In it to win it!
The debate continues to rage about whether it is easier to become a world champion in today's GP format than it was in the old one off final. I think the answer must be that 'it all depends'.
Firstly, there is only one World Champion every year, so on average it must be as difficult to win now as it ever was. But for any one individual to win it in any one year, it must depend on which side of the fence they are sitting (literally). This year, there are a number of riders who have the ability to become World Champion, irrespective of the format, but some of who are not in the GP series. For these riders not in the running, it is not just more difficult than in the old format, it is impossible.
Hans Andersen is a good example of a rider who 'doesn't stand a chance' in 2006. However, he managed to demonstrate his credentials by winning the round at Copenhagen in which he appeared as a Wild Card. This is not the first time a Wild Card has won a round as Mark Loram managed it in the Swedish GP in 1999 and Martin Dugard pulled it off the following year at Coventry. In fact, Mark Loram nearly upset the apple cart completely in 1999 as he narrowly missing out on a top three place overall, despite his Wild Card status and having ridden one less round than most others. Mark demonstrated his ability the following year and deservedly became the first world champion of the new Millennium. These Wild Card upsets show that the best riders in the World are not necessarily those who line up in the GP Series as candidates to become World Champion.
Perhaps the most unfair aspect of the GP format is that in-form riders are not represented. Rather, qualification (if any) is for the following year when a rider's form might have dipped. Another reason why the GP line up is not necessarily the best in the world is that riders need to make a significant financial commitment before the season begins to participate in the GP Series. Many very good riders have declined to do so.
This all points to it being easier to win a World Championship in the current format, at least for those genuine candidates included in the GP series. But there is one other question. How much more competitive is World Championship Speedway now in comparison to years gone by and how many more genuine candidates are there? This is impossible to answer of course, but my feeling is that it has not changed much over the years. There seems always to have been a small number of riders who are clearly above the rest in World Championship terms and have dominated the rostrum positions. Today it might be Jason Crump, Nicki Pedersen, Greg Hancock and Tony Rickardsson. Years ago this might have been Erik Gunderesen, Hans Nielsen, Jan O Pedersen and Per Jonsson. Going back even further this might have been Barry Briggs, Ronnie Moore, Peter Craven and Ove Fundin. And so the list goes on.
One of the main reasons for the debate about whether it is easier to win a World Championship now centres on whether or not Tony Rickardsson can genuinely lay claim to being the greatest speedway rider ever. Well here is one statistic. Ove Fundin won his first world title in 1956 and his last 11 years later in 1967. Ivan Mauger won his first world title in 1968 and his last 11 years later in 1979. Tony Rickardsson won his first world title (in the old format) in 1994 and what looks to be his last 11 years later in 2005. Make of that what you will!
This article was first published on 3rd August 2006
"I have read Ken Nicholsons' remarks concerning the World Championship and whether it is easier to win under the present system. I have never attended a GP, notwithstanding the fact that I live just a few miles from Cardiff. I did, however, attend every UK held championship from the mid '60s onwards under the old system. What always struck me under the old system was that, notwithstanding the fact that there were perhaps a dozen riders present good enough to win, in fact probably no more than three of the contestants really stood a chance on any occasion. This was not primarily down to ability, but self belief, the will to win, and nerves. I strongly suspect that the same is true today, and that the degree of difficulty is about the same, as Ken implies. The main thing that has always worried me about the GP system is the fact, again raised by Ken, that the GP is a club for a limited number of last year's best riders. Perhaps, indeed, this years event should find the 2005 champion, not that for 2006! Of course, its all about money and, to be fair, perhaps the most consistent rider over the year does deserve the title. For me though, the excitement of being at Wembley or Bradford (or anywhere else) knowing that a champion will be crowned in twenty or so heats, and its all to play for, just isn't created by the GP system. My choice has got to be the best rider on the night, perhaps I am just old."
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