Grand Prix leader Greg Hancock has never lost his appetite for top-level racing, says Kelvin Tatum.
Last Updated: 27/07/12 3:01pm
The 2012 Speedway Grand Prix has reached its halfway point and most of the usual suspects are at the top of the standings.
I would have expected eighth-placed Andreas Jonsson to be further up the ladder as he finished last season in fine form, winning three of the final six Grands Prix, while Jaroslaw Hampel's injury woes mean he has not been able to keep pace with the leaders.
But it is no surprise that defending champion Greg Hancock, 2009 titlist Jason Crump and the talented Chris Holder occupy the first three places ahead of the seventh meet of the campaign in Croatia on Saturday.
Hancock, who also won this tournament in 1997, has never lost the hunger and will to win, which is quite admirable really when you consider he has featured in every Grand Prix since the competition's inception in 1995.
The American has got a very professional camp around him, is very steady on the track, has avoided serious injury and has plenty of big-time experience and all those factors combined have allowed him to perform at an extremely high level into his forties.
Crump, meanwhile, will be looking for a better display than the one he put up in Gorzow, Poland just over a month ago when he amassed just five points.
However, he will enter this meet with a broken collarbone, which he sustained while on duty for his Russian club side, Vladivostok.
The Australian has had an operation and is confident he will be able to ride successfully but there is definitely a question mark over him.
A collarbone injury makes you much less flexible on the bike and Crump will be hoping that the Gorican track is smooth - a rough surface will make it very demanding for him.
The 36-year-old could struggle to get a lorry-load of points and it may be a case of damage limitation for him.
Britain's Chris Harris has a good record at the Croatian venue - finishing second there for the last two years - but I think he is running out of time to save his Grand Prix career.
He rode brilliantly for Team GB in the World Cup qualifier in King's Lynn and needs to recapture that form quickly, as I sense that if he doesn't make the top eight, he may well miss out on a Grand Prix spot next term.
A top-eight place is still feasible for Harris, but as he currently sits in 15th, he must collect a hatful of points and possibly a rostrum finish in Croatia to kick-start his season.
Martin Vaculik, the replacement for the injured Hampel, won the Polish GP in terrific style but I think he will have done a good job if he gets to the semi-finals in Gorican.
I am also intrigued to see how this round's wild card entry, Jurica Pavlic, fares on a track that his family owns. The pressure could weigh on him somewhat but he has been in pretty good form of late for the Vastervik team in Sweden. If he keeps his head, I think he will make the top eight.
We have seen some demanding conditions in Gorican before as when the track gets hot it becomes quite patchy, but it is a small, fast, very circular course and represents a good challenge to the riders.
Hancock has a great record at this meeting and I think he will be there or thereabouts, as will Holder, while Harris may nick a podium spot - but I am only basing that on his history in Croatia, not on his current form.