EIGH Adams, Jason Crump, Todd Wiltshire, Ryan Sullivan, Chris Holder, Troy Batchelor, Jason Doyle… and now Max Fricke. The Speedway Grand Prix newcomer joins an illustrious list of Australian Champions who have raced in the sport’s elite series.
With the world’s top stars often plying their trade 10,000 miles from home on the tracks of Poland, Sweden and Britain, their homecoming for the national championship rounds is a huge event Down Under.
After years of watching these stars in action and more recently competing with them, now it’s Fricke’s turn to be the star man. “It’s a slightly weird feeling,” he admits. “But at the same time I have worked hard for it. It’s a nice little reward.
“I was a junior not that long ago and I always appreciated seeing guys like Chris back home racing when he was in the GPs, and Jason and Leigh too. It was a really big thing.
“It’s nice for the sport, the juniors and everyone in Australia to have a Grand Prix rider continue to race in Australia.”
Fricke earned his SGP spot with a thirdplace finish at the GP Challenge in Gorican on August 24. But before he begins the biggest campaign of his career so far in Europe, he’s hoping to defend the maiden national title he won during the last Aussie summer season.
A big year ahead for Max Fricke as he takes up a full-time GP place, but first there’s the small matter of a national title to defend
Under will know the Kurri Kurri rocket hits another level in his homeland.
He kick-starts his title defence at Kurri Kurri this Saturday – returning to the scene of his 2019 triumph. The action then moves across the border to his home state Victoria, visiting Albury on Monday, Undera on Tuesday and Mildura next Thursday, before concluding at Adelaide track Gillman on January 11.
Despite the considerable effort and mileage involved, Fricke is happy to keep racing in his homeland.
He said: “The Aussie titles are hard work and they are right in the middle of our offseason. You’re just starting to get into the offseason and then you have to start getting everything ready again.
“It’s a completely separate set-up to what we use overseas. We have to send bikes and engines down there. We’re not using our normal equipment. It’s a lot of work to put it together, let alone all the kilometres for a week and a half’s work.
“But I think it is good for Australian speedway. I don’t mind doing it for now. It’s good for my family to see me race every now and then. It’s a bit of effort, but hopefully it’s good for everyone.”
Fricke isn’t going to be short of competition – 2012 World Champion and five-time Aussie winner Holder returns to the series once again, determined to better the third place he achieved in 2019. Holder and Fricke may start as favourites, but anyone who has seen 2018 champion Rohan Tungate’s performances Down
His six-ride maximum to win last year’s Kurri Kurri decider turned up the pressure on Fricke to boiling point, before he held his nerve and did what was required to seal top spot on the championship podium.
“Rohan is really good in Australia,” Fricke said. “He was the defending champion and he was going to his home track for that round. He knows that place inside out.
“I had to be on my A game for that, but I’m sure this year will be very similar. Whoever is at the top for the last couple of rounds, you never know what can happen in speedway. I’m sure it will be anyone’s game.
“Everyone does perform really well here in Australia. It’s a tough competition. There are a lot of guys who have won it or would like to win it. It’s not going to be an easy task.”
There isn’t just a national championship on the line this month as Australia’s four SGP qualification places will be up for grabs. With only the top six riders in the 2020 World Championship making it into the 2021 competition automatically, Fricke is ready to take up that opportunity as an insurance policy in a year he’ll still be learning the SGP ropes.
He said: “With fewer people automatically qualifying and the top eight going down to a top six, it’s going to be tough. I think you’ll find a lot of people will be doing GP qualifiers this year if they can.”
While he is understandably hedging his bets on the qualification front, Fricke is already working hard to give himself the best possible shot at SGP success, having headed home later than normal and spent extra time in Europe preparing for this year.
He said: “I was trying to get a few things organised for this year, with it obviously being a big year. There has been a lot to get organised. It’s more behind-the-scenes stuff.
“I’m not changing too much. It’ll be more of the same, to be honest. There’s a lot more to get organised for next year in the GPs, so I just wanted to make sure I was on top of that before I went home.”
Fricke is grateful for the fact he has been able to prepare for the SGP rounds since qualifying at the end of August. As second reserve last season, he often didn’t know if would be riding until a day or two before the meeting. “I didn’t have the time to prepare for the meetings how I would have liked,” he said. “Quite often, I got the ‘phone call on the Thursday night to be at practice on Friday. This year will be good; I can book things in advance and get ready.”
As much as Fricke is delighted to have reached the sport’s biggest stage, he isn’t there to make up the numbers.
He said: “It’s nice to have the opportunity and I have been working for it for a long time. But it’s all about what you can do once you get in there.
“Ideally with only the top six qualifying, we’ll aim for that first of all. Then from there you push forward to the medal positions.
“We’re all in there for the same reason, though, and we’d like to be World Champion. It’s the first year in it for me and it’s a progression. I’m aware of that, but we are there to hopefully do a job.”
Fricke certainly showed promise in his five SGP appearances last year. He reached his first Grand Prix semi-final in Prague, topping the heat scorechart on 12 points in the process.
But he trumped that on then Swedish home track Hallstavik, where he roared to fourth place, with his semi-final charge from last to first past Martin Vaculik, Freddie Lindgren and Bartosz Zmarzlik arguably the SGP ride of the season.
Serving as a series stand-in was the perfect warm-up for this season’s sole newcomer to the SGP line-up. He said: “It was a nice way to ease myself into it. Having a few good results as well is always nice.”
Some big SGP performances this term would also help his chances of receiving a Speedway of Nations call-up, with Fricke keen
12 speedway star January 4, 2020
Interview: PAUL BURBIDGE Pictures: IAN CHARLES and JEFF DAVIES