New Zealand riders once ruled the roost in solo speedway racing with three Kiwi riders winning 12 world titles between them in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s – Ivan Mauger (six), Ronnie Moore (two) and Barry Briggs (four).
Nine Kiwis in all have made it to the world finals but no one has really made an impression since Mauger won his last world title in 1979. There have been a couple of imports who have made a few waves on the domestic scene, chief among them Jason Bunyan with nine New Zealand titles, but although domiciled here they haven’t set the world alight internationally.
Other Kiwis who have had solid careers overseas are Andrew Aldridge and Grant Tregoning, and 23-year-old Ricky Wells who moved to the US early on and is now based in the UK. He would probably be our most successful solo speedway rider at present and is the only New Zealand-born rider competing at the elite level in Europe. He has just re-signed for the Workington Comets for 2015 having already won the US under-21 speedway championship in 2007 and 2008 and the AMA championship in 2009.
There is one young fella who is based in New Zealand who may just be on the cusp of doing something special in the years to come. Eighteen-year-old Hayden Sims has just finished second in the New Zealand Solo championship knocking Bunyan out along the way and was only beaten by Brit James Sargent, who has been riding in the UK Elite League as part of the Fast Track Reserve system.
“Last year was a good year for me and I feel a lot more comfortable and confident riding the bike now,” said Sims.
“Being able to beat Jason [Bunyan] in the heats was great. I got a great start in the final and went around the outside of the others but James [Sargent] just managed to get past me going into the final corner.
“It was still a great result for me and has given me the confidence boost I needed. James has been racing a lot in the UK and has more experience, but once I get overseas I’ll improve even more.”
Year-on-year the young rider has improved each time he’s gone out for the big event, but the New Zealand Under 21 title still eludes him. It’s not for the lack of trying and you can understand how hard it must be to go up against riders in their 20s when at your first attempt you’re only 15.
“I’ve made a few mistakes in the trying to get that title and last year I didn’t quite have the engine to do the job. In the past I’ve also been pushed around a bit but it’s all part of racing and learning.
“For the New Zealand’s [solo championship] though, I had a new engine, which is what I suppose I’ve been missing for the recent Under 21 champs,” said Sims.
At the end of last year it was announced the American Touring Team (speedway) asked Sims to join them for their annual trip to the Continent during the Easter period. Sims is looking forward to the gig where he’ll be able to race back-to-back meetings in the UK and a two-day team tournament in Sweden.
Sims will be joined by seven American riders who also want to get a taste of competing abroad and experience the cut and thrust of really competitive racing.
“I’ve got a few meeting here in New Zealand until the end of the season and then I’m heading of to the UK and Europe.
“They had an extra spot available and asked me if I wanted to come aboard. It will be a good eye opener for me to go back overseas [he went two years ago] and it’s a real bonus to be able to do that.
“The tracks in Europe are quite big and they’re the sort I like racing on. My long term aim is to get to race in the professional leagues in Europe and then the GPs after that,” he said.
Sims and his family are from Kapuka, near Invercargill, where he started riding a 50cc bike on the farm at 7.
Five years later he was a solo speedway rider with an ambition to follow in the footsteps of nine-time world champion and speedway legend Mauger.