This Saturday, April 30, the northern Croatian border town of Goričan comes alive to the sound of 500cc engines burning methanol, as the world’s finest speedway riders broadside around the 305m track before a packed crowd. Croatia has long been a hub for speedway fans, hosting three FIM GP Challenges. This year, the Grand Prix tournament welcomes Goričan back into the fold after a ten-year hiatus by staging the first meet there, before it moves on to Poland, Prague, Cardiff and Australasia in November.
“Goričan has a nice sandy little track, a lot different to all the other ones on the calendar,” says the UK’s Tai Woffinden, four-time World Champion. It’s challenging though, as “it sucks a lot of power out of the engines”.
A decade after the last Grand Prix there, 2022 is the perfect year to bring the sport back to Croatia’s northern Međimurje County, as a new TV deal promises to beam races to 100 million homes over the coming three years. Speedway is now on the cusp of the mainstream. Goričan’s legendary stadium will be the place to watch the world’s sharpest riders forge identities and careers in a new era for the sport.
The Stadion Milenium has long been considered hallowed ground for the sport with Australian origins. Yugoslav champion Zvonimir Pavlić built the place from the ground up, and US speedway legend Greg Hancock was crowned World Champion here in 2011. There’s some serious history soaked into the benches at Goričan.
“The stadium in Croatia might not be the biggest on the agenda, but the fans come really close to the racing,” says Swedish powerhouse Fredrik Lindgren. “The fans always make you feel very welcomed, which creates a kind of family atmosphere”.
Before speedway fame, Goričan was a pretty village on the border with Hungary. A stone’s throw from Alpine foothills, the region is known for its gorgeous wines and scenic views. The village is nestled among vineyards and weekend holiday spots for city residents. Nearby Čakovec offers arts and crafts, pretty architecture and a quaint old town.
“Croatia is a beautiful country,” says Tai, “So you expect a lot of fans from all over the world to come. It’s driving distance from many points in Europe”.
Competitors this year include the on-a-tear Tai Woffinden, his UK compatriot Dan Bewley, Polish dominators Patryk Dudek and Pawel Przedpełski, Australia’s Jack Holder and number 16, a wildcard entrant.
Saturday’s schedule begins at 1pm when riders fight it out for starting position in qualifying. Racing begins at 7pm and finishes after 23 races have been completed.
Tickets available through Entrio. From Zagreb, the nearest village of Donji Kraljevec is about an hour and a half by car. The train service from Zagreb takes around four hours and usually requires two changes.