ZMARZLIK OPENS NEW ERA OF FIM SPEEDWAY WITH VICTORY IN FRONT OF SOLD-OUT INTERNATIONAL CROWD IN CROATIA

PAUL BURBIDGE

An exciting new era of FIM Speedway started with a familiar result as Poland’s double world champion Bartosz Zmarzlik triumphed in the FIM Speedway GP of Croatia – Donji Kraljevec on Saturday.

Zmarzlik zoomed to victory ahead of fellow Polish star Maciej Janowski, who was second, and Danish racer Mikkel Michelsen, who was third in his first-ever Speedway GP final. Danish champion Anders Thomsen took fourth place in only his second final appearance.

The event marked the start of Discovery Sports Events’ 10-year tenure as FIM Speedway global promoter. A sell-out crowd packed Speedway Stadium Milenium for the biggest event in Croatian speedway history as fans were given their first real taste of Discovery’s vision.

A glorious central stage and push-off area, enhanced by LED screens, featured at a Speedway GP event for the first time, with a TV studio in the heart of the stadium and pit boxes that lift the sport to a new level. Visitors were also greeted by an action-packed fanzone throughout the afternoon, including an autograph session featuring all of tonight’s riders.

The FIM Croatian Speedway GP action was available to millions of viewers around the world from Manchester to Melbourne, with live coverage on Discovery+ and the Eurosport App, as well as on linear and free-to-air channels, including SPTV in Croatia.

With a guest appearance from six-time world champion Tony Rickardsson in the studio, seven-time British champion Scott Nicholls reporting from the pits and data including live heartbeat and reaction times, the stars of the sport and new technology combined to give fans a unique viewing experience.

The first Speedway GP in Croatia since 2012 saw fans treated to some fantastic action as Zmarzlik topped the podium. The Gorzow and Lejonen star was delighted to win the opening round of a series for the first time in his Speedway GP career, securing the maximum 20 championship points as he mastered a tight and technical Speedway Stadium Milenium track.

Zmarzlik, who made a rapid dash from Polish city Grudziadz after racing for his PGE Ekstraliga club Gorzow on Friday night, said: “I am very happy because I have never won the first round.

“I am feeling nice, but a little bit tired because on Friday I had a meeting and I was feeling a little bit up and down.

“After the first few races, I didn’t have a very good feeling on the bike on this track. But after four races, I felt much better with setups and I felt much better on the bike. I am very happy I won.

“After my last meeting on Friday, I came here and did a few practice laps. For me, it is a very small track and I didn’t have a very good feeling in the corners – it’s too small for me. But after more racing, I liked the track more.”

Zmarzlik has been marked by many pundits as a favourite in this season’s Speedway GP title race, and the excitement will only build ahead of his country’s biggest speedway event, the FIM Speedway GP of Poland – Warsaw at the iconic PGE Narodowy on May 14.

But having become Poland’s first two-time world champion Zmarzlik has become accustomed to managing such high expectations and ignoring the hype.

He said: “I really don’t look at this because I love my job, my speedway. In my life, there is only family and speedway and that’s it. Of course, winning is important. But it’s not good for my head just to focus on that.”

Runner-up Maciej Janowski finished ninth in qualifying practice, but topped the heat scorechart on 13 race points, before ending the night with 18 championship points for second place.

He said: “I feel very good. We started well. From the beginning, we found a good setup. Maybe we didn’t see that in qualification, but when we came to the tapes, everything was working pretty well. I am very happy with my points. It was a solid night.”

European champion Michelsen was delighted to start his series by reaching his first Speedway GP final.

He said: “Obviously I am very satisfied with that. I am very happy with my third position. When you are in the final, you would like to be standing on the top step. But the points are the most important in such a long series.

“I am very happy with third position. It’s a track where I haven’t had good results in the past. So I have to take the positives.”

Following a successful opening round, François Ribeiro, Head of Discovery Sports Events, was delighted to see the group’s vision for FIM Speedway come to life in Croatia.

He said: “We are very happy to see our FIM Speedway vision become a reality for the first time this evening. We have been working on the project for some months now in collaboration with our partners at the FIM, and what you saw tonight is the result of a huge amount of hard work by so many people.

“It was fantastic to see Speedway Stadion Milenium completely full and so many fans enjoying a great night of racing, with the spectator experience elevated by everything from the central stage to the fanzone that greeted them at the stadium gates.

“Our work is only just starting and everyone at Discovery looks forward to what the future holds for FIM Speedway.”

Next up is one of the jewels in the FIM Speedway crown – the FIM Speedway GP of Poland – Warsaw, which takes place in front of over 50,000 fans at PGE Narodowy on May 14.

FIM SPEEDWAY GP WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: 1 Bartosz Zmarzlik 20, 2 Maciej Janowski 18, 3 Mikkel Michelsen 16, 4 Anders Thomsen 14, 5 Leon Madsen 12, 6 Matej Zagar 11, 7 Robert Lambert 10, 8 Jason Doyle 9, 9 Fredrik Lindgren 8, 10 Martin Vaculik 7, 11 Dan Bewley 6, 12 Patryk Dudek 5, 13 Tai Woffinden 4, 14 Jack Holder 3, 15 Max Fricke 2, 16 Pawel Przedpelski 1, 17 Nick Skorja 0, 18 Dennis Fazekas 0.

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