VACULIK ADDS BJARNE PEDERSEN TO SGP TEAM

Slovak star Martin Vaculik hailed double FIM Speedway World Cup winner Bjarne Pedersen a "world legend of speedway” after adding him to his FIM Speedway Grand Prix crew for 2022. Pedersen is no stranger to the SGP series, having won the 2004 European SGP in Wroclaw and raced full-time in the competition from 2003 to 2008, peaking at sixth place in the World Championship in 2005, before qualifying for one final season in 2012. The Dane also won two SWC gold medals with his country at Reading in 2006 and Vojens in 2008. He brought the curtain down on his racing career this year by playing a pivotal role in British club Peterborough’s charge to the SGB Premiership league title, as part of their iconic Dad’s Army team. Pedersen hinted at possible new roles in and out of the sport, and it appears Vaculik has won the race to recruit a man widely regarded as one of speedway’s ultimate professionals. Posting on Facebook, a delighted Vaculik confirmed: “I’m pleased to announce that my team is joined by the world legend of speedway, Bjarne Pedersen, who has finished his adventure with speedway, but will help me in the 2022 season. I’m very happy for this cooperation.” Pedersen is pleased to be teaming up with Gorzow star Vaculik, a former world No.5 who is bidding to bounce back from an injury-interrupted season in 2021. He said: “I can announce that I will be a part of Vaculik Racing Team in 2022. I am looking forward to getting started and sharing my experience and knowledge in the team. “Martin has had a strong team around him in 2021 and I look forward to making it even stronger around him in 2022.” Photo: Taylor Lanning

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CHAMPION LAGUTA: NOTHING TO DEFEND IN 2022

World champion Artem Laguta said “I am not here to protect my 2021 world title; I’m here to attack for the next one.” Laguta became the first rider representing the Motorcycling Federation of Russia to be crowned world champion this year. The Bolshoy Kamen-born racer is also the sport’s first Asian-born world champion. Only three riders have successfully defended an SGP world title since the series was launched in 1995. Swedish great Tony Rickardsson achieved the feat twice in 1998 and 1999 and 2001 and 2002, before Nicki Pedersen topped the podium in 2007 and 2008 and Bartosz Zmarzlik made it a double in 2019 and 2020. Laguta stopped Zmarzlik from making it three in a row this year and will be hoping to join this elite club of back-to-back winners in 2022. Defending the World Championship is no easy task, so Laguta has decided to take a different mental approach. He said: “When the first round starts, it’s a new challenge. There is really nothing to protect. My medal from 2021 is at home and it’ll be there forever. I don’t want to put this crown of world champion on my head all the time because it is heavy – it doesn’t help you to do good training sessions or win races. I’m leaving this crown at home and I know it will always be there. “We have been working hard for this title as a team for a long time. It was a dream and the dream has come true now. But we have another season of hard work and a new challenge ahead. “I have felt how victory and the champagne tastes at the end of the season. It’s a great feeling. Before you get it, you cannot imagine what it is like. But when you try it, it is something great and you desire it again.” For 2022, Laguta becomes the first rider to wear the iconic No.1 race jacket since SGP 2013 champion Tai Woffinden took the number for 2014. Since 2014, riders have had the option to choose a personal rider number in the SGP series, and Woffinden is the only champion who previously took up the option to line up at No.1 instead of picking his famous No.108. Some may prefer to stick with their own number for branding purposes. Others may fear the No.1 puts a target on their back. But Laguta was never going to turn down the chance to swap his No.222 for No.1. He said: “I’m not scared of taking No.1 when I am allowed to – you may only get this chance once! Hopefully not, but a lot of MX and Supercross riders in the US take No.1 as well. “They can go back to their number at any time, but you are only allowed to be No.1 if you are world champion, so I’m taking it. "Maybe some are worried because everyone wants to take the world title away, but I am not here to protect my 2021 world title; I’m here to attack for the next one.”

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ACES NO.1 FRICKE SETS HIS SIGHTS ON PREMIERSHIP TITLE

FIM Speedway Grand Prix star Max Fricke set his sights on ending Belle Vue’s league title drought after sealing a return to the Aces for 2022. The double Aussie champion is back in the SGB Premiership after his Polish club Zielona Gora were relegated from the PGE Ekstraliga. With Falubaz now in the First Division, Poland’s rules allow Fricke to race in two other leagues, and he will line up in Manchester, as well as competing for Swedish team Indianerna. Fricke became a huge favourite among Belle Vue fans during his previous five-season stint with the club from 2015 to 2019. The Victorian racer can’t wait for what’s set to be a busy 2022 season, and he would love to mark his Aces return by leading one of British speedway’s most famous clubs to their first league title since 1993. After being unveiled to the Belle Vue fans at the club’s Christmas Cracker event, Fricke said: “My schedule for next year, even with the Grand Prix series, has opened up to give me the opportunity to return to the UK. “My first thought was Belle Vue for many reasons and if the reaction of the fans at the Christmas Cracker is any indication, I think I’ve made the right choice. “It is amazing to be back in Manchester with the Aces again. I’m somebody who likes to keep busy and this fits in perfectly with my commitment for next year. “We’ve only confirmed two names so far, with myself and Charles [Wright] but there is an exciting vibe coming from the club already for 2022. “I’m really excited about the team that Mark [Lemon] is putting together and hopefully it can be this team who can take that final step to win Belle Vue the Premiership title.”

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MASTERS PENS NEW WOLVES DEAL

Former Aussie champion Sam Masters has extended his stay with Wolverhampton into 2022 and insisted “I wouldn’t want to ride for another club in the Premiership.” Masters joins forces with fellow Aussie star Ryan Douglas and British duo Drew Kemp and Leon Flint. The Newcastle-born racer’s return is one of the least surprising British signings of the winter as he continues his career with a club where he won the SGB Premiership title in his Wolves debut season in 2016. A delighted Masters said: “I’m really excited to be back at Wolves. I wouldn’t want to ride for another club in the Premiership. I love the club fans and track there. We agreed terms pretty quickly and I can’t wait to have another go at winning the league. “Everything about the place is so professional. The management treat you well and the fans always get behind the riders. “It’s another place that’s like home to us now and we are settled in the area, so I can’t see any reason to leave. “I had a good season personally and would like to build on that next season and hopefully help the club win the league again.” Photo: Taylor Lanning

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SWEDISH SWITCH FOR SMOLINSKI

German racer Martin Smolinski is on the move in Sweden after signing for Bauhaus Elitserien side Vetlanda. The former FIM Speedway Grand Prix star makes the move from Masarna after spending the 2021 season in Avesta. Smolinski joins the likes of SGP newcomer Pawel Przedpelski, Tomasz Gapinski, Sergey Logachev and Filip Hjelmland at Vetlanda – a club which has seen double world champion Bartosz Zmarzlik and his compatriot Dominik Kubera depart this winter. Bavarian ace Smolinski is looking forward to his new challenge. Posting on his official Facebook page, he wrote: “I had a very difficult decision for a very long time, because I had a very nice time in Masarna, but the move to Vetlanda was equally attractive and so I decided to change. “I want to say thanks very much to the club and also the fans in Masarna and I would like to come to Masarna again and again. “But for me, the new task in Vetlanda presents a new challenge and I am looking forward to the new season.” Smolinski will also compete in the Polish First Division for German club Landshut. The Bavarian team defied heavy Covid-19 restrictions, starting their 2021 season behind closed doors, to pull off an astonishing Second Division play-off win in their debut season in the Polish leagues. Landshut skipper Smolinski will team up with the likes of fellow German internationals Kai Huckenbeck and Erik Riss in 2022, with under-24 rider Mads Hansen an exciting edition to the side after winning FIM Speedway of Nations bronze with Denmark.

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