Speedway Review 2012
Skysports.com's speedway writer Graeme Bailey reviews the 2012 season
By Graeme Bailey - Tweet me: @graemebailey
Last Updated: 16/01/13 6:55am
The new season is still some three months away, but we thought our yearly review would help get speedway fans through the dark days of winter...
After the winter of 2011 which saw two Elite League clubs almost not start the year following a dispute at the annual AGM the previous winter, 2012 started in relative harmony.
And the beginning of the year was a landmark one, as the opening Grand Prix Series was staged in March as the inaugural New Zealand Grand Prix took place. A wonderful event, won by world champion Greg Hancock, it was a huge success and the SGP series will be returning Down Under in 2013.
The Grand Prix series proved to be a historic one, with Australians catching the headlines. Firstly with Chris Holder coming with a late charge to win his maiden title. His win at the British Grand Prix in Cardiff was a particular highlight.
The title was not decided until the final GP at Torun, and Nicki Pedersen pushed Holder all the way. Indeed, they met in the semi-final and the Dane hit the shale after a clash with the Australian - British referee Craig Ackroyd allowed Holder back in, and the two clashed on track at the decision which looked hugely fortunate for the Poole Pirates star. Allowed back in the re-run he took the win and claimed his first title. A thrilling end to a thrilling season.
Soon after Holder's win, came the news that his compatriot Jason Crump - three-time World Champion - had decided to hang-up his kevlars.
The summer also saw the World Cup decided with a young Danish side shocking the world by taking the title in Malilla, with Mikkel Bech and World Under-21 champion Michael Jepsen Jensen starring.
Just before the World Cup, the speedway world was in mourning as Briton Lee Richardson was tragically killed whilst racing in Poland. The 1999 World Under-21 champion was still one of the Elite League's top performers and one of Britain's best riders of the last decade.
Sky Sports produced a wonderful tribute to 'Rico' which you can watch here -
In the Elite League, defending champions Poole set the pace at the top - but they always had Swindon Robins, back under the supervision of Alun Rossiter, on their heels.
It was little surprise when the Robins and Pirates set up a Grand Final worthy of the name, although the dreadful English weather which dogged the speedway season meant the final was put back to late October.
As happened in 2010 when Coventry shocked them in the final, the same was to happen for Poole. They lost one of their Turbo Twins Darcy Ward on the eve of the final and that was that, as Swindon lost by just one point in the second leg which have them their first top-flight win since 1967. A remarkable turnaround for a side who finished bottom-of-the-table just 12-months previously.
Here is a run through of our highlights from the year...
Rider of the Year...Chris Holder
Stunning stuff from the young Australian who catapaulted himself to the top of the world with his triumph in the Speedway Grand Prix Series.
EL Star of the Year...Peter Kildemand
The Dane put nearly three points on his starting average and become a crucial member of the Swindon side which claimed victory in the Grand Final.
Meeting of the Year...World Cup semi-final
Great Britain looked set to take advantage of being on home shale at King's Lynn as they sped ahead of Australia - but they were pegged back in thrilling style before Jason Crump sealed their win in the final heat.
Rising star...Darcy Ward
For the second year in succession we are saying Ward, not least because he is now in the SPG field and could be in contention for a World title at the first time of asking.
Gone but not forgotten...Lee Richardson
Taken too early, still one of Britain's top riders and it will take the sport in this country a long time to recover from his loss.
And finally... our predictions
Well last year we tipped Chris Holder for the world title, we are going to go Aussie again and another new world champ - Darcy Ward to take the world by storm.