Speedway World Championship
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The World Championship of Speedway is an international competition between the highest-ranked motorcycle speedway riders of the world. Today, it is organised as a series of Speedway Grand Prix events, where points are awarded according to performance in the event and tallied up at the end of each season. However, up to 1995, it used to be organised as a single-night event, with qualifying rounds leading up to a big final with five heats, where points were awarded according to place in the heat and then tallied up at the end.
1936 to 1954 
With minor modifications, the general system stayed the same from the first championship. There were initial qualifying rounds, where the riders raced in heats of four to score points against each other (3 for first place, 2 for second place, 1 for third place). The final qualifying round was called the Championship Round, and it consisted of seven to ten meetings, though no one participated in all of them. The 16 who scored the most points then qualified for the World Championship Final at Wembley, where the heat system was again used - this time with a total of 20 heats of four riders, each rider racing five heats, and every rider meeting each other at some point during the competition. The same points system was used, and the rider with the most points won. From 1936 to 1938 bonus points were carried over from the Championship Round. This was scrapped when the World Championship resumed after the War in 1949.
1955 to 1994 
In 1955, the World final organisers recognised that it was no longer practical for the foreigners to travel to the Championship round races in Britain, and so a system with zonal qualification races were invented. The Nordic countries Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway had their own qualifiers, Austria, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia had the "continental" qualifiers, and the best riders met for European Championships - all organised in roughly the same way as the World final was before. The Championship Round for British, American, Australian and New Zealand racers, however, was kept until 1964, when the same qualifier system was implemented there. From these two competitions, a certain amount then qualified for the World final, which was organised in the same way as before. The quotas from each nation/continent varied from year to year, generally depending on what nation hosted the championship, and the divisions could also vary (an intercontinental final between English-speaking and Nordic countries was in use from 1972 to 1990, for example).
1995 to date 
Gradually, it became apparent that the single-night event was getting obsolete, and a Grand Prix series similar to that used in Formula One and MotoGP was implemented in 1995 - while the system with qualifiers and a final was now used to qualify riders for the next Grand Prix series. Initially, there were six races, in Poland, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Great Britain. The old system with everyone racing each other was still used, however, except that the four best riders qualified for a final heat which would determine who won the individual event (and score maximum points). Points were awarded as follows:
- 25 for the winner, then 20, 18, 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 9, 8, 7, 6, 4, 3, 2, and 1 for 16th
This system was used until 1998, when FIM invented another system. Instead of 16 riders racing for points and trying to qualify for a final, there would now be 24 riders, divided into two classes. The eight best would be directly qualified for the so-called Main Event, while the sixteen others would be knocked out if they finished out of the top two in 4-man heats on two occasions - while they would go through if they finished inside the top two on two occasions. This resulted in 10 heats, where eight proceeded to the Main Event, where exactly the same system was applied to give eight riders to a semi-final. The semi-finals were then two heats of four, where the top two qualified for a final and the others raced off in a consolation final. This system meant that the point system had to be revised, with 5th place getting 15 points, 6th 14, 8th 10, and after that 8, 8, 7, 7, etc. Places after 8th place were awarded according to the time a rider was knocked out and, secondly, according to position in the last heat he rode in.
This system went largely unchanged until 2004, although the number of GP races expanded to ten in 2002 and then back to 9 in 2003 and 2004. However, the system was viewed by many as too complicated, and for the 2005 Speedway Grand Prix season the system used from 1995 to 1997 was back, but with one minor modification; points gained in the heats would now count for the aggregate standings, and the top eight riders would qualify for two semi-final heats, just like the 1998-2004 system.
Humble beginnings 
The British pride themselves on inventing the World Championship, having hosted the first fifteen - all in Wembley Stadium. These were from 1936, when Australian Lionel Van Praag won the title, to 1938 and from 1949 to 1960. 1937 saw Americans Jack Milne, Wilbur Lamoreaux and Cordy Milne swept the podium for the First win for America and the only time Riders from one country took all 3 top positions. Commonwealth countries dominated, with the UK, Australia and New Zealand taking four titles each up to 1959. The first non-English-speaking victor came in 1956, when the Swede Ove Fundin won the first of his five titles. The late 1950s and 1960s were dominated by Fundin along with the two New Zealanders Ronnie Moore (two titles) and Barry Briggs (four titles), and Englishman Peter Craven (two titles).
Mauger's era 
Then, at the 1966 World Championship in Gothenburg Ivan Mauger, a 26-year-old New Zealander who had had a slow breakthrough in British league speedway, made his debut. He finished fourth, but won two out of five races, and showed potential by winning the European final (without Swedes) at Wembley. And he lived up to it. He raced until the age of 39, winning six World titles, including three in a row from 1968 to 1970 - including nine successive races in finals events. After 1970, though, he showed himself to be more human, as Ole Olsen took over - winning in Göteborg in 1971 and eventually taking three titles. However, Mauger had the last laugh of the two - winning the last final that they both competed in, at Chorzów in 1979, when he scored 14 out of 15 possible points to win the final ahead of Pole Zenon Plech.
Danes take over 
After Bruce Penhall won twice in 1981 and 1982 - the latter being the first and only time a World Championship race has been hosted in the United States, in Los Angeles - it was time for Denmark to ascend the world control of speedway. Earlier on, only Ole Olsen had won World titles, in 1971, 1975 and 1978, but a new generation was growing up, led by Erik Gundersen and Hans Nielsen who occupied the first two places at Gothenburg in 1984. And, in fact, there were two Danes on top of the table in each and every World final from 1984 to 1988 - a somewhat extraordinary record. Gundersen and Nielsen took three titles each as the Danes won six successive and seven out of eight titles from 1984 to 1991. However, the retirement of Gundersen in 1989, followed by Gary Havelock in 1992, both prematurely because of serious injuries, weakened Danish speedway somewhat, as only Nielsen held the class required to win the World Championship. He did in 1995 - scoring 103 points and winning one of six races (fellow Dane Tommy Knudsen actually won two, but was too inconsistent and finished tenth), fifteen points more than his nearest opponent. He was pipped to the title by two points by Billy Hamill in 1996, and although he continued racing till 1999, he never threatened the top.
Speedway Grand Prix 
Instead, it was Sweden - represented by Tony Rickardsson, the 1994 champion - who took over. Rickardsson won four titles from 1998 to 2002, only interrupted by Mark Loram in 2000. Although Dane Nicki Pedersen and Australian Jason Crump won in 2003 and 2004, Rickardsson was hampered by injury and unlucky draws through many of the Grand Prix races, and was often in contention for the title. The 2005 Speedway Grand Prix series, however, saw Rickardsson return, taking his sixth victory to equal the record of Ivan Mauger. The 2006 Grand Prix was again won by Jason Crump who amassed a total of 188 points to lead the field throughout the championship. Rickardsson announced his retirement from the sport half way through the 2006 campaign. In 2007, Nicki Pedersen once again regained the title he first won in 2003, with a total of 196 points, while Leigh Adams finished his nearest rival on 153. Nicki Pedersen won the 2008 series for a third time, while Jason Crump picked up the silver medal, and Pole Thomasz Gollob finished third.
Table of winners 
See also