Six-time speedway world champion Tony Rickardsson hopes to open up the sport to a whole new generation of young riders as he steps up work on launching the groundbreaking new SGP4 series.
Working for FIM Speedway global promoter Discovery Sports Events, in coordination with the FIM, motorcycling’s international governing body, the FIM Speedway global ambassador is working to develop an entry-level bike and competition to offer the sport’s youngest stars a chance to sample speedway and develop their skills on the track.
As part of their vision for FIM Speedway, Discovery Sports Events has taken the sport’s entire development pyramid under its umbrella, with Speedway GP events supported by the SGP2 series for the sport’s under-21 riders and the SGP3 championship for under-16s.
SGP4 will be the very first step on the ladder. While the age of riders is yet to be confirmed, Swedish great Rickardsson is in the process of testing numerous bikes. He aims to deliver a standardised bike for youngsters who compete in the championship, and one that can help them step up to 250cc level with SGP3 and then on to a 500cc machine for SGP2 and Speedway GP.
While Rickardsson built his bikes without compromise as he dominated the sport for over a decade, the 20-time Speedway GP winner is focused on making the new SGP4 bikes as accessible and affordable as possible to young riders and their families – whether they have a motorsport background or not.
He said: “I want to have a series where we have kids from different parts of the world, racing under the same rules with the same bikes.
“I just want to make this discipline accessible for more young riders, especially families who don’t have a multi-talented father, who can build one of the junior bikes that exist today.
“The cost of the bikes must also fit into our budget because there are so many details and aspects to take into consideration. The ambition with these bikes is to make it more accessible for non-motorsport families. But even for motorsport families, the hope is it will be a lot easier to go and buy a ready-made bike that can race nationally and internationally.
“A dealer should have one or two of these bikes on the shelf so that if you want to buy one, you are not waiting for it. They should have the other equipment you need like a steel shoe. Everything you need to set up and start riding should be there.
“You can walk into a motocross shop and buy a complete bike. It would be great if we could have something similar for speedway. You wouldn’t need a mechanical degree to put this bike together. It should be ready to start up.
“My aim is to get something that will last around 20-30 racing hours without a service, and that’s a lot of laps!”
Rickardsson’s racing days may now be behind him, but he is determined to give something back to the sport by ensuring a whole new generation of stars can climb to professional standard and experience the thrill of racing a 500cc bike with no brakes.
He added: “It’s not all about creating a new bike or a new format; it’s very much building something that will help these youngsters become part of Speedway GP, the FIM Speedway World Cup and the FIM Speedway of Nations one day.
“I am really, really excited by this. Discovery Sports Events has committed to a 10-year programme with FIM Speedway, so let’s make sure they have enough riders to film in 10 years’ time.”
Rickardsson is determined to take as much time as is required to choose the right bike for SGP4. But he is hopeful of seeing the fruits of his labour next year.
He said: “It’s difficult to put a date on our ambitions. But one of the dates we have as a goal is the FIM Speedway World Cup in July 2023. The objective is to run a one-off feature race there. I don’t think we need that one to be a full world championship round.
“By that time, I hope that we as a group will have 16 of these bikes and race suits. We can invite kids from different countries and they can compete in these rounds and really show what this is all about.
“For now, we are testing a number of bikes and all the bikes are different. There are different chassis, different engines, different makes of engines and different CCs. This really is our evaluation time.
“They are going to be loaned out to different training camps and tracks. We just want the kids to ride these bikes. We want them to get as many hours on the bikes as they can. Hopefully by the end of the year, we will be able to choose the wheels, the frame, the sprockets, the model of engine and the bike that offers the best ride-ability.
“We are going to have testing this season and, towards the end of the year, we will have a decision as to which will be the best prototype bike. Then we need to engage with the FIM to make sure the bike is safe and fits into their frame of mind.”
FIM CCP Track Racing Commission director Armando Castagna is excited to be working with Rickardsson to create a new entry level for FIM Speedway. He said: “Together with Discovery Sports Events and Tony Rickardsson, we have discussed a very important class that is missing from our discipline.
“Years ago, we introduced an FIM 250cc Youth Championship and this will be the step before that. In a few years, we will try to create a junior championship that will be similar to that in MotoGP.
“Now we are on the first step. Tony is doing a really good job and trying to test different bikes. Then together we will inspect, check and test the bikes. Then one bike will be chosen. I have a lot of faith in Tony and I am happy to work with him on this project.”
François Ribeiro, Head of Discovery Sports Events, also looks forward to realising the group’s vision to create a production line of talent progressing from SGP4 all the way to Speedway GP. He said: “We are determined with Tony and the FIM to find the best way to help young riders and also their families get started on their speedway journey.
“As we worked on our blueprint for FIM Speedway, it was clear that making our sport more accessible and giving young riders a clear pathway to take towards Speedway GP was a key objective.
“Tony’s efforts in developing a suitable bike for SGP4 are the first step in creating this new championship and we thank him for his dedication to the project. I look forward to seeing our youngest riders on track, hopefully in 2023, and if one of them can be crowned Speedway GP world champion in the years to come, it would be the ultimate reward for us all.”