The arrival of Spring signifies the end of the Ice Speedway season as temperature rises take their toll of the natural ice tracks and the indoor venues revert to their regular skating activities. It is time to take stock of another exciting season for the Gladiators!
After a series of qualifying rounds, the season opened in early February for the first of a series of two-day finals. Togliatti, home of the Lada car and one of the best purpose built stadiums in Europe, saw 2016 champion Dmitry Khomitsevich launch his bid to retain his title against strong opposition from his Russian colleagues and the young Swedish riders. Dmitry Koltakov had to work hard on a testing track with temperatures as low as minus 17 to emerge with a one-point lead over Khomitsevich. Local stars Daniil Ivanov, Igor Kononov and debutant Dinar Valeev filled the next three places but Harald Simon and Ove Ledström both paid visits to the local hospital after falling prey to the hard track surface.
One week later, Shadrinsk in the Kurgan Region of Russia greeted the Ice Race Gladiators on their first visit to the Torpedo Stadium with temperatures of minus 25 degrees! Here, Igor Kononov moved to within 5 points of the leaders after winning on both days while the two leaders Koltakov and Khomitsevich had a spectacular crash. Thankfully neither was injured, but young Swede Jimmy Olsen, having reached the semi finals, suffered an elbow injury that will sideline him for the rest of the series.
The logistics of moving men and machines over 2000km to the next venue in Kazakhstan was quite a challenge. They were met with heavy fog which caused the practice to be cancelled and the first day’s racing to be curtailed after 20 heats. Former champion Daniil Ivanov, whose front suspension collapsed in his first race, sat out the second day with an injured shoulder. His misfortune also affected Sweden’s Niclas Svensson, sidelined for the rest of the meeting after colliding with Ivanov’s bike on the track. Igor Kononov was again the winner on both days and closed the gap to within two points of leader Koltakov.
The series now moved to Berlin where the major talking point was the surprise return of Daniil Ivanov, who delayed surgery on his injured shoulder until the end of the season in order to pursue his quest for a medal. The hoped-for challenge from the Germans did not materialise: only veteran Günther Bauer has performed consistently through the series. At the top of the leader board Koltakov was now a clear favourite for the championship, beating Kononov three times as Khomitsevich slipped further behind.
After a four week break to accommodate the Ice Team Final, the competition visited its second new venue, the Thialf Stadium in Heerenveen, Netherlands, which provided exciting racing under cover and excellent spectator facilities. As anticipated, Koltakov secured his second world title with an unbeaten display over two days until an uncharacteristic fall whilst leading the final spoilt his maximum bid.
Ice Speedway is thought to have begun on the frozen lakes of Sweden but it is the Russians who have proved the masters of the sport over recent years. However, one of the highlights of the year was the emergence of the new breed of Gladiators who will be the future of the sport. Injuries curtailed the progress of Swedes Ledström, Svensson and Olsen to some degree, but the 19-year-old Russian, Dinar Valeev, greatly impressed on his debut season.
The riders and their teams have now returned to their homes, to their families and to a more regular routine, but before long they will be back in training for next year, back in the workshops to find new ways of improving their performance and looking ahead to another great year of Ice Speedway to come.
With another successful season behind them organisers and participants are already at work in planning the 2018 championships, which promise more thrills and spills.
Final Positions: 1. Dmitry Koltakov (Russia) 185 points 2. Igor Kononov (Russia) 170 3. Dmitry Khomitsevich (Russia) 154 4. Dinar Valeev (Russia) 135 5. Daniil Ivanov (Russia) 106 6. Franz Zorn (Austria) 104 7. Stefan Svensson (Sweden) 78 8. Günther Bauer (Germany) 66 9. Harald Simon (Austria) 53 10. Niclas Svensson (Sweden) 49
Here are some reactions from riders interviewed after the season:
World Champion - Dimitry Koltakov “There were no easy rounds, just as there are no cheap victories. The most difficult for me was perhaps the race in Almaty: all the weekend long I had fever and therefore it was more difficult for me to compete physically. The most remarkable moment for me was that feeling of victory when I became the World Champion in advance, after the fourth session in Heerenveen. I just remember the smiles and happy faces of my fans, those people who supported me, spectators, my team mates.”
Sixth - Franz Zorn “It was great to have more practice in the beginning of the season. In Stromsund I had very good training sessions. The weather was just perfect and we made 11 ice tracks on the lake. The easiest round was in Togliatti: organisation, ice preparation, everything was perfect for me. It was the first time for a long while that I’ve qualified into the Final heat. The most difficult for me was Heerenveen, as I got injured at the very beginning of the first day. A very special moment was when I met an old friend of mine, Valery Pertsev, who raced with us in the World Championship in the 1990s. It was a great to see him again!”
Eighth - Günther Bauer “I thought that the most difficult meeting was in Shadrinsk. It was not easy to find the set up for the bikes, possibly because of the extreme cold we faced there. The best races for me this season were Togliatti and Inzell. Shadrinsk was not easy at all. It’s a long way to drive, very cold but very good place for racing. I enjoyed that event. Speaking about Heerenveen, I can say that it’s the greatest venue I’ve ever ridden at. It’s really a big advantage to have this place in our calendar. Riding together with my son Luca was really exciting, I enjoyed it. It gave me so much power and motivation. I hope to meet him on the racetrack in future.”
Tenth - Niclas Svensson “My goal for next year is to be in the ISG Final Series again. Having all that experience with me, I’m sure I’ll do better next year, hopefully with fewer accidents! I’ll do my best to qualify into the final heats to be one of the top four. I aim to defend my Swedish championship title as well. I think that there were two highlights for me this year. First, that feeling of absolute joy when I got promoted into the Final series this year. Second, when I was finishing the last lap in the semi-final heat in Heerenveen, I was so close to getting to the final heat. I knew I was never that close to the final, and I felt that all my efforts, all the hard work done have paid off and I’ll take it with me next year! And racing with my father? I’m already used to meeting him on the racetrack. It’s never easy to compete with him, and he is hard to beat!”