Slovenian Matej Zagar wins Finnish Speedway GP from Woffinden
Slovenian star Matej Zagar hailed the loved ones and backers who never stopped believing he could be an FIM Speedway Grand Prix winner after he won the Mitas Finnish SGP in Tampere on Saturday.
The 31-year-old claimed his first World Championship victory at the 44th attempt in the Ratina Stadium after diving past world champion Tai Woffinden, when he briefly lost control in the final. Zagar triumphed ahead of the Brit, Swedish racer Freddie Lindgren and American legend Greg Hancock.
Along with Australia’s Troy Batchelor, who is new to the World Championship this season, Zagar was the only full-time SGP rider who had not won a round.
So the Ljubljana-born man – second three times in Bydgoszcz, Copenhagen and Stockholm in 2013 – was elated to deliver his elusive victory for those who always knew he had the class to top the box.
He said: “It doesn’t just mean a lot to me. My family at home are going crazy at the moment! I hope I gave them the satisfaction they didn’t have for three years I raced in the Grand Prix without winning one and it’s a big thing for me as well.
“It took me a while to win a Grand Prix and maybe a bit longer than everyone else. But I’ve done it and I want to say a big thank you to my team. They’ve done a great job and have showed a lot of patience with me, and so have my family and my sponsors. They’ve always believed and kept me going.
“This is a positive thing for my confidence and it will push me forward. Last year I was in four finals and finished second three times. I should have won a round last year, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“I made mistakes and other people got the win, but this time I played a different role and I got the win. It’s nice to win my first one. I hope it won’t be the last.”
On a night when fast starts and perfect first turns were even more vital than usual, Zagar admits his will to win made the difference.
He added: “You had to be determined. Without determination, you would have been nowhere. My determination pushed me forward.
“I’ve always said I feel pretty good on new tracks because I figure out tracks pretty well technically. This one suited me and I’m glad it turned out like this.”
Zagar’s win came with 15 points, which still leaves him 10th in the World Championship standings on 27. But he trails series leader Krzysztof Kasprzak by a meagre eight points after the Pole pulled out of the meeting during practice with a cruciate ligament injury.
The Belle Vue and Gorzow rider is still very much in the hunt for the series’ top prizes, but he isn’t getting carried away by the biggest win of his career to date.
He said: “Hopefully things will go forward for me, but it’s too early to say. I was having big problems with my speed on the track before this Grand Prix. I was struggling with my kit and I made some changes.
“I’m really glad they came out okay and we’ve made progress. Progress is what I am looking for every time. It’s not just about winning the Grand Prix – it’s about scoring points. Points in the bag give you success in the end. I would love to reach more finals like this and don’t worry, I will certainly do my best to achieve that.”
Runner-up Tai Woffinden bounced back from a testing start to the season by top-scoring with 16 points. The British champion has been battling to get back to the blistering form which carried him to speedway’s biggest prize last year and was delighted with his progress as he bids to break into the competition’s top three.
He said: “Turning things around comes from hard work and dedication. If you put the work in, you get rewarded for it.
“It has been a tough start to the season for me, but since Bydgoszcz, I’ve been working so hard with everybody involved in my team. My points have started coming and I have been scoring well in my league racing. Things are really picking up now and I came to Tampere with a lot of confidence after scoring paid 14 in Poland and paid 10 in Sweden.
“Things are starting to work in my favour now, but that doesn’t mean there’s any time to slacken off. I’ve got to be pushing harder to get into that top three.”
Third-placed Lindgren was pleased to reach his second final of the year and admits a lighter schedule is paying dividends after opting out of the British Elite League this season.
He said: “What I can say is not riding so many meetings has helped me motivation-wise. I enjoy coming to the speedway track and riding and it’s really good.
“The last GP in Bydgoszcz wasn’t great for me, so it was really good to come back and get a good result. I have to give it up to my mechanics. They came up with some really good advice after I ran a last in heat 10. It really made a big difference and I’m pleased with that.”
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: 1 Krzysztof Kasprzak 35, 2 Greg Hancock 34, 3 Nicki Pedersen 34, 4 Chris Holder 32, 5 Martin Smolinski 31, 6 Fredrik Lindgren 30, 7 Jaroslaw Hampel 29, 8 Darcy Ward 29, 9 Tai Woffinden 28, 10 Matej Zagar 27, 11 Andreas Jonsson 24, 12 Niels-Kristian Iversen 22, 13 Kenneth Bjerre 18, 14 Troy Batchelor 18, 15 Chris Harris 6, 16 Adrian Miedzinski 5, 17 Joonas Kylmakorpi 5, 18 Kauko Nieminen 4, 19 Jason Bunyan 2.
MITAS FINNISH SGP SCORES: 1 Matej Zagar 15, 2 Tai Woffinden 16, 3 Fredrik Lindgren 12, 4 Greg Hancock 12, 5 Chris Holder 10, 6 Nicki Pedersen 10, 7 Troy Batchelor 10, 8 Martin Smolinski 9, 9 Darcy Ward 8, 10 Andreas Jonsson 7, 11 Jaroslaw Hampel 7, 12 Niels-Kristian Iversen 6, 13 Joonas Kylmakorpi 5, 14 Chris Harris 4, 15 Kauko Nieminen 4, 16 Kenneth Bjerre 3, 17 Krzysztof Kasprzak DNR, 18 Juha Hautamaki DNR.