Were you aware that New Zealand hosted a World Championship sporting event at the weekend? Yep; the opening round of the FIM (Federation Internationale de Motorsport) Speedway GP series for 2012 was raced at Western Springs Speedway in Auckland.
And what an outstanding success it was; 23,500 people backed the Springs on a glorious autumn afternoon to watch the cream of world speedway riders compete in the first round of a series that will take teams on a trip around the world. It was the first time for many years that a field of this quality had competed in New Zealand.
Much of the credit for Saturday's success must go to Auckland businessman and entrepreneur Bill Buckley, recent winner of the award for New Zealand Entrepreneur of the Year. Bill Buckley shuns the limelight generally, although his business Buckley Systems Limited is a significant sponsor both in motorsport and sailing. Many people will never have heard of him, so this profile from the Sunday Star-Times late last year might fill some gaps.
It is to be hoped that the SGP can be coaxed back to Auckland in 2013 and beyond. Many of the riders have commented on the warmth of the welcome here, and the lengths that organisers went to to make them feel welcome. This included a trip on Auckland Harbour in Buckley's yacht.
International interest in the SGP is huge, and the event is broadcast around the globe to places such as Poland, Sweden and Denmark, where speedway racing is a major sport. Events such as this do New Zealand's international profile no harm at all.
So it's a hearty congratulations to Bill Buckley and all those who put this event together. We had hoped to be there, but business commitments kept us at home this weekend. But if the event can become a regular fixture on the speedway calendar, we'll be there, for sure.
Postscript: Photographs courtesy of Barry Brown