Can an F1 car beat a speedway bike on dirt? Hold my Red Bull…

Speedway. No, not in the Daytona or Bristol sense. It’s a form of motorcycle racing which takes place on dirt ovals, and it’s hugely popular in Europe. It’s also regarded as the national sport in Poland, which this week played host to a Speedway competition with a difference.

Like all forms of motorsport it’s hugely specialist, with custom-made bikes the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else being the tools of the trade. But when Maciej “Magic” Janowski threw down the gauntlet to the world of motorsport and said, “Come and have a go if you think you can beat me,’ it led to an intriguing competition.

Taking place at Wrocław’s Stadion Olimpijski, the unique Red Bull Speedways contest saw athletes from the worlds of rallying, drifting, and — being a Red Bull event — Formula 1 take to the dirt in a bid to dethrone Magic. With a 500cc engine and a top speed of around 80mph, if it was a game of stats, the bike might as well have stayed at home, but the real world tells a very different story. This was Magic and his Ryszard Kowalski Racing machine’s home turf.


The four-wheeled machines may have been up against it, but Magic saw things differently and was impressed by what he faced.

“On the test day I was surprised how good they went and and started to be a little more stressed,” he told RACER. “But no question, this is a speedway bike made for a speedway track so it would have been a shame to lose, but I’m grateful to have all these vehicles on this track.”

Naturally, light work was made of the rally car — a Volkswagen Polo GTI, the cream of the Rally2 crop, driven by Adam Małysz — and the drift machine — a highly modified Toyota GR86 pedaled by Jakub “Kuba” Przygonski — but what about the F1 car? We hear on a daily basis that it’s the pinnacle of motorsport, and the car in question, the 2011 championship-winning RB7 in the hands of 13-time grand prix winner David Coulthard, ought to have easily had the bike covered — anywhere else, at least.

Kuba Przygonski entertained the crowd with his drifting Toyota, although he couldn’t quite match the F1 car. Damian Kramski/Red Bull Content Pool

The car was largely unchanged from its Showrun form — essentially as it was raced in period, albeit it with certain elements of under floor aero removed, a raised ride height, traction control programmed into the car’s electronics, and fans fitted onboard to aid cooling — but Pirelli developed special tires for the event. Originally expected to resemble the Italian brand’s World Rally rubber, tires closer to Formula 1’s wet weather tires were delivered, but made up of a much larger compound.

“I’ve got no comparison, so I’m going to have to say they did their job,” Coulthard told RACER of the unique boots on his ex-Mark Webber machine. “Normally when you do tire development, you do back-to-backs, and you then feel and you see all that sort of thing. (But) well done Pirelli, the tires are still on the car so that’s a good sign.”

The competition followed an Olympic cycling-style pursuit format with competitors starting at opposite ends of the track. It was a narrow affair, but Magic wasn’t to be beaten at his own game, even if in the numbers game he was easily bottom of the pile.

He had Coulthard and the RB7 licked until Coulthard turned the tables — and the track — and called for a rematch going clockwise.

So what, just turn right instead of left, huh? Well, much like in oval racing on four wheels, the Speedway bike is designed to go only one way. The exhaust placement and steering setup makes it a much bigger challenge for the rider to overcome, and with the lack of brakes, there’s very little in the way of a get out of jail free card should things go wrong. We won’t say that’s what happened, but it was enough of a gamechanger to finally see Magic defeated.

“I was worried because we never actually do that much — maybe I tried twice, three times before but it’s hard to turn right because of the exhaust,” Magic said. “It was hard.”

Maciej Janowski whooped Coulthard when going the right way round…but then things got more complicated. Damian Kramski/Red Bull Content Pool

Coulthard’s call for a rematch resulted in the day ending with a 1-1 draw, and Magic pondering what the decider could be. Coulthard, however, ruled out a ride swap for round three.

“I think it’s safer for everyone that I don’t race the speedway bike,” he said. “But it’s great to see the competition, the speeds, to just understand the challenges they have because in my mind, I knew it was dirt but I thought below the dirt there was tarmac or concrete or something, so they really have to be reactive, like rally drivers, so I really enjoyed experiencing that and coming here.”

“I enjoyed the experience. Everyone’s going home safe, no champagne and trophy, but it was still great to be part of the competition.”

“The issue when you’ve got very limited running is you only find out where the limit is when you’re sliding towards an air barrier, and we don’t have the spares!” – DAVID COULTHARD

But was it all in vain? Was the F1 car beaten before it even took to the track? Coulthard had a few ideas of how he could better himself if the contest was redone.

“If I had a much wider course to know — because basically when you drive a rally car, you’ve got to keep it floored to pull yourself through the car, and a formula car, you don’t do that because you just burn your tires out,” he said. “But I think if I had a bit more space to play with, then a slightly more aggressive driving style would’ve been quicker.

“But the issue when you’ve got very limited running is you only find out where the limit is when you’re sliding towards an air barrier, and we don’t have the spares!

“So all things considered, I’m quite happy with how we showed up. It was the competition no one knew we needed, but this feels like it might not be the last time we see something like this.”

So there you have it. Can a Formula 1 car race on a dirt oval? Yes. But while Coulthard joked that it was a “match made in heaven,” it’s probably not something that teams will want to be making a habit of.

Story originally appeared on Racer