedway Grand field of the world's top 15 riders, New Zealand wildcard entry Jason Bunyan and Kiwi reserve riders Sean Mason and Grant Tregoning, broke in the new-look track during a two-hour practice session yesterday afternoon.
In preparation for the event – which will be beamed to a live television audience of about 13 million in Europe – organisers levelled out Western Springs' clay car-racing track.
Then they painstakingly laid a new surface specially designed for the solo speedway bikes.
Three-time world champion Jason Crump, who will proudly fly the Australian flag tomorrow, rated the venue as one of the best he had appeared at.
"The track looks awesome. It is going to be really, really fast," Crump said.
"It is pretty wide and I think it is going to be one of the few tracks that generates a couple of true racing lines because of the size and banking. That is pretty unusual."
When asked if Western Springs' profound banking would back his no-holds barred racing style, Crump replied: "It will suit anybody who is going fast. It will suit the fast guys and hopefully I am one of them this week."
Swedish rider Fredrik Lindgren said he was blown away when he first ventured into Western Springs.
With the track laid inside a natural amphitheatre, he said he was looking forward to some intense racing and a great crowd atmosphere.
Up to 20,000 fans are expected at Western Springs tomorrow.
"The track is great and you have to pay credit to those who have made all of this possible," Lindgren said.
The practice session was held after the riders, their pit crews and dignitaries were welcomed at a lavish breakfast function at Western Springs.
The mainly European contingent was treated to a cultural welcome.
The driving force behind the event being hosted in Auckland is prominent businessman and Western Springs promoter, Bill Buckley.
He has poured more than $1 million of his own money into an extensive upgrade at the track.
The FIM recognised his efforts yesterday, presenting him with a track-ready commemorative speedway bike.
Echoing the sentiments of the other 15 riders who will try to conquer the Western Springs track, Crump said he was in countdown mode ahead of tomorrow's 4pm start.
The past four weeks had dragged by, with Crump eagerly looking forward to the opening round of the 2012 world championship.
"We've been doing a lot of testing in Aussie and I have been putting in a lot of time on the bikes," he said.
"It is more of a positive energy.
"Now that I am here, the bikes are parked in the pits, the gear is here ... I am excited, happy and looking forward to it."