American veteran Greg Hancock is looking to become only the fourth rider to win five world titles as he looks to become the first man in nearly a decade to defend the crown.
The 46-year-old Californian won his fourth world title last season, when Australian Jason Doyle was denied a possible first title when injury ruled him out the final GP – coincidentally his home round in Melbourne.
Doyle crashed out in the penultimate round in Torun – puncturing a lung, shattering an elbow and breaking a shoulder – which allowed Hancock in.
Doyle is now back and is favourite to take his maiden title, and he insists he is now back to full fitness.
“Everything is good now but the last four months have been difficult to get back to full fitness,” said Doyle. “All of my bones are healed and I have got no metalwork now so it’s time to move forward and I am enjoying racing again,” he said.
“The main thing is to be 100 per cent ready to get back on a bike. Physically fit was not going to be the issue, it was going to be mental.”
Hancock is hopeful he can join Swedish legend Ove Fundin on five world titles, just one of the Ivan Mauger and Tony Rickardsson – who are the most successful riders in history on six titles.
“It’s a really tough field that the Grand Prix has this year. Even last year I felt it was getting even more consistent from No.1 to No.15, so you know points are going to be much more difficult to come by. You have to be on your game” he said.
“I feel pretty good and I love my racing. While I love it, I want to be the best I can and I put pretty high goals on my year. I try to achieve those goals, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
“As long as I know I’m on par, I go with it. It’s serious when I get up there and I’m the world’s worst self-critic.”
Hancock is one of four World champions in the field with Dane Nicki Pedersen (a three time winner), Britain’s Tai Woffinden ( a two time winner) and Australian Chris Holder.
This year also sees a welcome return of Russian star Emil Sayfutdinov following a three-year self-imposed exile.
The Speedway Grand Prix series, which starts this weekend in Slovenia, takes place over 12 rounds with 16 riders – 15 of which are permanent members of the SGP system, with one wild card per round chosen by the organisers.
2017 SPEEDWAY GRAND PRIX CALENDAR:
April 29: Slovenian Grand Prix (Krsko)
May 13: Grand Prix of Poland (Warsaw)
May 27: Latvian Grand Prix (Daugavpils)
June 10: Czech Republic Grand Prix (Prague)
June 24: Danish Speedway Grand Prix (Horsens)
July 22: British Speedway Grand Prix (Cardiff)
August 12: Swedish Speedway Grand Prix (Malilla)
August 26: Speedway Grand Prix of Poland (Gorzow)
September 9: German Speedway Grand Prix (Teterow)
September 23: Stockholm Speedway Grand Prix (Stockholm)
October 7: Torun Speedway Grand Prix of Poland (Torun)
October 28: Australian Speedway Grand Prix (Melbourne)
GRAND PRIX LINE-UP
Greg Hancock (USA)
Tai Woffinden (Great Britain)
Bartosz Zmarzlik (Poland)
Chris Holder (Australia)
Jason Doyle (Australia)
Piotr Pawlicki (Poland)
Antonio Lindback (Sweden)
Niels-Kristian Iversen (Denmark)
Matej Zagar (Slovenia)
Maciej Janowski (Poland)
Fredrik Lindgren (Sweden)
Nicki Pedersen (Denmark)
Patryk Dudek (Poland)
Martin Vaculik (Slovakia)
Emil Sayfutdinov (Russia)
We spoke with bet365’s speedway trader Pawel Krompiewski to get his opinion on the world title.
“Jason Doyle is popular but so are Saifutdinov, Woffinden and Zmarzlik. It’s a good betting heat.
“Personally I think that Woffinden will have a big fight with Doyle and Zmarzlik in 2017.
“However, Tai is still waiting for his first 2017 competitive meeting as his Polish Ekstraliga fixtures were rained off, so I’m expecting more interest after the first GP.
“Greg Hanock, you can never underestimate such a great gater, especially on usually pretty slick GP tracks, but Hancock is almost 47.
“Sayfutdinov is back and is one of the most exciting riders in the field. That’s for sure. But he is injury prone and last few years his amazing potential was stopped.
“In my opinion he’s inconsistent, he’ll have some great meetings but also a few bad ones. All in all of course will make great impact in terms of pure exciting racing but in his first season back in GP series I’ll be shocked if the Russian can be on the very top. a medal? maybe.
“And watch out for young Poles – Zmarzlik bronze medallist from 2016 but also two other young guns Pawlicki and Dudek – dark horses for sure.”