What You Need to Know
- Speedway is a fast and furious motorsport with a growing following both in the UK and internationally
- Riders race around an oval track four times, with each meeting consisting of 15 races
- Points are awarded on a sliding scale according to where a rider finishes and the team with the most points at the end is declared the winner
- In league competitions, teams are awarded points according to how well they do at individual meetings. Big wins mean more points
- All bikes have to meet strict regulations. They have to have just a single gear and no brakes
- The Elite League is the top level of speedway in the UK, with the Premier League and the National League also popular competitions
- The excitement of speedway makes it a great sport to bet on, especially if you know your stuff
Speedway (sometimes referred to as motorcycle speedway) is a fast and furious motorsport in which between four and six riders compete over four laps of an oval circuit. Notably, the bikes used almost always have just one hear and no brakes, making races very even and very dangerous. To slow down around bends, riders are required to slide along the dirt or shale track and then accelerate up to speeds of around 70mph on the straight sections of the track.
As well as a number of domestic speedway competitions all around the world, with the sport especially popular in Northern Europe, Australia and North America, there are also a number of international competitions, including the prestigious Speedway World Cup and the Speedway Grand Prix.
About the Track
Tracks used for speedway must comply with the rules of the FIM (International Motorcycle Federation). All races must take place on an oval track made up of two straights connected by two semicircles. Tracks must be between 260 and 425 metres in length, with a minimum width of 10 metres along the straights and 14 metres on the bends. While tracks can be banked, the gradient must be no more than 5% on the straights and 10% on the bends and all track boundaries must be clearly marked in white paint.
As well as being of regulation size, all speedway tracks must be finished with a top later of shale or granite. This allows the riders to slide around the corners. The use of asphalt, concrete or tarmac for any layer of a track is completely prohibited.
About the Bikes
Alongside strict rules governing the track layout, the FIM also has strict rules concerning the bikes used for speedway. The rules state that bikes must weigh a minimum of 77kg, have no brakes fitted, have just a single gear and be fitted with a single cylinder four-stroke engine powered by pure methanol. In addition, all bikes must be fitted with dirt reflectors, silencers and a safety cut out device.
The use of methanol as the sole fuel of speedway means that the bikes are capable of achieving high speeds when cornering, with speeds of 80mph around the bends not uncommon.
Races (which are known as heats) involve between four and six riders racing over four laps from a standing start. In most cases, the home side will have two riders, with the visiting team also having two riders. Usually the home riders will wear either blue or red helmets and the visiting riders will wear yellow or black.
At the start of each heat, all the riders must line up parallel along the starting line and then, when the starting tape is lifted, accelerate away from a standing start. Should a driver start before the tape is lifted, a false start will be recorded and the guilty rider will be required to start 15 metres behind the rest, or they could even be disqualified for repeat infringements.
After starting, all riders race in an anti-clockwise direction around the track. Once a race has started, no rider may get any outside assistance. So, if they fall off, they need to get up and start their bike again using their own muscle power.
In most cases, meetings are run over 15 heats, with the team with the most points at the end of the meeting either progressing to the next round if it's a knockout competition or taking the points for the league table.
The scoring system for speedway is quite straightforward. Again, heats are competed over four laps and the first rider across the finish line after these four laps is declared the winner. The winner gets three points, the second-placed rider gets two points and the third-placed rider gets just a single point. A rider gets nothing at all for finishing a heat in fourth. The points that each rider scores are counted towards their team's total at the end of the meeting and then, after 15 heats have been raced, the winning team can be confirmed.
In some competitions, riders may be awarded bonus points. These are usually awarded in meetings where two riders from one team compete against two riders from another team. Here, a rider will get a bonus point if they finish directly behind their partner (for example, if they the team members finish in first and second place). Note, however, that bonus points count towards a rider's overall score, but do not count towards their team's score.
In most leagues, including in the UK, teams are awarded points according to how well they perform at meetings. The scoring system will almost always look like this:
- Home loss: 0 points
- Home draw: 1 point
- Home win by between 1 and 6 points: 2 points
- Home win by 7 points or more: 3 points
- Away draw: 2 points
- Away loss by 7 points or more: 0 points
- Away loss by 6 points or under: 1 point
- Away win by between 1 and 6 points: 3 points
- Away win by 7 points or more: 4 points
As you can see, the points system is designed to encourage both teams to be as positive as possible and to carry on until the very end, even if they are behind.
Calculated Match Averages
To make things a little more complicated, speedway also makes use of what are known as Calculated Match Averages (or CMAs). These are used to show which riders are on the best form and help teams decide which riders they should enter for specific meetings.
Quite simply, a rider's CMA is determined by dividing the number of points he has won by the number of heats he has ridden in. This number is then multiplied by four to give a CMA of between 3.00 and 12.00. Note that CMAs are used in most top competitions and are often a good way of seeing which riders are on the best form.
In the UK there are three main domestic speedway leagues. These are:
- The Elite League: This is the highest level of speedway in the UK. Here, ten teams race against one another home and away between March and October. Top teams include the Belle Vue Aces, Coventry Bees and Eastbourne Eagles.
- The Premier League: A step down from the Elite, the Premier League consists of 12 teams, among them the Edinburgh Monarchs and Sheffield Tigers. At the end of the season, the top four teams compete in the play-offs to decide an overall champion.
- The National League: Formerly known as the Conference, the National League is the lowest level of speedway in the UK and designed to nurture new talent.
Other key competitions in the UK include the Speedway Grand Prix of Great Britain and the British Speedway Championship. Both of these are for individual riders to compete rather than for teams.
Speedway is enjoyed all over the world and a number of countries have their own domestic competitions. Major domestic leagues include those of Poland, Sweden, Denmark and Bulgaria.
Alongside domestic leagues, riders and teams also compete in a number of international competitions. Chief among them are the World Individual and the Grand Prix, as well as the World Pairs, the World Team and the World Cup.
- To find out more about speedway in the UK and to find your local team, visit the website of British Speedway (http://speedwaygb.co/homepage)
- Keep up to date with all the latest news from this exciting sport with the help of Sky Sports (http://www1.skysports.com/speedway/)