Speedway Grand Prix Series 2010 ends in anti-climax at Bydgoszcz (on Sky Sports)

The last Speedway Grand Prix of the 2010 season finds Nigel and Kelvin trackside for Sky Sports at Bydgoszcz. As usual the excessive number of rounds of the SGP format ensures – like so many years previously – that there is absolutely no mystery about who will be world champion well before the so-called climax of the series. Though it’s a passionate night in the ZKS Polonia Stadium – while the Polish fans salute their favourite son Tomas Gollob and also mark the end of its era as a SGP venue – this is really a night to actually be there to savour the atmosphere. Watching on the telly just isn’t going to cut it unless, of course, like so many viewers it means that there’s no meaningful football to be shown in the pub or that your flight has been cancelled. Without the first hand fervour, it’s hard to get worked up on the sofa about who exactly will be ‘second in the speedway world’ in 2010. Will it be Jason or Jarek wonder Nigel and Kelvin apparently unaware that no one remembers who comes second. Even less enthralling is the contest for the “vital eighth place” that – along with the top seven – ensures automatic qualification for the 2011 series without the anxiety of the wild card allocations.

To pump up the anticipation further, after a mandatory mention of the audience (“fantastic crowds here”) Chris Louis advises on track conditions. Allegedly the Bydgoszcz shale is as exciting as usual except that – for the benefit of the sponsors and the strict schedules of the television companies – the SGP team have neutered its natural zest. With what turns out to be massive understatement, before a wheel has been turned Chris Louis implicitly admits that processional racing will be the order of the night (“maybe a little bit slick”). This is a long way to fly Chris for such minimal insight (even if it is the trademark of SGP coverage). Luckily back in the studio, Keith Huewin sits alongside a pair of expert ex-world champions – Gary Havelock and Sam Ermolenko whose trendy glasses ensures he looks like a German dentist. The word on the street is that Tomas has sustained a broken ankle in a motocross accident but will still ride. If Keith doubts the accuracy of this medical news (“Tomas Gollob can be known to put it on a bit”), then – after a lifetime in speedway – Havvy is positively sceptical, “I find it hard to believe that he’d be doing motocross a week before a GP!”

Fortunately, as they never tire saying during the season, Nigel and Kelvin are on hand to remind us that speedway is thrillingly raced on shale not paper. Less usefully, further undermining the significance of the event as either a spectacle or a contest, the key attribute needed to win any race during the early stages at Bydgoszcz isn’t skill or determination but the ‘luck’ of having gate 4. Kenneth Bjerre wins a processional heat 1 from there. Seven of the first eight winners would race from gate 4 and, overall, thirteen race winners (in 23 races) would triumph from that position. With the meeting one race old, Kelvin can’t hold back his natural will-to-hyperbole any longer and, putting on his serious voice, tells us for no obvious reason at all before heat 2, “this race is crucial”. Refusing to be outdone on either the cliché or hyperbole front, Nigel lashes back with the timeless, “Gollob knows every inch of this track!” Moments later, Hans Andersen is off gate 4 but is the only rider in the first eight races not to take the chequered flag since Tomas – taking his unofficial tourist guide duties seriously – forces the Dane to shut off during an impromptu close inspection of the second bend airfence. Hard riding with a broken ankle is the least we’d expect and, as it turns out, is the highlight of Tomas’s night on the track. Kelvin is agog with the drama and brilliance of a slightly less turgid race, “fabulous ride – we were conjecturing he might not be even able to ride!”

Zorro wins heat 3 off gate 4 leaving Nigel happily clutching at conversational straws, “he really has enjoyed his speedway this year!” That’s exactly what you’d expect from a larger than life “character in the speedway world”. Somewhere in the bowels of the stadium, Steve Brandon resists quizzing Tony Rickardsson about his wicked Yul Brynner haircut and instead plumps for barking out one of his inevitable insight free closed observation-cum-questions, “is speedway back on the agenda?” Like Steve, we all know the answer already – “No!” Even the Sky editors can’t endure this level of interview banality, so switch back to Nigel talking about who he’s seen or bumped into during the day, “it’s great to see Shawn Moran – another true legend of the sport – who’s in Bydgoszcz for the weekend!”

Sadly, we don’t get to learn who exactly are the ‘false’ speedway legends since Doctor Pearson has donned his handy white coat. Keen for a more in depth medical diagnosis of the “excruciating pain” borne so manfully by Tomas, Nigel metaphorically cups Gollob’s testicles in his hand, politely stares into the near distance and asks him to cough. This ad hoc test soon confirms it’s a broken ankle. Sadly, already back out on the track for his second medical opinion defying ride Tomas suffers an engine failure at the start line. Though already world champion, Nigel immediately informs us “Gollob is on the infield wondering what might have been!” Predictably, the race is won from gate 4 and, though undetectable to the human eye at home, is swiftly but needlessly pronounced amazing (“a great speedway race in heat number five”). If yet another processional win from gate 4 in heat 5 enthralled, then Kelvin loves more of the same in heat 6 (“sensational speedway”). Never happier than when anthropomorphising, the absence of Moley forces Kelvin to wax lyrical about the improvement of track conditions from incredibly slick to really slick, “the track is really beginning to wake up now!” Unfortunately, the track still mostly slumbers when riders foolishly try to overtake round the outside. Nonetheless, Nigel remains perpetually agog, “you try and go wide for maximum speed and go back a place! It’s amazing stuff!”

Off gate 4 in heat 7 Andreas Jonsson labours to victory. Next race Nicki Pedersen also crawls home somehow hanging on to his lead while he rings every last ounce of acceleration from his underperforming bike. Back in his corner of the pits, Nicki is caught on camera remonstrating and gesticulating with his crew.  Watching this constructive advice session could liven up a dull evening but, typically, the Sky Sports cameras cut away for an advert break! Given BSI/IMG promote the SGP as (allegedly) packed with eye catching drama and spectacle caught for posterity through excellent camerawork delivered from their feed, it’s even more of shame later that – when Janusz Kolodziej and Nicki Pedersen collide in the initial yards of their warm down immediately after the end of heat 18 – they also fail to show this ‘drama’. Instead we have to content ourselves footage of an unelated Freddie Lindgren as he trundles back to the pits. Keith Huewin proudly tells us many times that Kelvin Tatum and Nigel Pearson are “live at trackside”. Despite their premium vantage position, in the absence of pictures, they struggle to paint anything like a coherent word painting of said warm down incident. Though Kelv does attempt when he gnomically exclaims, “Oh – clearly no love lost there!”

Whatever instructions Nicki attempts to drum into to his mechanical team, his bikes (and the track) continue to impinge upon or, worse, hamper his progress. So much so that his last two programmed rides see him finish slightly off the pace in second (“you can tell with Pedersen he’s really winding it on”) getting nowhere fast. Part of Nigel wants to sympathise (“it’s been a tough, tough season in the GP”) and part of him wants to criticise (“can he afford to smile” [Nicki mouth what looks like an Anglo-Saxon rather than Danish expletive] “come on Nicki, smile!!”)

Even amusement at the turgid guff spouted during the commercial breaks about low calibre products no one wants or has really heard of is strangely muted. Quick to rush to diagnosis based on scanty evidence and, apparently, suffering from some confusion about the difference between ankles and feet (“he was lifting his ankle off the front peg”) the Sky Speedway team stop slightly short of suggesting a mercy killing for Tomas in favour of chatty sympathy. Gurgling along at the horror of it all, Nigel shouts, “There’s no doubt about it, Gollob is struggling, Gollob is in excruciating pain!” If only Tomas hadn’t already won, they could despair at his world championship dream in tatters. Instead, we learn “I don’t think we’ll see anything more of Tomas Gollob tonight!” Probably nodding his head and furrowing his brow, Kelvin confirms, “I don’t think we’ll see anything more of Tomas Gollob tonight!” Able to translate grimaces even in a foreign language, Nigel miraculously reads the runes amidst the bandages and stretchers, “it looks like Tomas Gollob could be ruled out of the meeting by the doctors!” Spectacularly mixing his bath time metaphors in true Millard fashion, Nigel then breathlessly informs us,  “It looks more and more like he’s headed for the showers for an early bath!” In fact, contrary to Kelv & Nige’s expectations, Tomas is barely off the screen for the rest of the night. Especially at the end when – after Crump and Hampel lift him into place on the podium – Tomas gets presented with flowers along with a man size but nondescript trophy. It’s actually a moment of celebration and victory that enthuses Tomas so much he actually brief smiles (despite the “excruciating pain”) and sings along to the Polish National Anthem with comparative gusto. We’d all get goose bumps too if only we knew the evocative words like Nigel and Kelvin pretend to (rather than it sounding like some weirdly depressing dirge played by a military band).

In a vain attempt to try to introduce a modicum of tension into the last SGP of the 2010 series, Chris Holder reserves his worst performance of the season for Bydgoszcz and, thereby, places his apparently certain qualification for 2011 in vague doubt. Though, that said, the slick track makes it hard for any rider to really excel let alone provide exhilarating overtaking manoeuvres. In the alternative dimension he apparently often inhabits, Kelvin persists in contradicting the evidence of our eyes with wild claims after numerous turgid races read in a monotone voice from preprepared notes (“a great advert for the GP”). Holder’s lackadaisical approach sees points needlessly cast aside (“we thought the top 8 was clear before tonight but it’s intriguing!”) or great effort by the Aussie go unrewarded on a slick track. Nigel’s heart goes out to him, “Chris Holder won’t work any harder for no points in a speedway race” It’s perceptive analysis, so much so seconds later Kelvin echoes, “Chris Holder won’t work any harder for no points in a speedway race!”

Without much of note to genuinely enthuse about Nigel has to make do with faux milestones so, instead, unwittingly exposes the banal predictability of the SGP format so frequently lauded by BMI/IMG and their media acolytes. Nigel’s excitement about wildcard riders making the final stages (“that would be sensational!”) begs the question whether the regular season competitors are really – as claimed – the ‘best in the world’? Self-interested criticism of the SGP qualifiers also looks massively misplaced when Jarek bests Jason (“Crump charging in third place like he means it – dunno how much of a difference that will make”) to take second place overall in the 2010 SGP series. Again Nigel (albeit inadvertently) critiques the grace and favour nature of SGP selection, “he only go to the GP through the qualifiers and now he has the silver medal!” Lovers of speedway everywhere will be pleased that truly gifted rider Tomas Gollob has finally and deservedly become world champion. Nonetheless, doubts about the length, format and composition of the SGP series remain centre stage.

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