It is quite difficult to know with precision when and where someone had the idea of putting a motorcycle on ice. This was obviously held in countries where climatic conditions allowed this practice. The first records of racing on ice date from 1924 in Sweden; in the early 30s, motorcycles with a low frame had the tyres fit with short studs, skidding a bit sideways in the curves. Races were held on tracks designed on frozen lakes. Then longer studs were used, allowing the rider to be faster and to take very low angles in curves… This was introduced in a race in Stockholm in 1933. Ice Racing appeared then just before the Second World War in the Soviet Union – first as a demonstration in 1938, then in March 1939 in the first official competition in Moscow.
After the war, national Championships developed in Scandinavia and the USSR and spread to some central Europe countries such as Czechoslovakia and Germany. Enjoying a great popular success in several places – mainly in Scandinavia and the USSR – international meetings started to be organised in the late 50s with 500cc machines mounted in frames adapted from Speedway machines, while national Championships were also run in other classes (125cc, 350cc, sidecars).
In 1961 international events were organised in Ufa and Moscow with riders from Finland Sweden, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. The Swede Bjorn Knutsson (runner-up in the Speedway World Final that year and future Speedway World Champion in 1965) won the Series. Later, the events held in Helsinki and Stockholm were won by Soviet rider Boris Samorodov, from the city of Ufa.
The first FIM Cup was then organised in 1963, gathering riders from the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Sweden and Finland. Five races took place in the USSR and five others in Sweden and Finland. The winner was Boris Samorodov. With such a success the competition became a European Championship in 1965, organised in 5 elimination meetings and five finals (the four best results counting towards the Championship), all of them held in the Soviet Union. Again the winner was Boris Samorodov; he was followed by a rider who was to become the greatest Ice Racing rider of all times: Gabdrakhman Kadyrov.
KADYROV ON TOP
The European Championship became a World Championship in 1966, with semi-finals held in Leningrad and Novosibirsk, and finals in Ufa and Moscow – all events held over two series of heats, one on Saturday evening, the other on Sunday afternoon. Grabdrakhman Kadyrov clinched his first title, ahead of Victor Kuznetsov and Czechoslovakian Antonin Svab. Boris Samodorov, 5th in 1966, took the title back in 1967, but it was to be his last one. Kadyrov then dominated the Ice Racing scene until 1973. In 1968, he won his second title. In 1969, the Championship was run over one final event only - won by Kadyrov. In 1970, the final was held for the first time outside the USSR, in Nässjö, Sweden, and it was the first title for a non-Russian rider: Antonin Svab finished with the maximum of points, 15, one more than Kadyrov, as he had won their direct confrontation in heat 4. The Swede Kurt Westlund ended in third position. Then Kadyrov was back at the top for three consecutive years: in 1971 in Inzell (West Germany), Nässjö in 1972, and in 1973 in Inzell again – Inzell would become a traditional venue for Ice racing events.
In 1974, in Nässjö, another Czechoslovakian rider, Milan Spinka, dominated the final winning all his races and clinching the World title ahead of Russians Zibrov and Kadyrov.
Then riders from the Soviet Union would dominate Ice Racing competitions for many years. In 1975 in Moscow, a new generation of Russian riders showed up at the top: Sergei Tarabanko won four consecutive titles from 1975 to 78, and Anatoli Bondarenko two in 1979 and 1980.
TEAM COMPETITION INTRODUCED
Team competitions had already been organised since the 60s - when, at the initiative of the Russian Federation, an Ice Racing World Championship for Teams was introduced in 1979. Obviously, the Russians were big favorites and their individual domination would be repeated in the team contest. In 1979 they had the three World best riders, Tarabanko, Bondarenko and Gladychev. For some years, even changing one or another rider, the result did not change. But in 1983, a big surprise came from the German team, composed of Max Niedermayer, Helmut Weber and Günther Brandt, who won the title in Berlin, followed by the Swedish team, the Russians being only third – their worst result ever.
In the Individual contest, 1981 was the turn of Vladimir Liubitsch, while Sergei Kasakov, after various runner-up placings, clinched two titles, in 1982 and 1983. In 1984 the final was held in Moscow, but the Swedish rider Erik Stenlund spoiled the party, winning in front of Suchov and Ivanov. In the Team final, held in Deventer (Netherlands), the USSR and Sweden were even at the end; the Russians won the run-off. The Swedes would have their revenge in 1985, winning easily in front of the USSR.
In the Individual Championship, though, the Soviet domination was back: Vladimir Suchov won his third title in Assen. Stockholm welcomed the 1986 final and the spectators were expecting a second title for their star Erik Stenlund. But it was time for Yuri Ivanov to get the first of his three World titles; Vladimir Suchov was second and Stenlund third. The second title of Yuri Ivanov was clinched in Berlin in ‘87. But Erik Stenlund was still a match winner: in 1988 in Eindhoven, he fought back against the Russians and beat them all, clinching his second individual World title.
The Russians confirmed a year later that they were still the best Ice Racing riders: Nikolai Nishenko took his turn in 1989 on the brand-new ice facility built in Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan), In 1990 things changed again: Finn Jarmo Hirvasoja won the title in the final held in Gothenburg, Then four consecutive titles went to Russian riders. In 1991 it was the turn of Sergei Ivanov (Yuri’s brother). In 1992 in Frankfurt Yuri Ivanov won his third title. In 1993 the final was held again in Russia: Saransk saw the victory of Vladimir Fadeev, ahead of Alexander Balashov.
The Russian reaction also came in the Team Championship after the loss of the 1985 final: the Russian team won all Team finals from 1986 until today except two of them. In 1995, their usually strongest opponents, the Swedes, won again, lead by veteran Per-Olov Serenius, fact that they repeated in 2002. But that is all so far: until 2009 everything went to Russia.
INDIVIDUAL GRAND PRIX SYSTEM
1994 marked a big change in the history of Ice Racing; a new running system, which was under study for several years, was finally put in place. The World Final was replaced by a Series of events known as Ice Racing Grand Prix – with two exceptions, in 1997 and 2000 when one World Final was held. Each Grand Prix kept the same formula as the World Final, one event held on Saturday night and the second on Sunday afternoon. Four final heats were held additionally deciding the final placings four by four, from 16th place to the first one. Alexander Balashov won his first title, ahead of Per-Olov Serenius and a young Russian rider Viacheslav Nikulin. 1995 was the year for Sweden: Per-Olov Serenius won the Individual Grand Prix Series and Sweden won the Team final one point ahead of Russia. One year later it was Russia’s response, with five of their riders taking the first five places: Balashov, Polikarpov, Nikulin, Fadeev and Lumpov. They also clinched the Team World title. In 1997, Russian rider Kyril Drogalin won the title in Assen in a one-event World Final (the Russian team also won the Team title in Berlin). Alexander Balashov won his second title in 1998, Drogalin was second and Nikulin third. In 1999 Fadeev won a strong battle with Balashov and clinched his second World title, Nikulin finishing once again in third place.
Kyril Drogalin won his second title in 2000, once again in a single World Final held in Assen, one point ahead of the new strongest non-Russian rider, Austrian Franz Zorn. As from 2001, the Grand Prix system was maintained and Drogalin took his third World title. In 2002, Per-Olov Serenius, then aged 54 years, clinched his second World title in the very last race in Inzell against Viacheslav Nikulin. German rider Günther Bauer won his first Grand Prix that year and in 2003 fought for the title until the very last race. The crown finally went to the young Russian rider Vitaly Khomitsevitch, just ahead of Bauer. In 2004 another young Russian, Dimitry Bulankin, took the crown, and from 2005 until now the World Champion has been Nikolai Krasnikov, from Russia, of course.
by Marc Pétrier
Captions from top to bottom:
Start of a national Championship race in Moscow in 1961. © MFR
The most impressive thing in Ice Racing : the spikes…© MFR
The six World titles clinched by Gabdrakhman Kadyrov are a record number only equaled in March 2010 by Nikolai Krasnikov. © MFR
The Russian Yuri Ivanov (left) was World Champion three times (1986, 1987, 1992) & Swede Per-Olov Serenius twice, in 1995 and 2002. © FIM/Marc Pétrier