Polish rider Jaroslaw Hampel is the new king of Western Springs, blowing away the opposition to win the opening round of the Speedway World Championship.
Hampel hit back from an injury-plagued 2012 (he broke his leg in the Danish Grand Prix) to win last night's FIM Grand Prix event.
One of two Polish riders to make the final, he led from the first lap right through to the chequered flag after lap four.
His countryman Tomasz Gollob was second, Danish rider Nicki Pedersen third and America's Greg Hancock finished fourth.
"I am really happy . . . it was a tremendous night," Hampel said.
"It is great to start the season as a winner. That's pretty nice for me. I was very fast. After last season, with the injury, it is a great way to start."
But it wasn't such a great night for defending world champion Chris Holder, who failed to make the final.
"I was battling hard for the points," the Australian said.
Holder added that he had been a "little rusty" in the opening round of the season, after suffering a serious leg injury in late 2012.
He had strong support throughout the night's racing, as did countryman Darcy Ward.
New Zealand's wildcard entrant, eight-time national champion Jason Bunyan, also had strong support, bringing his hometown crowd to their feet after finishing third and claiming a point in his second heat.
It was a brave effort which matched his point-scoring in last year's event at Western Springs.
"It was a fantastic event and I really am proud of all of the team that helped me and everyone who has been behind me," he said. "There has not been one bad vibe and that helps. I know I am up against it, but everyone is positive all the time."
Bunyan was unlucky not to score more points, after a crash in his fourth heat. Polish rider Krzysztof Kasprzak collided with him, taking out his front wheel and sending the Kiwi rider off his bike.
But to the fury of the crowd, FIM referee Craig Ackroyd ruled Kasprzak was not to blame, excluding Bunyan from the restart.
Last night's meeting was just the third time that a round of the speedway world championship has been held in the southern hemisphere.
The previous two events - in Sydney in 2002 and Auckland last year - were both won by two-time world champion Hancock.
Russian speedway ace Emil Sayfutdinov - ranked as the No 5 rider in the world - described last night's event as a huge success.
He said those responsible for preparing the Western Springs track should be proud.
"This track is awesome," he said. "It is a very big track and I get some good speed on it. Last year the track was good, but this year it is better."
Echoing the thoughts of other members of the 16-strong FIM Speedway Grand Prix field last night, Sayfutdinov said the Auckland event was a great way to start the season.
- © Fairfax NZ News