It is fast, furious, thrilling – and freezing. The 2023 FIM Ice Speedway Gladiators World Championship kicks off this coming Saturday with a Qualifying event at Örnsköldsvik in Sweden where eighteen sub-zero heroes will be fighting for a place in the finals in March.
Ice Speedway has been contested for almost one-hundred years, though it was not until the 1960s that its profile started to grow and an FIM World Championship was created with – for obvious reasons – racers from Sweden, Finland, Austria, Germany and other northern nations are the front runners in this discipline.
The machines are very similar to regular Speedway bikes, but stiffer frames and longer wheelbases make these methanol-burning, half-litre monsters unique – although the most obvious difference to onlookers are the rows of special steel spikes in the tyres with up to one-hundred-and-fifty at the front and as many as two hundred at the rear.
Swift Swede Martin Haarahiltunen, last year’s World Champion, is automatically seeded through to the finals at Inzell in Germany on 18-19 March, but the thirty-two-year-old will not be joined by his fierce rival Johann Weber from Germany who is injured.
Weber, who led into the final event of the 2022 competition before Haarahiltunen put together a six-race maximum to clinch his nation’s first FIM Ice Speedway Gladiators World Championship for twenty years, has been replaced by his compatriot Markus Jell.
With seven riders from last year’s top seventeen in action on Saturday there will be some new names fighting their way through to the finals, although one rider hoping to make the cut and qualify for Inzell is very well known to Ice Speedway fans.
At the age of fifty-two, Austria’s Franz Zorn is a veteran of the sport who this year celebrates his third decade racing Ice Speedway. World Championship runner-up in 2000, he also claimed back-to-back bronze medals in 2008 and 2009 and is a former European Champion.
It is too early to speculate which riders will emerge as challengers to Haarahiltunen’s title, however, expect the Czech Republic’s Lukas Hutla – who finished fourth in 2022 and narrowly missed out on a bronze medal – and last season’s fifth-placed rider Harald Simon from Austria to be in contention this Saturday.
Qualifying will start at 12H CET Saturday 28 January. Follow the Live Results HERE