In recent weeks, Copenhagen’s Parken stadium has been the stage for the backfiring of FC København’s damp squib of a football season, but on Saturday, the national arena will be firing on all cylinders as the stadium is transformed into a cauldron of excitement with the addition of a 275-metre dirt track.
Speedway is accelerating into town in the shape of the FIM Dansk Metal Speedway Grand Prix, with 16 of the world’s top riders going head to head over 23 rip-roaring heats. Racing over 20 breathtaking four-man heats, the daredevil competitors have five races to accumulate as many points as possible: three for a win, two for the runner-up, one for third and no points for last place. A perfect 15 will see you into for the semi-finals – the 23rd heat being the grand finale.
Never been to speedway? Don’t worry, it’s simple to follow. Four riders keep turning left over four laps of an oval track and each race is over in less than a minute. This might sound easy, but not for the riders. They race 500 cc single-geared machines with no brakes, releasing the clutch to start before speeding around corners, up to 90 mph, at impossibly precipitous angles. Watching a speedway racer rocket sideways around the oval track is described by enthusiasts as poetry in motion. It’s hectic, enthralling, dangerous and an excellent spectator sport.
Back in the 1970s, speedway was close to being Denmark’s national sport with the legendary Ole Olsen thrice victorious in the world championships. His immense popularity led to the construction of the Vojens Speedway Centre, which was the home of the Danish Speedway Grand Prix from 1995 to 2002, after which the event sped its way to the larger Parken stadium.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the event in the Danish capital and the fifth event of a globetrotting series that started with a first lap in New Zealand back in March and is set to cross the finishing line in Poland come October with the crowning of a new champion. So, who are the main men in Copenhagen?
The defending world speedway champion, the 42 year-old American Greg ‘Herbie’ Hancock, has established himself as the ironman of the sport and proved that, in speedway, age is no barrier to success. With two wins, in 1997 and 2011, under his belt, the veteran Hancock is a good bet to be there or thereabouts when it comes to podium places.
If anyone is going to bring home the bacon, it has got to be three-time world speedway champion Nicki Pedersen. Pedersen showed excellent form in the recent Gothenburg Grand Prix with 14 out of a possible 15 points in the heats, but that came to an abrupt end in the semi-finals when he incurred the wrath of the Swedes by controversially bringing down Thomas Jonasson on a thrilling final turn. A return to the outstanding form of 2007 and 2008 would see Parken stadium erupt with joy.
Pedersen’s arch rival over recent years has been the impressively relentless Aussie, Jason Crump. Mr Consistent, Crump has not been outside a top four placing over the last 12 years, with three wins and five runner-up places. Speedway courses through his veins thanks to his father Phil Crump, who came third in the 1976 world championship.
Last year’s winner in Denmark, Tomasz Gollob, has one championship to his name (2010). A leading member of the mighty Polish speedway team, Gollob has fully recovered from a spectacular crash in Sweden and will be hoping to be in pole position by the end of the night.
Keep an eye out for the young Danish sensation Michael Jepsen Jensen, who has received a wild card. Some 29,000 revved-up spectators will be hoping he has a fairytale grand prix debut. With five Danes on the starting line, there is a good chance of a home victory that would make the enjoyment of the post-race fireworks even sweeter.
Whether you are in the VIP methanol club with the chequered flag in close view, or high up in the stands watching the wheels dance in the dirt, this is a fast and furious Saturday night that you won’t forget in a hurry.