Tai Woffinden (GBR)
The young Brit provided British Speedway fans with a rare moment of joy last year when he became the first competitor from the UK to win the world championship since Mark Loram back in 2000. The 23-year-old impressed many with his character, especially after he left his home Grand Prix in an ambulance after fracturing his collarbone in a collision with Tomasz Gollob. Winning this year would make him the first Brit in world championship history to retain his title.
NP: He’s made of steel; he’s going into New Zealand on the back of a nasty crash at Leicester in a league match on Saturday which is hardly the ideal preparation. He will be up there again, whether he wins the title or not is a tricky one.
Jaroslaw Hampel (POL)
The news that Tomasz Gollob would not be featuring in this year’s championship would have been met with fear and excitement by the 31-year-old, as he is now responsible for flying the flag for Polish speedway. ‘Jarek’ will be making his ninth appearance in the championship and will be looking to improve on his second place finish last year. Hampel will become the first Pole to win the series since Tomasz Gollob back in 2010.
NP: I fully expect him to fly the flag for Polish speedway and to be in the mix for a top-eight spot next season.
Niels-Kristian Iversen (DEN) The Danish giant impressed many last year with his bold, attacking style, especially during the latter stages of the championship which saw him make four finals from the last five rounds (winning two). Replaced Nicki Pedersen as Danish number one last season which is no easy feat given Pedersen’s incredible speedway history.
NP: I don’t see any reason why he can’t build on his third place last year, he’s developed to the peak of his form over the last 18 months and I expect him to continue that.
Greg Hancock (USA) Greg ‘Herbie’ Hancock will be making his 20th consecutive appearance in the World Championships and has appeared in all 168 Grand Prix rounds since the series was formed back in 1995. Consistency was strangely Greg’s downfall last year, missing seven finals costing him dearly as he fell three points short of his sixth podium finish.
NP: Greg has got this burning desire to succeed on the world stage and has always said that when that desire goes, he will step down. He’s been written off more than once, but then in 2011 he came back and won the world title at the age of 41!
Nicki Pedersen (DEN) Three-time world champion Nicki Pedersen returns to the world championships wearing number five. In a season which was dogged by mechanical failures and a wrist injury, Pedersen showed the world his true character by finishing well inside the top eight, securing his place for another year at the top level. Pedersen has been training in a warmer climate in preparation for the opening Grand Prix in Auckland.
NP: Nicki is a supreme athlete, spent a lot of time over the winter in Spain doing warm-weather training. A very professional speedway rider, can’t say whether he’s got another title in him or not, he will have the belief he does, he wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. But yet again, he will be making the headlines, providing entertainment and will be a heavy scorer in the GP this year.
Matej Zagar (SLO) Matej enjoyed his most successful season in international speedway last year, finding himself well inside the top-eight, with four Grand Prix finals under his belt, claiming the silver medal on three occasions. It is clear that the Slovenian has some talent, but that first Grand Prix victory still eludes him, something he will strive to achieve in 2014. NP: I think he’s got a Grand Prix win in him, he did well last year in terms of getting to finals, he’s a classy performer and I think this year will be the year we see Matej Zagar win a Grand Prix. He certainly has the ability to challenge for a top five place in this year’s championship.
Darcy Ward (AUS) Darcy Ward had his 2013 season blown apart by a crash during the Swedish Grand Prix in Gothenburg, which saw him leave the Ullevi Stadium with a fractured shoulder blade. The young Aussie has bags of potential to go with his blistering pace and aggressive style and is expected to feature heavily this year. NP: If Darcy can stay clear of injury, there is no reason why he can’t push for a world title because he’s got the talent and the ability.
Krzysztof Kasprzak (POL) Krzysztof Kasprzak showed glimpses of his potential last season, but those glimpses were sparse and poor performances were all too common in the Pole’s season, the low point surely came when he scored a zero in his home GP in Bydgoszcz. ‘KK’ is making his third appearance in the series and will be aiming to finish inside the top eight for the first time.
NP: Very inconsistent, I remember last year in Bydgoszcz he has a nightmare round and scored a zero, but two rounds later went on to finish second in Prague. He’s a good rider, supremely quick but I don’t think he has what it takes to be a top-five rider.
Freddie Lindgren (SWE)
A disappointing 2013, not just for Freddie, but for all the Swedish representation in the Grand Prix. With just one GP final between them, the three Swedes Antonio Lindback, Andreas Jonsson and Freddie Lindgren looked a shadow of the force that saw them all finish inside the top-10 last year. Lindgren was the best of the sorry bunch, finishing in 11th position, but the 29-year-old will have to massively improve if he wants to keep his spot in the world championships for 2015.
NP: Fortunate to be given a wildcard once again, he’s being doing lots of warm-weather training in Spain as well. He’s skipped out on the British Elite League this year, making this a make or break season for Freddie.
Chris Holder (AUS) The 2012 world champion returns to the top level after missing the last five rounds of the 2013 season through injury after an horrific crash in a league match for the Poole Pirates. Holder has the ability to score consistently, which was demonstrated in his title-winning season where he scored double-figures in nine of the 12 rounds. Holder is one to watch for the British Grand Prix in Cardiff (12 July) having reached the final on three of his four appearances, winning on two occasions.
NP: It's a big season for Chris coming back from injury, but he's worked really hard. He's a great rider and could challenge for a top 5 spot if he gets in the groove quickly.
Andreas Jonsson (SWE) The Swede has barrels of experience at the top level, this being his 13th permanent appearance in the world championships. After a poor season last year, he will be looking to return to the sort of form that saw him finish runner-up in 2011. Jonsson was absent from every GP final last year for the first time since his debut season back in 2001.
NP: For Andreas, we know what he’s about. He’s got plenty of experience and he’s getting to the stage in his career where he either makes it happen in terms of challenging for the world title or he just accepts that perhaps it’s just not going to happen for him.
Kenneth Bjerre (DEN) After missing out in 2013, the Dane is now back on the big stage. He has plenty of experience at this level and has the potential to cause some upsets this year, especially in his home GP in Copenhagen. Bjerre has finished inside the top-eight on three occasions, winning one GP back in 2010.
NP: Injuries have plagued his career in the past, but after his year out he will be hungry to challenge Niels-Kristian Iversen and Nicki Pedersen for that Danish No.1 spot.
Martin Smolinski (GER)
Martin Smolinski is making his first permanent appearance in the Speedway World Championships and becoming the first German rider to do so in the Grand Prix Series era. He impressed many last year with his performances in the British Elite League, getting to the final with the Birmingham Brummies. He qualified for this year’s championships through the GP challenge.
NP: I think Martin Smolinski will be a spoiler, I don’t think he will challenge for a top eight place. He’s got very fast equipment, he’s got a lot of experience on the continental tracks in long-track Speedway, he can be very fast but I don’t expect him to be challenging for a top-eight finish, but I do think he can claim some notable scalps.
Chris Harris Former Team GB captain Chris Harris reclaims his permanent spot in the series after a two-year absence. The stocky Brit provided British speedway fans with the most exciting moment of recent history when he won the British GP back in 2007 in dramatic fashion. Unfortunately Harris has been unable to live up to the very high expectations he set seven years ago and has not won a Grand Prix since. He finished in sixth place back in 2010.
NP: Great to see a second Brit in the series, he has had some good rounds in the past, he’s been on Grand Prix rostrums, and we know what he can do. He’s got Phil Morris in his pit corner, who was his team manager at Birmingham last year. Phil’s very organised, very professional, and very methodical in his approach and hopefully he can have an influence. Realistically he will be hoping to snatch a top eight place.
Troy Batchelor Troy Batchelor completes the trio of Aussies that will be competing in this year’s championships. Has featured in the Australian World Cup side on numerous occasions and showed flashes of his potential in the SWC final last year, where he was the top scorer for the bronze medallists. Batchelor is making his permanent debut in the championships.
NP: Troy Batchelor is a good, solid rider who has done well for Australia in the World Cup. The step-up into the Grand Prix is going to be a tough one for him and I would expect him to be targeting eighth place to try and preserve his spot for next year.
British Eurosport will broadcast exclusive LIVE coverage from every round of the Speedway Grand Prix in high definition including the New Zealand FIM Grand Prix from Auckland. Coverage starts Saturday at 6am on British Eurosport 2 HD or via the Eurosport Player. www.eurosportplayer.co.uk