EUROPEAN LEAGUE PREVIEW
Great Britain will once again have three riders competing in the PGE Ekstraliga this season with the opening meetings scheduled for Easter weekend.
Lublin defend the title with a much-changed team compared the outfit which overcame Gorzow in the Grand Final last year, whilst Czestochowa and Torun will both be looking to go at least one step further after contesting the bronze medal play-off in 2022.
Wroclaw, who were defending champions last year, only scraped into the play-offs and were eliminated at the quarter-final stage – but they may well be regarded as favourites this time around, with two major additions to their top five.
GB duo Dan Bewley and Tai Woffinden both remain in the side, with Bewley declared as an U24 rider, and long-serving Maciej Janowski also stays at the Olympic Stadium.
In addition, Wroclaw are boosted hugely by the availability of 2021 World Champion Artem Laguta, who is free to race on a Polish licence after being banned last year following his country’s invasion of Ukraine.
And Wroclaw have also made a big move in the transfer market to bring in Piotr Pawlicki in a switch heavily rumoured since midway through last year, and he joins having ended his long spell with Leszno.
Lublin were crowned champions last autumn but from that team Mikkel Michelsen and Maksym Drabik have left, and there has been no return for Grigory Laguta.
Another powerful team has been assembled with the headline signing of World Champion Bartosz Zmarzlik, ending his long association with Gorzow, and for good measure they have also brought in World No.4 Fredrik Lindgren from Czestochowa and Speedway of Nations winner Jack Holder from Torun.
They join Jarek Hampel in the top five with Dominik Kubera still available in the Under-24 role – and SGP2 Champion Mateusz Cierniak again lines up at reserve.
As for last year’s defeated Finalists, Gorzow are now having to rebuild without the huge scoring power of Zmarzik and have signed no direct replacement, meaning the bulk of the responsibility will be with GP duo Martin Vaculik and Anders Thomsen, along with Szymon Wozniak. Oskar Fajfer and Peter Ljung join the squad, and Wiktor Jasinski steps up to the U24 spot.
Czestochowa finished third last year, which was a step up from 2021, and they appear to have strengthened overall despite the loss of Lindgren, as Mikkelsen and Drabik both make the move from Lublin. Bartosz Smektala has departed after two years with the club, whilst former World Under-21 Champion Jakub Miskowiak will now be in the U24 position. SEC Champion and World No.2 Leon Madsen remains with the club, as does Kacper Woryna.
Torun will have high hopes of improving on their fourth place of 2022, especially given the continued emergence of GB star Robert Lambert in to an out-and-out World-class performer, and the fact that Emil Sayfutdinov is also back in racing.
The Russian was to join Torun from Leszno last year but like Artem Laguta had to sit out the season for political reasons, and those are far from the only big names in the side even allowing for the departure of Jack Holder.
Patryk Dudek and Pawel Przedpelski remain with Torun whilst Wiktor Lampart joins from Lublin in the U24 position, and the signing of Matej Zagar from Bydgoszcz adds further options.
Leszno have undergone major changes since their period of domination ended, and the loss of Jason Doyle was a further blow in addition to Pawlicki’s departure.
Janusz Kolodziej and Jaimon Lidsey remain with the club whilst Smektala returns ‘home’ after two years away, and former World Champion Chris Holder makes the move after racing for relegated Ostrow last year. Grzegorz Zengota is also back in the Ekstraliga having left Division One club Rybnik.
Grudziadz fought hard to stay up last season and have strengthened with the signing of Max Fricke, who spent 2022 with Zielona Gora in the second tier, and they also retain Nicki Pedersen who is back after last year’s serious injury.
Frederik Jakobsen and Mateusz Szczepaniak stay with the club, whilst Gleb Chugunov comes in from Wroclaw and Norbert Krakowiak is also an U24 option. Seniors Krzysztof Kasprzak and Przemyslaw Pawlicki have both left.
Kasprzak has switched to promoted Krosno, who appear better placed to bid for survival when compared to Ostrow last year, especially as they also pulled off the signing of Doyle – whilst Andzejs Lebedevs and Vaclav Milik, stalwarts of their successful 2022 season, both remain with the club.
Two GB riders are declared in Division One squads, with Tom Brennan in an Under-24 position for Lodz, whose squad also includes Niels-Kristian Iversen and Timo Lahti.
Meanwhile Leon Flint will once again be gaining experience with Rybnik, who have signed Brady Kurtz from Lodz, Partrick Hansen from Gorzow and Jan Kvech from Zielona Gora in a much-changed line-up.
Zielona Gora will make another bid for promotion having brought in Przemyslaw Pawlicki and Luke Becker to join Krzysztof Buczkowski, Rasmus Jensen and Rohan Tungate following the retirement of Piotr Protasiewicz.
Kenneth Bjerre stays with Bydgoszcz and is joined by David Bellego and Andreas Lyager, whilst Gdansk have made several new signings including Nicolai Klindt, Michael Jepsen Jensen and Mads Hansen.
Relegated Ostrow have retained Oliver Berntzon and Grzegorz Walasek, with Tobiasz Musielak coming in after helping Krosno to promotion.
Meanwhile Landshut unsurprisingly retain their German spearhead with Martin Smolinski back in racing to join Kai Huckenbeck and Erik Riss, whilst promoted Poznan will be looking to Antonio Lindback to help them be competitive at the higher level.
There is plenty of GB representation in Division Two squads, with Scott Nicholls an eye-catching declaration for Rawicz, who also include Ryan Douglas and Hans Andersen.
Elsewhere, Richard Lawson is named by Tarnow, Adam Ellis switches to Opole, Steve Worrall is at Daugavpils, and youngsters Dan Gilkes and Anders Rowe are in junior spots at Pila and Rzeszow respectively.
The Under-24 Ekstraliga will take place once again this year, with five GB riders declared in squads.
Jordan Jenkins and Sam Hagon are both with Czestochowa, Connor Bailey and Nathan Ablitt are at Wroclaw, and Jason Edwards is with Grudziadz.
Two major Individual events took place on Sunday, and Smektala marked his return to Leszno by winning the Alfred Smoczyk Memorial, beating Przemyslaw Pawlicki in a run-off, with Lidsey third.
Artem Laguta was the winner of the Criterion of Aces at Bydgoszcz, showing no ill effects from his year off as he finished on 13 points, with Kubera and Wozniak completing the rostrum finishers after a run-off whilst Woryna and Pedersen also scored 11.