Slovak star Martin Vaculik took a giant stride closer towards sealing a 2024 FIM Speedway Grand Prix spot by booking his place at the FIM GP Challenge.

Vaculik topped the podium on 14 points at the qualifying round in his home city Zarnovica on Saturday to secure his passage to the FIM GP Challenge at Swedish track Gislaved on August 19.

The top three riders in the Challenge will be the first riders to qualify for the 2024 Speedway GP series, meaning Vaculik is just five good rides away from securing a return ticket for next season’s World Championship.

He’s joined in Gislaved by former Polish champion Szymon Wozniak, who was second on 13 points.

A run-off took place to decide the final two qualifiers after Speedway GP rider Robert Lambert tied on 12 points with Denmark’s Frederik Jakobsen and American racer Luke Becker.

In one of the shocks of the round, both Becker and Jakobsen overhauled Lambert in the run-off to knock the world No.5 out of the qualifiers. But another top-six finish in this season’s Speedway GP series will also guarantee Lambert’s place in the 2024 SGP line-up.

Triple Australian champion Max Fricke was also a surprise casualty in Zarnovica, exiting on 11 points, while former World Under-21 champion Bartosz Smektala fell short on nine. Prague FIM Speedway GP of Czech Republic wild card Vaclav Milik missed the cut on five.

In the day’s other qualifier, former world No.6 Piotr Pawlicki edged closer to securing a Speedway GP return by winning his qualifier at Italian track Lonigo.

The Wroclaw man won the meeting on 13 points on what turned out to be a special day for Italian speedway.

Both home heroes Nicolas Covatti and Paco Castagna blazed through to the FIM GP Challenge on 12 points apiece, along with Czech shooting star Jan Kvech. The trio took part in a run-off for second place on the day, with Covatti taking victory ahead of Kvech and Castagna.

Sweden’s Oliver Berntzon just missed out on 11 points, falling just short of taking his place at the FIM GP Challenge on his home track in Gislaved. 

But if no Swedish riders make it through the qualifiers at German track Abensberg or Hungarian circuit Debrecen on Monday, Berntzon could yet receive a wild card for the Challenge as the host nation is guaranteed a representative in the event.

Former world No.3 Niels-Kristian Iversen also missed the cut in Lonigo on 10 points, while Finnish international Timo Lahti and former World Under-21 champion Jaimon Lidsey exited on nine and Great Britain star Tom Brennan fell short on eight.

Three more Speedway GP riders bid for FIM GP Challenge places at the remaining qualifiers, with Jason Doyle and Kim Nilsson contesting the Abensberg round and Jack Holder heading to Debrecen.

ZARNOVICA SCORES: 1 Martin Vaculik 14, 2 Szymon Wozniak 13, 3 Luke Becker 12+3, 4 Frederik Jakobsen 12+2, 5 Robert Lambert 12+1, 6 Max Fricke 11, 7 Bartosz Smektala 9, 8 Filip Hjelmland 8, 9 Nick Skorja 7, 10 Vaclav Milik 5, 11 Victor Palovaara 5, 12 Daniel Klima 4, 13 Nicolas Vicentin 3, 14 Lukas Fienhage 2, 15 Max Ruml 2, 16 Vitalii Lysak 1, 17 Jakub Valkovic 0.

LONIGO SCORES: 1 Piotr Pawlicki 13, 2 Nicolas Covatti 12+3, 3 Jan Kvech 12+2, 4 Paco Castagna 12+1, 5 Oliver Berntzon 11, 6 Niels-Kristian Iversen 10, 7 Timo Lahti 9, 8 Jaimon Lidsey 9, 9 Tom Brennan 8, 10 Matic Ivacic 6, 11 Marius Hillebrand 5, 12 Mathias Tressarieu 4, 13 Carlos Eber Ampugnani 3, 14 Andrea Battaglia 2, 15 Facundo Cuello 2, 16 Denis Stojs 2, 17 Matteo Boncinelli DNR.

ABENSBERG LINE-UP: 1 Gino Manzares (USA), 2 Mika Meijer (Netherlands), 3 Rohan Tungate (Australia), 4 Eduard Krcmar (Czech Republic), 5 Norick Blödorn (Germany), 6 Przemysław Pawlicki (Poland), 7 Mads Hansen (Denmark), 8 Dimitri Bergé (France), 9 Martin Smolinski (Germany), 10 Jason Doyle (Australia), 11 Kevin Wölbert (Germany), 12 Kim Nilsson (Sweden), 13 Glenn Moi (Norway), 14 Chris Harris (Great Britain), 15 Nicolo Percotti (Italy), 16 Jevgenijs Kostigovs (Latvia). RESERVE: 17 Valentin Grobauer (Germany).

DEBRECEN LINE-UP: 1 Michael Jepsen Jensen (Denmark), 2 Andrei Popa (Romania), 3 Mark Barany (Hungary), 4 Norbert Magosi (Hungary), 5 Marko Levishyn (Ukraine), 6 Petr Chlupac (Czech Republic), 7 Andzejs Lebedevs (Latvia), 8 Kai Huckenbeck (Germany), 9 Janusz Kołodziej (Poland), 10 Andreas Lyager (Denmark), 11 Jack Holder (Australia), 12 Adam Ellis (Great Britain), 13 Jacob Thorssell (Sweden), 14 Roland Kovacs (Hungary), 15 Timi Salonen (Finland), 16 Antti Vuolas (Finland). RESERVE: 17 Richard Füzesi (Hungary).