Jason Doyle rode for much of his maiden title-winning campaign carrying a foot injury, making his GP success all the more admirable. It’s hard to look beyond him for the title overall, but the PGE National Stadium isn’t his happiest hunting ground. Beaten in the 2017 final, he amassed only nine combined points from his previous two visits there, so while he will doubtless be in the thick of the action, he may not finish on the top step.
The quick starter of 2017 was Freddie Lindgren, although his title challenge tailed off dramatically and he eventually finished a disappointing eighth. He goes well at this track, taking victory here last season, and his domestic form in Poland is electric, posting three maximums already, so he is definitely set to be a frontrunner in the season opener.
Moving in the opposite direction to Lindgren last year was Britain’s own two-time champion Tai Woffinden. Winner here in 2016, his form improved dramatically after a slow start in 2017 and the man who hasn’t finished outside the top four in the last five seasons will expect to start well in Poland.
Home favourite Bartosz Zmarzlik contested half of last year’s event finals, converting only one into a GP event victory. However, after third and fifth-place finishes in the last two series, he is expected to be a serious contender for the title, and nothing would set him away better than to win this opening event on home soil.
Poland loves its speedway, and the core of the 2018 GP series once again includes four Polish riders. Last season, Maciej Janowski was edged out in the final here, but he claimed two back-to-back event wins mid-season on his way to a career-best fourth place championship finish. He likes this track and knows his way to the top of the podium, so could very well spring an early-season surprise.
Fellow Pole Patryk Dudek only mustered one event victory in 2017, but he still pushed Doyle the hardest throughout the season and will look to keep the home fans happy here. Completing the Polish contingent is Przemyslaw Pawlicki, in for his first full season at the expense of his brother Piotr, but this is likely to be a steep learning curve for the youngster.
At the opposite end of the age spectrum are Greg Hancock and Nicki Pedersen, often seen as popular hero and pantomime villain respectively. Both had horrendous seasons in 2017, their campaigns barely underway before they succumbed to injury, perhaps not surprising given their combined 88 years of age. But if this year’s World Snooker final between veterans John Higgins and Mark Williams taught us anything, it was that form is temporary, while class is permanent. Hancock has had an injury-free time for much of his fifth decade and has shown no real signs of losing his speed, so a clean bill of health may yet let him back in the picture. Meanwhile, Pederson is riding through the pain of a broken bone in his hand, but he is in excellent domestic form and may well be able to strike a blow for the veterans.
Of the remainder of the field, Emil Sayfutdinov, Matej Zagar, Chris Holder and Martin Vaculik all had their moments last season, but are not expected to shine at the top of the tree. Completing the line-up are Artem Laguta, the Russian making his first appearance since 2011, and the second Englishman in the field, Craig Cook, the 2017 British Champion getting his first full season of GP racing.
With ten different winners in last year’s twelve events, if 2018 is anything like 2017, this should be another thrilling season of top class speedway.
Sports.net’s Top Tip
Freddie Lindgren starts the 2018 season as the bookmakers’ favourite to take the Championship, and at this early stage you can get 4/1 on him to do so. Obviously, a lot can happen between now and the end of the season, but any early podiums for Lindgren will see those odds shorten quickly.
Round One of the 2018 Speedway GP takes place at the PGE National Stadium, Warsaw, Poland on Sat, 12th May – Tapes up 18.00 (UK Time)