Scott Nicholls heading to Ashfield for British Championship semi-final
THE most successful rider in British Championship history plans to bring a bit of Hollywood glamour to Glasgow this Sunday as he starts his bid for a record eighth title, writes Bryan Copland.
Scott Nicholls, 37, a World Cup silver medallist and 82-time Grand Prix rider, is the headline name as the Peugeot Ashfield Stadium hosts the competition’s semi-final.
Joining the Belle Vue star are 16 others including three Glasgow riders – Richard Lawson, Richie Worrall and Ben Barker – Team GB aces Lewis Bridger, Danny King and Craig Cook and a host of other riders from the Elite and Premier leagues.
Nicholls – who now doubles as a speedway pundit on BT Sport – has never ridden at the Glasgow track before but admits the prospect of sampling the atmosphere north of the border is something he’s savouring.
He said: “I’ve heard that there’s been a big investment at Glasgow and I think it’s fantastic. They’re putting some money back into the sport and trying to regenerate it, which is great, especially when they’re potentially looking at the younger riders as well.
“It’s always nice to go to new places. I’ve not been fortunate enough to race in Scotland much at all with the way the league is split – I only got to go there a handful of times in my early days and that was it.
“But the times that I was up there, I always enjoyed. The Scottish fans certainly get into it. Having some enthusiasm is nice and it makes you feel more appreciated. As much as we get paid to do it and we love doing it, we’re there to entertain. When the paying public are happy with what they see – or disappointed for that matter – it’s nice.”
This season’s British Championship will have a fresh winner after World Champion, and reigning British Champion, Tai Woffinden decided to sit out the contest to focus on commitments elsewhere.
It means Nicholls will start among the favourites, along with Cook – second last year – and Grand Prix star Chris Harris, who competes in the other semi-final at Scunthorpe this Friday.
Nicholls said: “To have the record for the most British Championships is something I’m very proud of. I’d like to have achieved some other titles – Grand Prix wins and world championships are the pinnacle – I haven’t achieved those yet but you never say never.
“But over the years the British title is something I’ve been proud to have won and it’s quite cool to see that there have been different riders coming and going in the timescale that I’ve achieved my titles.
“It definitely opens it up to somebody new this year – and it means that there’s going to be a new British Champion compared to last year.
“It’s disappointing from my point of view – if I am to achieve an eighth British title I want it to be against the strongest field possible. With Tai being in there, that would be the strongest field. But it’s his choice, you have to respect the fact that he wants to focus on his other commitments.
“On the flipside, people have to remember that he wouldn’t have been British Champion last year if it hadn’t been for a re-run in the final.
“What’s special about the British Final is that everyone ups their game. The riders aren’t ones you expect to see week-in, week-out on the Grand Prix circuit – but on their home turf they can hold their own.”
The top seven riders from Sunday will make it through to the final next month, taking place at Belle Vue’s new home at the National Speedway Stadium in Manchester.
Nicholls says he won’t feel pressure to win Sunday’s meeting, as the most experienced man in the field but will instead look to enjoy the occasion.
He said: “It will be a tough meeting but fundamentally, qualifying on Sunday is the most important thing. It’s what happens on the big day at Belle Vue that’s important.
“It’s nice that people are looking forward to me going to Glasgow – it’s quite flattering. Any pressure is going to be applied by myself. I go there first and foremost to qualify but if I win, then great.
“I’ve heard good things about the track and the whole set-up, and everybody involved, so I’m just looking forward to turning up and having some fun.”
Fans will be able to see Nicholls on their TVs less than 24 hours before then, as he provides studio analysis of the Grand Prix in Warsaw. From London he’ll make his way north ahead of tapes-up on Sunday afternoon.
He laughed: “It hasn’t really helped that it’s a 3pm start. I’m going to fly up – that’s a bit Hollywood but I have to look ahead to the following week – I’ve got Sweden and things like that. It would be a stupid o’clock start if I drove, so I’ve chosen to take the iron bird up.
“I appreciate that with the speedway, it’s not necessarily enough to make a total income. The opportunity was there to do BT Sport – the same with Eurosport – I’m just enjoying it and if I can learn a little bit, and it leads to something else, that’s great. If it doesn’t, I’ll enjoy it while I’m there.
“With BT, it’s a shame in one way that it’s not all on one channel – but it’s just fantastic we’ve got speedway on television. The facilities BT has are fantastic, so it’s great and I’m enjoying it.”
Scott Nicholls Pic by Ian Charles