10 THINGS WE HAVE LEARNED FROM THE MONSTER ENERGY SON
SpeedwayGP.com editor Paul Burbidge picks out 10 things we have learned from the first two Monster Energy FIM Speedway of Nations seasons.
19 / 04 / 2020, 12:53
The Monster Energy FIM Speedway of Nations is just two seasons old and has made the international speedway scene more competitive than ever.
SpeedwayGP.com editor Paul Burbidge picks out 10 things we have learned from the first two editions of the ultimate test in team riding.
1. Russian stars pair-fect for SON
With world No.3 Emil Sayfutdinov and brothers Artem and Grigory Laguta in their ranks, Russia was never far away from FIM Speedway World Cup glory.
But switching the four-team tournament for the Monster Energy SON’s pairs format has helped their emergence as world-beaters.
Sayfutdinov and Artem Laguta combined to land the nation’s first senior world title of any kind in 2018. Then they repeated the trick on home shale in Togliatti last summer.
With the added scoring support of shooting star Gleb Chugunov, who hails from Sayfutdinov’s home city of Salavat, they’ll take some beating again when the competition returns in the autumn.
2. The champagne tastes even sweeter at home
If Russia’s achievements at Wroclaw in 2018 saw them go down in history, winning the Monster Energy SON trophy in their homeland last year was even more special.
Like in 2018, Russia finished second on the Final scorechart over two days, with Poland progressing straight through to the Grand Final.
But when it mattered most, Sayfutdinov and Laguta scorched from the starts and the volume in the Anatoly Stepanov Stadium stands reached ear-splitting levels as they left Bartosz Zmarzlik and Patryk Dudek trailing to bring home the gold medals on Russian speedway’s greatest night.
3. GB fans can dream again
Great Britain’s 2019 campaign was ruined by injuries. With triple world champion Tai Woffinden ruled out of the Final with a back injury, they were already up against it. So a collision between Craig Cook and Robert Lambert in their opening race of the Togliatti showdown was an absolute disaster.
But that unfortunate weekend cannot take the shine off what GB continues to achieve on and off the shale. Their fans got the chance to dream of a first world title since 1989 when Woffinden and Lambert inspired the Lions to the top of the scorechart in the 2018 Final over two days.
While they were agonisingly denied by Russia in the Grand Final, a silver medal in such a competitive event proves huge progress has been made.
With GB stars being given help on everything from fitness and nutrition to psychology and logistics, the Lions have never been better prepared to roar to victory this year.
4. Selfless Swede Peter Ljung gives a tactical masterclass
Speedway riders may be paid by the point in individual and league competitions, but it’s all about teamwork in the Monster Energy SON.
No-one underlined that more than Swedish star Peter Ljung when he made the incredibly brave and selfless decision to hand Freddie Lindgren the inside gate for all of their races in Race Off 1 at Landshut last year.
The FIM Speedway Grand Prix regular was quite happy to take his chances from the outside for some of the heats, but Ljung believed Lindgren was the man to bring home the heat wins.
He brought home six of them on his way to an 18-point maximum, with Ljung scrapping his way to six and under-21 reserve Filip Hjelmland adding one.
While the score might suggest Lindgren did the heavy lifting, Ljung taking the strain of starting from the worst gates meant it was a true team effort.
5. Plenty of promise for the Aussies
Australia may have missed out on their first world team title since 2002 last summer, but their bronze medal in the 2019 Monster Energy SON Final suggests the golden days could return.
A huge 16 points from Jason Doyle led them to victory by a point on day one in Togliatti. But he couldn’t have done it without five from Max Fricke and two from Jaimon Lidsey, who joined JD for a 5-1 against the Germans in heat eight.
They weren’t quite able to top the standings after day two and then deny Russia a Grand Final berth. But with Fricke joining Doyle as a full-time SGP star, 2012 world champion Chris Holder waiting in the wings and Lidsey still eligible to race as an under-21, they may fancy their chances in Manchester – a track a team with vast British league experience will know very well.
6. Have plenty in reserve
Having a strong under-21 who can come into the line-up and take on the sport’s biggest names makes a huge difference.
Great Britain has proved that with Lambert, who nearly helped them to gold in 2018. The King’s Lynn hero’s selection at under-21 effectively gave the Brits three seniors in the side.
They will be hoping Dan Bewley works the same magic this summer, with Lambert now out of the under-21 ranks. The likes of Russian racer Chugunov, Polish star Dominik Kubera and Aussie ace Lidsey could also prove pivotal.
One of the unsung heroes of last year’s Final was Denmark’s Frederik Jakobsen. With Niels-Kristian Iversen enduring a painful weekend after a collision with Laguta, Jakobsen stepped up to score nine points over the two days as the Danes finished fourth. While he’s now too old for the junior job, he’s certainly one of their senior stars of tomorrow.
7. GB can win in Poland
For so many years, Britain’s top riders struggled to find the speed needed to match Poland’s finest in their own back yard.
Woffinden has ended that drought, though, and Lambert joined him in showing the Brits could beat the Poles in Poland as they landed a 5-1 and a 4-2 over the hosts at the 2018 Final in Wroclaw.
This was a seismic result for a nation that so often wrote off its chances on Poland’s big, fast tracks. While the Poles dominated the injury-ravaged Lions with two 5-1s in Togliatti, a fit GB team will be determined to show their class on a Manchester track, which both teams will love.
8. Milik gives Czechs a chance
If the Czech Republic doesn’t make a Monster Energy SON Final anytime soon, it won’t be down to a lack of points from Vaclav Milik.
He carried his nation’s fight in incredible style at Race Off 1 in Landshut last year, scoring 16 of their 19 points as they finished fourth – only Lindgren had a better night as an individual.
If Milik reaches his huge potential, he has every chance of becoming his country’s next SGP star. He’s definitely vital to their hopes of reaching a Monster Energy SON Final.
9. Expect the unexpected
While the same seven nations have qualified for both Monster Energy SON Finals so far, they don’t face an easy ride to get there.
The competition has given other countries a platform to make their mark with riders like Czech ace Milik, Slovenia’s Matej Zagar and Latvia’s Andzejs Lebedevs frequently scoring well. France – who never qualified for the Speedway World Cup – now look firmly in contention for a Monster Energy SON Final spot with David Bellego and Dimitri Berge both impressing.
But the prize for the result which truly made jaws drop was the moment Finland’s Timo Lahti left then world champion Doyle trailing at 2018 Race Off 2 in Manchester. Lahti showed astonishing composure to keep JD in check for four laps to prove he was there to mix it with the best, not make up the numbers.
10. Poles getting closer to first SON gold
Poland ruled the SWC for over a decade – winning eight world titles in 13 seasons between 2005 and 2017.
They are yet to end their wait for a first Monster Energy SON gold medal after being denied by Russia, despite topping the qualifying table in the Togliatti Final. But with an extraordinary wealth of stars available to them, it’s surely a matter of when and not if their first title will be won.
World champion Bartosz Zmarzlik and Patryk Dudek would appear favourites to start after Maciej Janowski was left out of their pre-season squad due to a dispute over his withdrawal from a test match in October, although there’s nothing stopping Magic from being recalled.
With team manager Marek Cieslak coaching his country for one last time this year, it would be a fitting end to his international management career if he could add Monster Energy SON gold to one of the sport’s greatest coaching CVs.