New Zealand's overdue for another world champion solo speedway racer, writes Eric Thompson
New Zealand has one of the best world solo speedway championship records.
Since solo speedway became an International Motorcycling Federation (FIM) world championship in 1936, three New Zealand riders have won 12 world titles - Ivan Mauger (six), Ronnie Moore (two) and Barry Briggs (four).
Nine Kiwis in all have made it to the world finals and while New Zealand hasn't produced a winning rider lately, Western Springs Speedway made up for it at the opening round of the FIM Speedway Grand Prix last year. It was the first time a world championship solo speedway event had visited the Southern Hemisphere since 2002 and that was in Australia.
Last year, all the riders had only praise for the track, facilities and the crowd. Defending champion Chris Holder didn't get his season off to a good start last year but made up for it during the season to become the youngest world champion at 25. The Aussie is looking for a bit of redemption this time around and can't wait to get out on the track having finished 12th in the 16-man field in 2012.
"Last year my girlfriend was ready to have our first baby and the meeting didn't go how I wanted it," said Holder. "I got back to Europe and met my little fella and the season just got better and better.
"The track here is awesome and I'm looking forward to having a better night. I want a good result so I don't have to talk about that old one.
"It's tough these days and hard to stay in the 16 [only 16 riders contest the world series] and you need to get a good start to the season. If you drop out of the top eight you have to qualify all over again to get back in. There's so much talent out there now you have to be on your game all the time."
Someone who knows a thing or two about solo speedway, and New Zealand, is three-time former champion Ole Olsen and long-time combatant of Kiwi legend Ivan Mauger. Olsen is now the FIM speedway director of sports and loves coming back to New Zealand.
"I'm very pleased and thrilled about being able to come back to Western Springs after the success of last year," said Olsen. "Until last year, it had been a long time since I was racing here [1970s and 80s]. The track is still very similar but we have to put a new surface on it for the bikes."
New Zealand has only one rider competing at the elite level in Europe, Ricky Wells, who rides for the UK's Sheffield club and was the US under-21 champion in 2007 and 2008 and the AMA champion in 2009.
"I can remember racing in Gisborne, Napier and Templeton. Western Springs has a great history in the sport and to get more Kiwi youngsters to get into the sport they need to open all those tracks up and get going again," said Olsen. "You'll then get a lot more riders doing well like you did in the 1960s and 70s."