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Gotland Grand National targeting new site in Hejdeby

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Credit: Future7Media

After forty years, the Gotland Grand National has found a new home in the socken of Hejdeby. The bid to host the race in October still needs to be formally approved by the County Administrative Council, though organiser Nordic Sports & Entertainment expects them to sign off as other parties, including the Swedish Armed Forces, have done the same.

The world’s largest enduro race took place at the Tofta shooting range, primarily used for tanks and other military vehicles, from the inaugural edition in 1984 to 2023. When NSE attempted to renew their lease beyond 2023, the military denied it as they needed the area to train troops regularly. This came on the heels of Sweden’s increasing defence spending amidst the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, while the country recently joined NATO in March.

The island of Gotland was demilitarised in 2005, but units returned a decade later following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Gotland is situated at the centre of the Baltic Sea, with Sweden to its west and friendly Baltic states eastward but also the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad—a warm-water home for the Baltic Fleet—to the south. Last month, American and Polish troops joined their Swedish allies on Gotland for NATO’s annual BALTOPS exercsie.

With Tofta unavailable but the economic benefits of such a massive event for Gotland obvious, NSE hoped to find a different location on the island and turned to Hejdeby. The socken (basically Sweden’s version of a county) is situated more inland than Tofta.

Credit: Nordic Sport & Event

The County Administrative Board ruled in March that a delimitation consultation was required to ensure racing in Hejdeby would not endanger the ecosystem. NSE conducted one in May with the help of the Gotland Museum, engineering firm Sweco, and environmental experts Mikael Norén and Nils Ryrholm. The Swedish Armed Forces, government agencies like the Swedish Transport Administration, Police, and Forestry Agency, and island entities such as the Gotland Energy Board and Gotland Botanical Society were also approached for input. In early June, the company and Sweco co-produced a 265-page Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to outline the course and effects on the surrounding area.

Hejdeby is smaller than Tofta’s 500 hectares, meaning NSE had to approach nineteen landowners to get the green light. The roughly 25-kilometre track will be northeast of the Ölbäck nature reserve, which has rare lichen species, while medieval churches and other historical sites are about 800 metres south; there are also natural wetlands and protected water reserves nearby. The mountain bike race will take place over a ten-km circuit.

“When NSE received the message from the Swedish Armed Forces on 28 August 2023 that they can no longer remain at Tofta shooting range, the investigation of possible alternative locations on Gotland began,” reads a statement from the EIA. “Gotland is that area which has been investigated to find a new location, this because it is tradition that the competition is held here and that it contributes to income for business on the island. The venue for the competition needs to be able to meet the expectations of a competition like GGN.”

According to NSE, all of the aforementioned agencies have since given their thumbs up, leaving the County Board as the last party to do the same. Construction will begin at the start of August.

The 2024 GGN is scheduled for 24–26 October; the mountain bike race will be on the first day followed by motorcycles the next two. Over 1,100 have already registered for the race. Three-time winner Albin Elowson is the defending champion after claiming the final two editions at Tofta.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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