This is a consequence of Brexit. As conspicuous and divisive as that issue was (it took the pandemic to hoof it off the headlines), the long, drawn-out and fractious negotiation process passed over Wajtknecht.
“I didn’t really take much notice of Brexit to be honest, I got fed up with hearing about it,” he admits. “So I didn’t really know what it was.
“There is someone I can speak to at the ACU who can point me in the right direction. But because nobody is going away much at the minute, they’re not having much feedback with sports because nothing is really running.
“So once everything is up and running again, I want to be nailed on; you don’t want to get over there and get pulled over and get asked, ‘what’s this doing here?’ I’d like it all done and accounted for.
“It’s not the easiest thing planning a trip to the continent, it’s not plain sailing, organising everything, organising your time for the tunnel, dealing with the traffic to get there on time, and then having to get back in time for work on the Monday or Tuesday.
“The carnet has made it a little bit harder. Last year, it didn’t affect us, but it does now, and it is a bit of a headache.”
URPRISINGLY, Wajtknecht took time out from his speedway career in June, 2019, and concentrated on grass and longtrack.
He won the European Championship (regarded as grass’ unofficial world individual title), but the lockdown/shutdown of sport last year meant that when the time came to defend the crown in Tayac, France, he was neither race fit nor prepared for such a tough meeting. Thus, he didn’t ride and Mathieu Tresarrieu won.
“That was the first meeting they were going to run,” he points out. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to happen, or whether the meeting was going to be run with everything that was going on, so in the end I decided to give it a miss. I was a bit more interested in doing the World Longtrack rounds because I knew that was going ahead. So I thought, ‘well, is it going to be worth the time with me having no practice and stuff?’
“I had practised before for the World Longtrack meetings and that was after the European Championship, but I had none for the European Championship at all. First meeting, new bike, no practice, I didn’t want to go and have problems. You need to have some practice before a big meeting like that, iron out a few issues and test an engine.
“It was a long way to go when you’re cold to have a big issue with your bikes. It would have been a good meeting to race in and try to retain it, but I was happy to be competing in the World Longtrack.”
England. We’ve got the British Masters, which is more professional, and a few other meetings, but to do well in the longtrack you need to be racing abroad quite a lot.
“It’s a tough one really because it’s never going to be as it used to be when they had Simon Wigg in it and big crowds. It’s not going to be as professional as the Speedway Grand Prix. The speedway scene in Poland is quite big so they are always going to have a lot of coverage for it. By holding a longtrack GP there, they hope to interest more riders – I think that’s what they’re trying to do.”
NTRIGUINGLY, his victory in the European Grasstrack Championship and his performances in the longtrack were achieved mounted on a GTR engine.
After Freddie Lindgren had that impressive season for Wolves and then won the 2017 Grand Prix in Warsaw on board the Swiss engine, the motor faded quickly from the sport.
Even Tai Woffinden racing it in some challenge matches for Wroclaw at the start of 2019 couldn’t revive its fortunes.
Marcel Gerhard is the man behind the GTR and he won the 1992 World Longtrack Championship, so maybe his talents are better suited to a discipline in which he made his name as a racer.
With its higher speeds, longtrack has often served as a testing ground for components before they’re implemented into its smaller oval cousin – they had the current silencer dialled in and in use long before speedway and its army of tuning wizards were able to get to grips with it. With a new main sponsor, ATPI, he’s reverted to GM for this season, but Wajtknecht’s success proves that the GTR is far from dead, as he explains.
“I have been riding them for a couple of years now. I just used them on the longtrack. We messaged Marcel and said that we’d like to go with you on the longtrack, the GTR. It’s his own engine, he knows what goes into it and stuff – he’s the tuner too.
“I used it for the European as well. We tried it and it seemed to work for what we were doing. I didn’t really have a long period using them in the World Longtrack because of Covid.
“It’s hard to tell the difference between the GTR and GM because they’ve all got to be 500cc, you’ve got the same exhaust and that in sound you can’t tell much difference. I was only riding GTR for those two years, I didn’t jump on anything else, so it was hard to compare on the longtrack.
“I had no problems and there are a few who are still using them. I don’t think we stuck with it long enough in England. But to build your own engine, it takes a lot of work, and he’s put in a lot of effort. You have to respect him for that. It would have been good if I was in a speedway team as well because I would have used the GTR in both.”
Wajtknecht was called up as a replacement for 2018 World Longtrack Champion Martin Smolinski, who had not recovered from his injuries in time. And because of the virus, the championship was shrunk to just a brace of rounds at Morizes in France and Rzeszow in Poland – the latter, measuring around 400 metres, is regarded as a speedway track rather than a longtrack circuit. Nevertheless, Zach finished fourth overall and guaranteed his place in this year’s competition.
“That was my first season in it and I did a few rounds the year before when I was the reserve rider,” he says.
“I came in when one of the riders was injured – substitute. I had a few good rounds. Then they put me down as the first substitute and Smolinski was injured, so I was called in.
“Unfortunately, it was just two meetings, but I had two fourth places so that worked out well for my first year. Obviously I haven’t got to qualify for this season, so I am in… sound!
• Zach, on the outside, during last year’s World Longtrack Challenge in Roden
“We had to have a Covid test before and we had to wear masks. It was set up that way to be safe and it was the only way we could get things going. It was worth it in the end. I know the masks are a bit of a pain, but if you can race it’s okay. We could walk around with our helmet on, so that wasn’t so bad.
“Rzeszow is not really a longtrack, but they needed one in Poland to try and get more interest over there,” Wajtknecht continued. “It was also the only place that could run the meeting because of what was going on with coronavirus, the restrictions, so we just had to get on with it.
“It was a bit different, a bit of a tricky one, but it went all right and they have a round this season as well. The speedway tracks in Poland are a bit bigger anyway, but you could only just fit the five longtrack bikes on there and the bikes are a bit longer. It’s a bit different to a 1,000-metre track.
“With longtrack it’s staged more abroad, it’s more grasstrack in
ACH’S decision to take a break from speedway was disappointing news for his supporters.
ZHe was having a tough start to his campaign, yet it’s easy to forget that he is still only 24-years-old and made rapid progress in those five years by winning the British Under-19 Championship and riding for Swindon in the Elite/Premiership league. A former FIM 250cc Youth Champion, it was a case of a bit too much, too soon.
“I’ve always wanted to ride speedway since I was a kid,” he says. “The way it went, it couldn’t have been much better. I joined the National League and did well after my first season, and then progressed through the Premier League, Elite and that.
“I had a good couple of years at Swindon. But I never really took a step back; everything went so fast, I never really had much time with my bikes to change anything.
“So it was better for me to take a break than to keep going when
20 speedway star April 10, 2021