Swedish star Fredrik Lindgren insists his side has what it takes to defend their Monster Energy FIM Speedway World Cup crown as they launch their title defence at Event 2 in Vastervik on Tuesday.
The hosts face Australia, USA and Germany with the winners advancing into the Monster Energy SWC Final in Manchester on Saturday. The second and third-placed teams join Denmark and Russia in the Race Off, also at Britain’s National Speedway Stadium, on Friday. The Swedes defied the bookmakers’ odds to lift the Ove Fundin Trophy at Vojens last summer, but head to the Stena Arena as favourites to win on Tuesday.
Last year’s gold medal-winning heroes Andreas Jonsson, Antonio Lindback and Fredrik Lindgren all keep their places, while Vastervik track specialist Peter Ljung is recalled after riding in Sweden’s 2015 opening-round meeting at Gniezno, before missing out on a place in the Final line-up. World Under-21 finalist Joel Andersson serves as their reserve. Lindgren admits defending the crown will be no easy task. But he hopes a proud and loud Vastervik crowd will get his side off to the best possible start.
He said: “We had an awesome time last year, being crowned champions. Now it’s time to try and defend it, and that’s going to be tough. We start in our home country and we will have our home fans behind us. I haven’t been to Vastervik in a while. But being at home is more about the atmosphere, and the fact we are on home soil is hopefully going to make the difference for us. Hopefully we can go straight through to the Final.
“Winning the World Cup again is going to be really tough. There are some really good nations around and Great Britain will be straight into the Final at their new National Speedway Stadium. They will be tough to face; the Brits always perform better in Britain. But we’re going to do everything we can to try and defend it. It would be amazing. Even though we’re reigning champions, I don’t think we’ll be favourites to win it. I think we have a good chance. We have some good riders in good form and hopefully we’ll able to get a good result.”
Australia go into the event with a new-look side, featuring 2012 world champion Chris Holder and Jason Doyle, who is currently third in the World Championship standings. They team up with the in-form Max Fricke and Sam Masters, with Brady Kurtz named at reserve. All three riders race in the GP Challenge at Vetlanda on September 3, where the top three book World Championship places for 2017.
Fricke backed his team to defy their underdog tag and stun Sweden on home shale. He said: “We’re kind of the underdogs to make it straight through to the Final, but that’s our expectation. I think Australia has a surprise to spring. Sam has been going really well and I think me and Sam could be a real surprise in the World Cup. Chris and Jason are awesome riders and play a big part in Team Australia. They will be expected to score the most points, but there’s no reason why the whole team can’t be up there and scoring well.”
The USA are spearheaded by World Championship leader and triple world champion Greg Hancock, who spends the European summer living in Sweden. He teams up with Ricky Wells, Billy Janniro and Ryan Fisher, with reserve Luke Becker on standby. National speedway icon Greg Hancock admits booking their place in Manchester will be a real test for his USA side.
He said: “This will be probably one of our hardest semi-finals ever. We’re coming to a track that’s quite neutral for everyone and gating will be extremely important here. Our guys will have to be on the mark. Going to Sweden is another ball game compared to the tracks in California or Britain. It’s a different surface and Vastervik is a different shaped track. It’s quite tricky and you have to be really quick into the first corner to make things happen. These guys are going up against stiff competition on different race tracks. It’s a whole new level of speedway.
“But we want to get to the Race Off so badly. Janniro is coming back on good equipment, Fisher seems to be going really well and Ricky is on a high right now. Luke will be facing a pack of wolves if he rides, but he’ll get a lot of experience in a very short time.”
Qualifiers Germany complete the field, with 2014 New Zealand SGP winner Martin Smolinski leading the way. He joins forces with Kevin Wolbert, Kai Huckenbeck and Tobias Kroner, with no reserve named.
Vastervik tickets are still available online. Buy online and print at home until 18:00 on race day here: www.biljettforum.se/sv/event/2016-monster-energy-fim-speedway-world-cup-event-2/biljetter. Or purchase at the Stena Arena from 13:00 on Tuesday.
MONSTER ENERGY SWC EVENT 2 TEAMS
AUSTRALIA (RED): 1 Chris Holder (captain), 2 Sam Masters, 3 Max Fricke, 4 Jason Doyle. RESERVE: 5 Brady Kurtz. TEAM MANAGER: Mark Lemon.
USA (BLUE): 1 Greg Hancock (captain), 2 Ryan Fisher, 3 Billy Janniro, 4 Ricky Wells. RESERVE: 5 Luke Becker. TEAM MANAGER: Lance King.
GERMANY (WHITE): 1 Kevin Wolbert, 2 Kai Huckenbeck, 3 Tobias Kroner, 4 Martin Smolinski (captain). RESERVE: 5 None selected. TEAM MANAGER: Herbert Rudolph.
SWEDEN (YELLOW): 1 Antonio Lindback, 2 Fredrik Lindgren, 3 Andreas Jonsson (captain), 4 Peter Ljung. RESERVE: 5 Joel Andersson. TEAM MANAGER: Morgan Andersson.