Max Niedermaier raced to a hugely popular home win as the 2024 FIM Ice Speedway World Championship got off to a dramatic opening on day one of the first Final of the year at the Max Aicher Arena in Inzell in Germany today.

The winner of the Qualifying Round at Örnsköldsvik in Sweden in January, Niedermaier upset the formbook to take a last-gasp victory ahead of defending and two-time champion Martin Haarahiltunen with an audacious finish-line pass on the Swede who, apparently confident of victory, appeared to back off on the race to the chequered flag.

Having already tasted defeat once during the afternoon’s race programme – his first loss since he dominated the final round of 2022 – Haarahiltunen looked to have the win in his grasp as he exited the final turn of the Grand Final in the lead, only for Niedermaier to carry enough momentum to sweep around the outside in a move that had the partisan, capacity crowd on its feet.

It was a day of high drama in the seven-thousand-capacity indoor stadium with a series of big crashes as the world’s leading Ice Speedway riders pushed their limits as they contested the biggest prize in this spectacular sport. Riding methanol-burning, 500cc two-stroke machines, the extreme lean angles are only made possible thanks to spiked tyres with up to one-hundred-and-fifty spikes at the front and as many as two-hundred at the rear.

After winning his opening two Heats, Haarahiltunen caught a rut in his third outing on the quarter-mile circuit which was enough to drop him to third, but he responded with two more victories that saw him progress to the Grand Final on top tied on points with fast Finn Heikki Huusko.

It was looking like a familiar script for Haarahiltunen, who was unbeaten throughout the 2023 season, but after narrowly making the Grand Final as the lowest-scoring qualifier with three wins from his five Heats, Niedermaier had clearly not read the brief.

As Haarahiltunen raced to a seemingly inevitable win, Niedermaier went wide into the final turn and then slingshot his way around the back-to-back champion who momentarily lost focus in the run up to the line which allowed his rival to make the pass.

The podium was completed by series newcomer Huusko who impressed on his championship debut with three Heat wins before pushing his seasoned fifty-eight-year-old compatriot Aki Ala-Riihimäki, who was racing a radically designed motorcycle with a noticeably longer wheelbase, back to fourth in the Grand Final.

The focus now shifts to tomorrow’s second day of action at Inzell before the FIM Ice Speedway World Championship concludes with two days of racing at the Thialf Ice Stadium at Heerenveen in the Netherlands on 6-7 April.

To livestream all the action from day two at Inzell and both days at Heerenveen click here.