Defending champion Martin Haarahiltunen retained his FIM Ice Speedway World Championship title on a dramatic afternoon of racing at the Thialf Ice Stadium at Heerenveen in the Netherlands and in the process completed his hat-trick of crowns on a day when crashes and mechanical issues proved pivotal.

It could have been an anti-climax after the three medal positions were decided in advance of the Grand Final, but veteran Swede Stefan Svensson – at sixty-five the oldest competitor in the field – provided a fairy tale finish to the 2024 series when, in what he assured fans was his last ever top-flight competition, he raced to his first victory at this level since 1999.

I’m so happy,” said Haarahiltunen, whose 2024 preparations were badly affected by a pre-season injury that kept him off a motorcycle until days before last month’s opening Final at Inzell. “It has been a hard season for me. Before [the championship] I was looking at the riders I would be racing against and I knew it was going to be tough. I think this was the hardest season for me.

In the end the Grand Final was purely for personal glory after Haarahiltunen’s main title rival Max Niedermaier from Germany – who trailed the Swede by four points at the start of the day – failed to make the top four, but there was even more drama when the defending champion punctured into the opening turn and crashed, causing his compatriot Jimmy Olsén and Finland’s Heikki Huusko to also fall.

With the title already secured, Haarahiltunen’s subsequent disqualification was of no importance and from the restart Svensson took the lead from Olsén in turn three on the opening lap before soaking up race-long pressure to claim an historic and emotional victory with Huusko – in his debut FIM World Championship season – taking third.

After struggling in yesterday’s Heat races, Haarahiltunen got his day off to a winning start along with Huusko, his fellow Finn Max Koivula and Austrian wild card Charly Ebner, but Niedermaier – who swept all five of his Heats on Saturday night – could only manage third.

Victory in his second Heat dragged Niedermaier into contention in fifth as the pendulum swung back in his favour when Haarahiltunen crashed, leaving the unbeaten Huusko and Koivula on top, but it was all-change following the third block of racing. His second victory of the afternoon saw Olsén join Koivula at the front and Niedermaier advanced to third with a win, two points clear of Haarahiltunen who was suffering clutch problems back in seventh after following Svensson across the line in his third Heat.

The turning point came in the fourth block of Heats when Niedermaier, racing his favoured outside lines, found himself with nowhere to go when he hit a rut and crashed into the bales. Haarahiltunen, meanwhile, picked up his second win of the programme to advance to fifth before booking his place in the Grand Final with a third victory of the afternoon in his final Heat.

Niedermaier did everything possible with a win in his fifth Heat, but matters were out of his hands and when Huusko won the last Heat of the programme the German was out of the Grand Final by a single point and the title was Haarahiltunen’s for the third consecutive time with Niedermaier taking silver and Huusko bronze.

All four days of racing from both Finals in Inzell and Heerenveen are available to watch on fim-moto-tv.