At just 20-year-old, Australian, Max Fricke won the U21 World Championships. Like this year, it was a three-round competition with Kings Lynn, Pardubice and Gdansk as the venues. Although the Australian did not win any of the rounds, three podium finishes gave him overall victory, “it is definitely one of the highlights of my career!” he says with a smile.
He was the first non-European to win the title for six years and only the second Australian after Darcy Ward, to win the championship in its current series format. At the time he was living in the UK and was just starting to race for the first time outside of his adopted home country, “If you asked me at the beginning of 2016, I would not have said, “I’m gonna win the title”. But I made great progress over that year, so it was not such a big surprise in the end”, he reflects. He goes on to talk about the effect of the win, “One nice thing is that because it was an international competition my friends and family in Australia could watch it. They could not normally do that, so I got a lot of phone calls from home, that was really nice,” he admits.
You might think that after that victory it was all plain sailing for the Australian, but 2017 turned into a nightmare year marked by crashes and concussions. At the end of July, he crashed heavily with Martin Vaculik in Vetlanda, Sweden and suffered two neck fractures, “I tried to comeback too early and kept crashing. I wanted to defend my U21 World title, but now I can see that it wasn’t the smartest thing to do. I’d say to myself now - take a longer break - but when your 21 yrs and you’re the world champion you think your invincible!” he reminisces, laughing at his younger self. Despite that, he still picked up a bronze in his final year as a junior.
The following year, 2018, was Fricke’s first year as a senior and he moved to Wroclaw after Rybnik were relegated from Ekstraliga, “I learnt loads at Wroclaw and it’s where I live now and I hang with the guys there all the time,” he says fondly. In 2020, despite a difficult start to the Corona hit year, he finally achieved another one of his career highlights – his first ever SGP win in Torun, “Yeah, that was amazing,” he reflects, “I just need to get a bit more consistent and make a final in the rounds that are left if I am to win again,” he says about the rest of his SGP season.
Fricke is not the only rider that proves that the U21 World Championship event is the training ground for the world’s elite speedway riders. No less than three of the top five riders after Round 7 are former U21 World Champions - Emil Sayfutdinov (2007, 2008), Maciej Janowski (2011) and Bartosz Zmarzlik (2015). In fact, of the 15 SGP riders, 9 have medalled in the U21 World Championship, 10 if you include wildcard, Dominik Kubera.
Thanks to his second place in last weekend’s SGP Challenge race in Zarnovica, Fricke is guaranteed a spot in the competition in 2022. And he will be joined by yet another former U21 World Champion, Polish rider, Patryk Dudek who won the title in 2013 after he finished in third behind the Australian.
So, if you want to glance into a crystal ball and see who might be on the SGP roster for 2026, perhaps you should get down to Stralsund, Krosno and Pardubice so you can say, “I saw them first,” to all your speedway buddies.