What’s on this week

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - DAN LLOYD

The brake­less bikes ac­cel­er­ate as fast as a For­mula 1 car and one of the main events – the Bri­tish Grand Prix– at­tracts 40,000 spec­ta­tors. It’s sur­pris­ing, then, that speed­way re­mains a mi­nor­ity sport, es­pe­cially af­ter re­cent achieve­ments.

In Oc­to­ber, Tai Woffinden be­came the first Bri­tish three-time world cham­pion, while he and Robert Lam­bert took GB to sec­ond in the na­tions’ cup. At home, the top do­mes­tic league is ben­e­fit­ing from reg­u­lar BT Sport cov­er­age where it rubs shoul­ders with the World Rally Cham­pi­onship and Indycar. This led Autosport to the Pre­mier­ship play­off fi­nal at the Nor­folk Arena to see why speed­way is nip­ping at the heels of lead­ing mo­tor­sport series.

Much like top fuel drag rac­ing or a for­est rally stage, speed­way is some­thing you need to see live to fully ap­pre­ci­ate. The com­pact arena set­ting am­pli­fies the waspish buzz of the 500cc bikes along with the inim­itable whiff of methanol. Speed­way is easy to fol­low and has kept the same ba­sic for­mat since its 1930s nais­sance. Four riders – two from each team – race over four laps (tak­ing roughly a minute) with three, two and one-point scores awarded to the top three fin­ish­ers. A typ­i­cal league fix­ture is made up of 15 races and the team with the most ac­cu­mu­lated points wins.

Be­cause all points count, races are al­ways thrilling. Late-brak­ing lunges in F1 are ex­cit­ing enough but over­tak­ing in speed­way with­out brakes war­rants a to­tally dif­fer­ent level of com­mit­ment. Riders need to be pow­er­ful, coura­geous and bal­letic to master the shale, and as such their skillset is unique.

“One of the rea­sons I ad­mire them even more than F1 driv­ers is that speed­way riders don’t have the abil­ity of sim­u­la­tion,” says Robin Brun­dle, Kings Lynn Stars co­pro­moter and brother of Le Mans win­ner Martin. “It takes a cer­tain skill to do it.

They do 70 mph on a match­stick with no brakes, and to be a mil­lime­tre apart from each other is in­cred­i­ble.”

To take this raw­ness to the next level, speed­way is push­ing to be more spe­cialised. This year, Kings Lynn part­nered with the Uni­ver­sity of East Anglia to in­ject an ele­ment of sports science into its seven-per­son squad. The goal is to help con­di­tion the riders, most of whom are on the road all week rep­re­sent­ing mul­ti­ple clubs in the

UK, Poland, Swe­den and else­where. The phys­i­cal strains, which Brun­dle likens to a 400m sprinter run­ning seven Olympic


fi­nals in one night, are enor­mous.

“Com­ing from an F1 back­ground, there’s a lot of sports science there, and speed­way was just beg­ging to have some,” says the for­mer Lola di­rec­tor. “There was noth­ing writ­ten

[for speed­way] on the dy­nam­ics of the bod­ies, the mus­cle groups and nu­tri­tion. We’ve in­tro­duced those el­e­ments and it’s one of many in­gre­di­ents that’s gone into help­ing the guys have per­for­mance and stay as fit as they can.”

In the Pre­mier­ship fi­nal, the Stars were edged 92-88 on ag­gre­gate by the Poole Pi­rates af­ter com­ing ag­o­nis­ingly close to up­end­ing a 16-point first-leg deficit.

All that drama un­folded live on BT Sport and such ex­po­sure is vi­tal for speed­way’s broader reach. Kings Lynn, for ex­am­ple, had its av­er­age at­ten­dance triple to 1600 this year. So­cial me­dia is also be­ing no­ticed by clubs and proper en­gage­ment strate­gies are be­ing set up.

“It’s about shar­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing across all me­dia plat­forms,” says Brun­dle. “A con­tact of mine has ed­u­cated us on how to lever­age so­cial me­dia, what types of mes­sage to send and when. It’s paid div­i­dends be­cause we’ve got all sorts of gen­er­a­tions hooked in.”

Speed­way has al­ways de­liv­ered the on­track goods, but it’s now also de­vel­op­ing an off-track blue­print so it can re­ally flour­ish. And with clubs up and down the coun­try com­pet­ing in three na­tional leagues, this quirky yet ex­hil­a­rat­ing form of mo­tor­sport couldn’t be more ac­ces­si­ble.

BT Sport will be show­ing 18 Bri­tish Pre­mier­ship Speed­way meet­ings again in 2019. For more de­tails go to bt.com/sport

No brakes in speed­way means wheel-to-wheel ac­tion re­quires unique skillset

The 500cc bikes can hit 60mph from rest in un­der three sec­onds

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