Aussie trio ready for redemption The nine-round 2004 Speedway World Championship begins at the Olympic Stadium in Stockholm (Sweden) on Saturday, May 1, with Australia's challenge in the experienced hands of Leigh Adams, Jason Crump and ...
Aussie trio ready for redemption
The nine-round 2004 Speedway World Championship begins at the Olympic Stadium in Stockholm (Sweden) on Saturday, May 1, with Australia's challenge in the experienced hands of Leigh Adams, Jason Crump and Ryan Sullivan.
The fearsome Jawa-backed trio won five of the nine rounds in 2003 -- Crump and Sullivan were the only two riders to claim multiple victories -- but in the end had to acknowledge Danish rider Nicki Pedersen, who improved 11 spots on his 2002 result to clinch the world championship after a thrilling final round stoush with Crump.
Pedersen finished on 152pts, eight in advance of 28-year-old Crump, who collected his third runner-up position in as many years. Meanwhile, Adams finished fourth for the second successive season, and Sullivan ninth -- injury restricting the latter's campaign despite flashes of brilliance.
Now, after relaxing off-seasons back home in Australia -- although Sullivan did best Adams to clinch his maiden national title -- and solid starts to their 2004 domestic campaigns across UK, Poland and Sweden, the Aussie triumvirate remains supremely confident that 2004 will be a stellar year -- one which may see an antipodean crowned world champion for the first time since New Zealander Ivan Mauger in 1979. From an Australian perspective, the last world champion was Jack Young in 1952.
Adams, who turned 33 today, refuses to become disillusioned about his series of world championship near misses -- he's finished in the top 10 six times since 1997 -- citing the Pedersen 'experience' as one which gives him hope.
"Of course I am capable of winning the thing, but there are many variables that have to go your way," says the multiple Australian champion. "Nicki (Pedersen) came from nowhere to win it and proved that you don't need form on the board. I'll give it everything and see what happens."
Adams currently leads the individual averages in the UK Elite League from five-time world champion Tony Rickardsson and Crump.
Meanwhile, Adams' settled start to his 2004 program is in contrast to 29-year-old Sullivan, who has just agreed to terms to replace Rickardsson at UK league team Poole -- despite an initial plan to restrict himself to the Polish and Swedish leagues and the world championship. The change of tact -- partially brought on by internal problems with his Swedish team -- has meant a return to a UK base from Sweden, but Sullivan has since rediscovered the peerless form which saw him whitewash the Australian title in January this year.
Sullivan, for one, will enjoy a return to the 92-year-old Olympic Stadium in Stockholm on Saturday night, which was where he clinched the first of his two GP wins last year, making short work of Lukas Dryml, Adams and 1997 world champion Greg Hancock in the four-lap final. Sullivan also won the second Swedish outing in 2003 -- the Gothenburg-hosted round six.
Crump, whose father Phil finished third in the 1976 world title, is also a two-time winner of in Sweden, and probably still remains Australia's best bet to break Australia's 50-year speedway drought. With eight GP victories, Crump lies in joint second alongside Polish veteran Tomasz Gollob in the winning stakes since the world championship adopted a multi-round concept in 1995. Understandably, the indefatigable Rickardsson leads the way on 12 wins.
Despite his voracious race-winning appetite, the world title has continued to elude Crump. However, he refuses to dwell on past campaigns, and is again as upbeat as ever about his chances.
"To be honest, I've already forgotten about what happened in the final round last year," said Crump, the 1995 under 21 world champion. "As always, I'm just going to concentrate on doing my own thing in 2004, and time will tell whether that is good enough.
"I reckon you'll see the same old faces challenging for the championship this year -- although I probably said the same thing last year and left Pedersen out of the equation! However, I just can't see too many of the young guys taking the step up -- not just yet anyway."
A total of 11 current and former world champions will compete in this year's Speedway World Championship -- four from the current series and seven from the under 21 ranks. In addition to Rickardsson, Pedersen and Hancock, British rider Mark Loram completes the quartet of 'senior' winners still plying their trade, while Crump and Adams are among the legion of under 21 title holders in the championship.
Other riders to watch out for in 2004 will include Gollob, Scott Nicholls, Norwegian Rune Holta and Polish rider Piotr Protasiewicz.
Twenty-four riders will compete at each round of the 2004 championship -- 22 full-timers and two wildcards per outing. Of the permanent contingent, Denmark has now usurped Australia as the most represented country with four riders, while Sweden, Great Britain, Poland and the Czech Republic all join Australia on three.
Five Australians were incumbents in the 2003 title, with Todd Wiltshire and Jason Lyons completing the representation. Wiltshire has since retired after a farewell season in Australia, while Lyons continues to compete at a domestic level in Europe.