It is safe to say that 2022 was a very, very good year for Ice Speedway racer Martin Haarahiltunen.
After lifting the Swedish National Championship in March he then triumphed one day later in the hotly-contested Nordic Final, but both these achievements were eclipsed at the start of April in the Netherlands where the speedy Swede raced to his nation’s first FIM Ice Speedway Gladiators World Championship in twenty years.
“I wasn’t planning on going full throttle last season,” he explained “I just wanted to get back into riding after an elbow injury. It took a long time to recover. I just wanted to go back and find my rhythm and feel on the bike.
“I was just doing my thing and was very relaxed in every event and things were going pretty well. After the Swedish Championships and the Nordic Final I felt great, I felt very strong. When I got to the Netherlands I knew that I could beat everyone and that I could be the best on both days. So I just focused on that and it turned out pretty well.”
Heading into the Thialf Stadium in Heerenveen, Johann Weber was the hot tip for the title following the opening round in Togliatti.
Haarahiltunen was not about to give up and victory on the opening night brought him to within nine points of Weber, but with just six races left to decide the final destination of the coveted FIM gold medal the advantage was still firmly with the German.
Haarahiltunen knew that the odds were stacked against him – in fact, only a near faultless performance would be good enough to give him even the slightest chance of overturning the deficit.
The championship’s final afternoon of action started well for the swift Swede who, fully recovered from his injuries of 2021, claimed victory in his first two heats.
A third win followed in heat three, but Weber’s title bid was derailed after he fell in his third heat and was then unable to make the two-minute deadline for the restarted heat fifteen which put him out of the final.
Haarahiltunen looked every inch the champion-elect when he stormed to victory in heats thirteen and seventeen and he completed his incredible comeback with a win in the final race of the championship to take the title.
“You have to be very, very concentrated while driving,” said Haarahiltunen. “This is the most important and you also have to be a bit crazy. When I’m racing I feel like I’m at one with the bike. I am focused on which path I will take on the track and if I’m leading I focus on finding a good line and following it as fast as possible.”
The bad news for rival riders queuing up to take his crown is that Haarahiltunen is determined to make 2023 equally as successful as last season.
“I will defend all titles. That’s my goal. It will be difficult, but I will try my best. I will work even harder to do that.”
Following the Qualifying round tomorrow Saturday 28 January at Örnsköldsvik in Sweden – which as a seeded rider Haarahiltunen will not contest – the 2023 FIM Ice Speedway Gladiators Championship will be decided at Inzell in Germany on 18-19 March.
Qualifying will start at 12H CET Saturday 28 January. Follow the Live Results HERE