'Five or six riders can challenge' - Speedway legend Tony Rickardsson excited for new Speedway Grand Prix season
All eyes will be on Gorican, Croatia for the first FIM Speedway Grand Prix of the year as the season kicks off on April 30. Ahead of the race, six-time former world Champion Rickardsson - the sport's first global ambassador - speaks to Eurosport to preview all the action. Watch the 2022 Speedway Grand Prix on discovery+.
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Excitement is building ahead the new season and the Swedish legend spoke to Eurosport to look ahead to all the action, as well as what to expect between now and the season climax in November.
‘The whole field is exciting to watch’
Ahead of the first race in Gorican, Rickardsson believes that fans are in for a hugely competitive series, with a number of riders capable of making a push for the title.
“Well, I think when you put all the best riders in the world together, at one race, it always makes it a little bit extra competitive. And it's always a great for us to see who's going to take the lead in the world championship for the year.
“The whole field is always exciting to watch. Especially to see what they do at the top, of course, I would hold [Bartosz] Zmarzlik as a very strong favourite for this title this year.
“But then there are another, let's say five to six riders who can challenge for the world title, but also the fight for the top three positions is going to be very, very tight this year.”
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Asked to pick an overall winner, however, Rickardsson couldn’t look beyond Polish rider Bartosz Zmarzlik. The 27-year-old became Poland’s first SGP world champion in 2019 and retained his title the following year.
He narrowly missed out making it three in a row in 2021 after finishing second to Arten Laguta by just three points.
Rickardsson is backing Zmarzlik to recapture the title this year but insists he will have fierce competition from several riders in the field, including English three-time champion Tai Woffinden.
“I hold Zmarzlik as my strong favourite for the title this year, but who's going to challenging him? There will be five, six riders from the top six, seven positions from last year who can challenge but he is a very strong favourite.
“Anybody else will need to put the absolute best performances together in a lot of Grand Prix rounds to be able to challenge and who that will be? I don't know.
“It’s a long season. It's so important to have a very high standard when you're not performing at your best and when you do have your best days, you need to be up there in the top three.
“I hold Tai Woffinden as one of the absolute best riders in the world. When he is riding good he is as good as much Zmarzlik or anybody. He just needs to do it more consistently.”
The FIM’s decision to ban Russian riders from this year’s competition in the wake to ongoing conflict in Ukraine means that defending champion Artem Laguta and two-time bronze medallist Emil Sayfutdinov will both be absent.
Rickardsson ultimately understands the reasoning behind the decision, but still retains some sympathy for the riders involved.
“Probably will be the first time in the history I believe[the a world champion can’t defend his title], but yeah, that's a really tough one. Not only the world number one but also the world number three is not in the competition this year, which is really, really sad.
“Of course, it's really sad to see what's happening around in the world and I'm personally very sad for the Russian riders that they are not able to compete in the championship.”
Poland's Bartosz Zmarzlik (front) celebrates winning ahead of second placed Russia's Artem Laguta (back R) and third placed Sweden's Fredrik Lindgren after the 2021 Swedish FIM Speedway Grand Prix Round 7 at G&B Arena in Malilla, Sweden on August 14, 2021
Image credit: Getty Images
‘They can put everything on the line’
One of the more interesting factors in SGP is the inclusion of the wild cards for each Grand Prix and Rickardsson says these riders can have an huge impact in individual races if not the overall championship.
“Well, if we go back historically, you know, some of the wildcards do extremely well. They don't have the same pressure of being involved in a quite tough Grand Prix series over a whole season.
“Wildcards can go in and just pull all the plugs and go in there with no ‘restrictions’ that they need to not get injured or anything, they can just go in there and put everything on the line for one night.
“They can do really well and, although it doesn’t happen often, wild cards can win a Grand Prix even if they are not competing in the whole Grand Prix series, so they can play a part. And they will during the year.”
‘It might be his year’
Although he remains the joint most successful rider in history with six world titles contributing to Sweden’s 14 wins in total, Rickardsson’s victory in 2005 is the last time someone from the Scandinavian nation topped the podium.
This year, Frederik Lingren is the only Swede competing in SGP and after finishing third in 2018 and 2020, as well as joint fourth in 2021, should be among the favourites to challenge this time around.
However, the 36-year-old has had a lengthy battle with long Covid and needed to take some time out at the end of last year to fully recover.
Rickardsson says his compatriot might finally be ready to take the top prize this time around.
“Freddie has really upped his game over the years, we have had some tough seasons and tough crashes.
“I think he just needed that little bit of extra break to get through to be able to challenging Zmarzlik. But it may be his year this year.
“It's not only from crashes, but also from the Covid has been suffering from that. But who knows it's maybe it’s his year!”
The 2022 Speedway Grand Prix will be available live and ad-free on discovery+ with live race action also on Eurosport 2.