EUROPEAN PREVIEW - SoN2 / SGP Riga
The World Championship focus switches to Riga this weekend with Round 7 of the Grand Prix series preceded by the SON2 competition this evening.
Image courtesy of Taylor Lanning Photography
The Latvian GP is back on the calendar for the first time since 2017, when it was staged at Daugavpils, but the series now appears in the capital city for the first time.
Riga had been due to host a GP back in 2014 but the event was switched to Daugavpils at short notice as the track was unfit for racing following heavy rain.
However, Riga has subsequently staged a number of major events, and the weekend’s activities will be their biggest so far.
Bartosz Zmarzlik leads the World Championship by 20 points with four rounds remaining, with Fredrik Lindgren his closest challenger. But third-placed Jack Holder misses the meeting due to the hand injury he suffered in the World Cup Final – so the opportunity exists for Martin Vaculik, Dan Bewley and Jason Doyle to move into the top six.
Bewley is on a high after his win in Malilla last time out, and he is ten points behind Holder in a three-way tie for fourth place.
Robert Lambert goes into the meeting in eighth place, six points off the top six, and is looking to convert a run of four successive Semi-Final appearances into his first Final since Round 1 in Croatia.
Meanwhile Tai Woffinden is one place behind Lambert in ninth, but with a 17-point gap to bridge, having made three Semi-Finals in six rounds this season but no Final as yet.
Friday’s SON2 takes the format of the senior Speedway of Nations competition which was staged between 2017 and 2022.
Poland have been the dominant force in the event under its various guises, having won 15 times out a possible 18 – and every time since 2014, meaning they now look to extend that record to ten in succession.
With SGP2 champion Mateusz Cierniak and Bartlomiej Kowalski spearheading their challenge with support from Wiktor Przyjemski, they will prove a difficult combination to defeat again.
Great Britain are represented by Anders Rowe, Dan Gilkes and Captain Drew Kemp, whilst the other competing nations are the Czech Republic, Australia, Denmark, Germany and Latvia. Familiar names to British fans from UK league racing include Keynan Rew, James Pearson, Emil Breum and Norick Blodorn, whilst the home side will have high hopes for Francis Gusts.
The regular league stage of the PGE Ekstraliga is now complete, and Lublin have sent out a statement of intent with a 49-41 win at Wroclaw in Wednesday’s re-arranged fixture.
The victory also gave the visitors the bonus point as the league leaders suffered a second successive defeat at the end of the regular campaign.
Artem Laguta won four races for Wroclaw but they were inconsistent in the rest of the team, with Bewley scoring 7+1 from five rides and Woffinden five from four.
It meant Wroclaw finished two points ahead of Lublin overall and the two sides are hotly tipped to meet again in the play-off Final.
Elsewhere, Krosno signed out of the Ekstraliga with a 47-43 win over Leszno, with the visitors taking the opportunity to rest several riders as the likes of Janusz Kolodziej, Chris Holder and Grzegorz Zengota all took just two rides.
Krosno finished bottom, three points behind Grudziadz having at least performed better than the previous promoted side Ostrow last year, whist Leszno’s sixth place was already confirmed.
The play-offs get underway on Sunday with Lambert lining up for Torun at home to Lublin, Gorzow facing Czestochowa in an intriguing tie, whilst Bewley and Woffinden head back to Leszno – scene of their recent league defeat.
The second legs are next Sunday with the three overall winners and the ‘best losers’ progressing to the Semi-Finals.
Division One’s final round was postponed last weekend with the fixtures all re-arranged for Saturday and Sunday, starting with the Zielona Gora v Rybnik fixture as the home side look for 14 wins out of 14.
The visitors are already safely in the play-offs and could finish as high as second with a surprise away win, although Ostrow are favourites for that position as they are at home to Gdansk.
Relegation looks likely for Poznan, who have eight points, but they could still get out of trouble with a win at Landshut, and that would mean Lodz (on 10) needing points at home to Bydgoszcz, whose own play-off place is assured.
Lodz themselves have incentive to move up the table as well as protecting their Division One place, as they are only two points behind Gdansk and Landshut and could therefore still make the play-offs.
Division Two’s action includes a re-arrangement of the Gniezno/Daugavpils fixture which was postponed last week, with Steve Worrall lining up for the visitors.
Elsewhere in Round 13, leaders Opole visit Tarnow on Sunday with Adam Ellis racing for the visitors, whilst Gilkes races for Pila at home to Rzeszow. Meanwhile on Saturday, Gniezno visit bottom club Rawicz, with Kemp named in the team for the hosts.
There was no Swedish Bauhaus-Ligan action on Tuesday due to bad weather, and only two fixtures in the Polish Under-24 Ekstraliga took place.
Ostrow were 53-37 winners over Leszno as they moved to within one point of second place, whilst Lublin won 49-41 at Torun.