The FIM Ice Speedway World Championship warms up next weekend in Togliatti when Finals 1 and 2 take place and 16 of the best ice racers in the world begin the competition for the 2022 title. Seven nations are represented in the line-up.

Holder Dinar Valeev begins the defence of his title and could be helped by the fact that a powerful opponent in former champion and multi medallist Daniil Ivanov will not be in the field. A serious injury in December when he suffered internal injuries and bruising during an individual meeting meant an early end to his season ruling him out of a place in this year’s championship.

Valeev too missed the start of his domestic season after injuring his left knee but has recently returned to race in domestic meetings. However, his form to date suggests that he may still be short of the race fitness required at this level of racing.

Despite Ivanov’s absence there is still strong competition from the remaining MFR squad. Dmitrii Khomitsevich, champion in 2016 and runner up in the qualifier in Sweden last month must be considered a contender along with Igor Kononov who has three silver medals in this competition. Three times world champion Dmitrii Koltakov cannot be ignored but most neutral observers will be closely watching the performance of Nikita Bogdanov making his debut this year. The 20-year-old has been the sensation of the season, winning his national title, the European championship and cruising through the qualifying round with an unbeaten 15 point maximum including a win over Khomitsevich. He also retained his national Under 21 title in Ufa this weekend as part of his build up for Togliatti. Strongly tipped as a star of the future it seems that he has arrived already.

Wild Card again will be Nikita Toloknov who rides on his home track and has been scoring well in domestic competition this year. He will have local knowledge and the support of his fans to help him prove that he is good enough to compete against the selected stars.

Veteran Franky Zorn won his first medal, a silver, as long ago as 2000 in Assen and was the last westerner to stand on the rostrum when he took third place in both the 2008 and 2009 world championships. An early season injury had limited his practice, but he is now back racing and took two rostrum places in Swedish individual meetings this weekend before leaving for Togliatti. A great ambassador for ice speedway he recently appeared in a video racing on ice against F1 World Champion Max Verstappen. Harald Simon is another with a wealth of experience which he will put to use here.

Missing from this year’s line-up will be the Svenssons, father Stefan who has not entered and son Niclas who was eliminated at the qualifying stage. However, Sweden still has a potential challenger in Martin Haarahiltunen who has shown his ability to challenge the eastern riders in recent seasons. He is joined by Ove Ledström whose appearances in the past have not shown his true ability at this level, but he clearly has the potential to move up in the rankings.

Finland’s Aki Ala-Riihimäki is another rider who could bring excitement to the racing. At 56 years of age, he is one of the senior competitors and his hard riding style may cost him some victories but if he can avoid accidents, he has the ability to cause an upset. Max Koivula will be Finland’s other representative having captured seventh place in the Örnsköldsvik qualifier. This will be his first year in the competition and his debut season will be followed with interest.

There will be no round in Germany this year but that country has two representatives in Franz Mayerbüchler, making his first appearance in the Finals after a last race drama in Örnsköldsvik where he came from fourth to first place in his last race to confirm his qualification. Johann Weber has been a regular at this level but will need to show more consistency if he is to make further progress.

Lukas Hutla was the last qualifier in Sweden and will be the only Czech representative. He has found it hard to improve on his early promise and will be looking to make progress this year.

With the series finals in Heerenveen the Dutch eyes will be focussed on popular Jasper Iwema. Better known for his Moto GP appearances he is still gaining experience on the ice but a training camp and some rides in the Swedish League have helped. A fractured collar bone collected at the European Championship has also caused him some problems and may affect his results this year as he continues to ride through the pain barrier.

After practice on Friday, racing in Togliatti starts at 16.00 (local time) on Saturday and 14.00 on Sunday. FIM Jury president is Oleg Zakharov and Referee Aleksandr Lyatosinskyy.

The starting list and draw have been announced and can be found HERE

FIM/Graham Brodie