Slovenian star Matej Zagar booked his place in SGP 2020 and admitted his GP Challenge victory in Gorican is “bigger than winning a GP.”
Zagar topped the podium at the FIM Speedway Grand Prix qualification round in Croatia on Saturday and joins runner-up Niels-Kristian Iversen and third-placed Max Fricke in securing a World Championship place for next year.
Ljubljana-born Zagar beat Iversen in a run-off for first spot after they tied on 11 points. But the result still ensures both current SGP riders have guaranteed their place in the 2020 series, regardless of where they finish this term.
Fricke then joined them on the podium by winning a run-off with Slovak star Martin Vaculik for third after they finished level on 10. Vaculik is currently fourth in the World Championship and could still qualify for SGP 2020 by finishing inside this year’s top eight.
But victory on this night belonged to Zagar, who celebrated with the army of Slovenian fans who made the trek across the border to Croatia.
This is his second GP Challenge win following his 2014 triumph in Lonigo, Italy. It’s also the second time he has booked his SGP spot in Gorican, having finished second in the 2012 GP Challenge there.
Zagar knows better than most how gruelling GP Challenges can be.
He said: “These meetings are always tough – we’ve seen it before. I have managed to win two now in my career.
“I think this is bigger than winning a GP. If you win a GP, that doesn’t give you a qualifying place for next year. It just gives you victory in one meeting. Winning this is big for me.”
Zagar is currently 12th in the World Championship on 37 points, while Iversen is 11th on 41. After an indifferent start to SGP 2019, he’s elated to have secured his place in the series for next year.
He said: “Like always, this is one of the toughest, most intense meetings of the year on all levels. You need to keep yourself together if you want to qualify; there is no room for mistakes.
“I’ve lost count how many times I have qualified through the Challenge, but it’s good. I am happy about it.
“It gives you less stress as you try to sort things out in the series for the last four GPs this year.
“It has been a tough year for me. I have struggled quite heavily on some occasions, but the last couple of weeks have been better. I feel better on the bike and I feel I have more speed. That’s starting to be reflected in my results.”
Fricke will make his full-time SGP debut in 2020, having served as this season’s second reserve, racing all but one of the opening six rounds to claim 13th spot in the standings on 36 points.
The Aussie international says taking third spot in Croatia will see him fulfil a childhood dream.
He said: “I’m super excited. It has always been a goal to be in the Grand Prix series as a full-time rider.
“When I was a kid and I first started watching speedway, it was the GPs. So it’s pretty awesome to see myself in it for next year.
“Hopefully I can get some stuff together during the off-season and put together a strong outfit for next year.”
GP CHALLENGE SCORES: 1 Matej Zagar 11+3, 2 Niels-Kristian Iversen 11+2, 3 Max Fricke 10+3, 4 Martin Vaculik 10+2, 5 Anders Thomsen 9, 6 Pontus Aspgren 9, 7 Jurica Pavlic 9, 8 Aleksandr Loktaev 9, 9 Kenneth Bjerre 8, 10 Martin Smolinski 7, 11 Craig Cook 6, 12 Peter Ljung 6, 13 Robert Lambert 5, 14 Mikkel Michelsen 5, 15 David Bellego 3, 16 Chris Harris 2, 17 Matic Ivacic DNR, 18 Norbert Magosi DNR.