Roni Niemelä: It feels really good that people have faith in me (interview)
Roni Niemelä is one of the young hopes of the Finnish speedway. The 17-year-old rider has already won a silver medal in the National Junior Championship and is on the threshold of a big career. Certainly this year many fans will hear more about him.
Konrad Cinkowski (Twój Portal Żużlowy): You’re not a well known rider. Before we start, tell us something about you.
Roni Niemelä: I was born in 2004 and I am going to be 17 years old next march. At a moment I am studying first year at vocational school at HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) program. It takes three years to graduate.
– Can you tell us how did it start? I mean, how did you get interested in speedway and when did you make the decision to try it.
– Our family has lived all my life few kilometers away from our town`s speedway track. Basically I have been raised there because my father has been a big time speedway fan and our speedway club active member most of his life. I think I have been at my first speedway meeting before I have even walked.
– How did your family react to your decision? Was it tough to convince your parents?
– It was a natural decision for me to try speedway. I got my first bike Honda QR when I was 4 years old. I started to ride speedway with training wheels. My parents had always been very supportive. Mom of course is bit nervous when I am competing but she watches my meetings regularly with my little sister.
-Have you ever tried any other sport or there is only space for speedway in your life?
– We have long winters here in Finland. During my whole speedway career I have been training in winter months by riding in Ice Road Racing. That is very good training method for speedway because it is very fast and tight sport. There are 15 up to 25 riders on starting grid. It is important to ride a bike throught entire year. Last winter I competed for the first time in Ice Road Racing meeting and there will be few meetings also this winter. Otherwise I practice in many ways all year-long: jogging, cross country skiing, crossfit, or bicycle riding for example.
– Which speedway rider is your role model and why?
– I have no specific role model in speedway. I follow all the good riders equally. In the future I just want to be myself – a better rider who beats the others.
– What can you say about the past season? Was it a good season for you? For example you have won silver medal in the Finnish Championship for riders aged under 21.
– I am happy for last season. Of course when you start with 500cc few first meetings are really just a learning process. But I made steady progress all the season and that I am happy for. U21 Finnish Championship Final was a season highlight for me. I have managed to make a very strong finish on that meeting and it really paid off.
– After the main round of this tournament, you had five points. Did you believe you could come back home with a medal?
– During the main round I had a small mechanical problem with my engine. That was found out at the engine service after the meeting. So after the main round I was the last man to get to semi-final and therefore I got the last choice on the grid. Anyway after main rounds we decided to change a bike because I felt it was not like it used to be. My second bike was perfect and I managed to win the semifinal. At the final Antti Vuolas was the best and he took his second Under-21 Championship in a row. I, again had a very good race and I took the silver. I also managed to beat Finlands 2020 representatives for Under-21 World Championship and European Championship Finals: Niklas Säyriö and Timi Salonen. Well after the main round I was not so sure about the medal but after excellent semifinal, I understood there is a chance and I took it. This was once again a good example for a saying – never give up.
– Are there any meeting which went very poorly and you’re disappointed you haven’t been able to ride better?
– No. I don’t think any of my meetings were disappointments. Not at all. Like I said before, to start with 500cc you need time to learn it and I feel I have learned. I am on the right path. I think Timo Lahti and Jesse Mustonen were the only Finns I could not beat at Finnish League. I rather think about those good heats that I had. For example heat win over fresh Finnish Champion Tero Aarnio at Tampere felt really good. I know that in the big picture one heat win is nothing, but at that moment it felt really good. Tero has been, I think, already a pro speedway rider when I was born.
– You are one of the most gifted young rider in Finland. Many people have high hopes of you. How do you react to such opinions?
– It feels really good that people have faith in me. That’s why I want to do my best on the track and outside of the track. I take good care of my fitness and also my dad has taught me how to service my bikes. I have done the basic services and adjustments for my bikes for many years now. So I take care of maintaining and adjusting the clutch and carburetor. And of course I discuss a lot about set-ups with my mechanics.
– Do you feel any pressure facing such high expectations?
– No I don’t. I just do my thing as good as possible. During the meeting it is a bit irritating for me, when someone says to me like: “hey, this is an easy heat for you”. In speedway there are no easy heats. You have to always give your 100%, in every race.
– Do you set yourself any goals for this year?
– The main goal is to make progress in all areas. My other goal is to represent Finland at u19 European Championship qualifiers. Of course I want to score well in all my meetings and at league meetings I hope to get as much points as possible for my team.
– You have sign contract on this year?
– Well, I have a contract in Sweden for Division 1. with Örebro Vikingarna. I was also negotiating a contract in that country for 2020 season, but Covid pandemic has ruined it.
– Let’s say that some managers are reading this interview. Are you interested in finding a club in Poland?
– My goal is to be a professional speedway rider in the future. Therefore I am interested in finding a club there, for sure.
– Do you feel that you are good enough to get into the Polish speedway league?
– Maybe not yet in 2021, but in the future I am confident that I would manage.
– Is there anything that we didn’t talk about but is important to you?
– I want to mention that I am a member of Etelä-Pohjanmaa Sports Academy. It is an Academy run by Finnish Olympic Committee and it is for athletes of 16-19 years. Most of the participants are of course Olympic events representatives but there are also few other events in it. I am the only Finnish speedway rider at a moment in the Academy. There is a lot of benefits to be part of the Academy. We get a lot of training hours during the school week. We are also able to be absent from school lessons because of the meetings plus traveling does not count as an absence. Also we can count on good services from doctors, physiotherapists and mental coaches for example.