The national speedway season continues its relentless charge through January when the 2004 Australian under 16 solo championship is held at Olympic Park Speedway in Mildura (Vic) from this Thursday until Sunday (15 18).

The championship, which will also incorporate a national teams title, will see 16 of the country's finest junior talent battle it out at the landmark northern Victorian venue, which last hosted the under 16 title way back in 1999 when Mark Jones clinched the silverware.

Five riders will return from active duty in the 2003 under 16 title to compete in 2004, including two of the competitors who slugged it out in the final at Bibra Lake (WA): South Australians Jason Norman and 15-year-old Aaron Summers.

Norman, 14, finished second in the 2003 final behind Troy Batchelor, who then went on to forge an immediate impact in senior racing circles when he collected the Australian 500cc slider long track title at Bathurst (NSW) in November. Meanwhile, Summers was fourth in the final behind Western Australian Daniel Harding

Norman and Summers, who are both members of the Adelaide-based Sidewinders U16 Speedway Club, must start as co-favourites this weekend, where the opposition will not only come from their speedway contemporaries - the likes of local Mildura rider Ryan Sedgmen, Rohan Tungate, Bob King and Tai Woffinden -- but also a couple of insurgents from the dirt track ranks: Griffith (NSW) gun Tom Armstrong and Queenslander Dylan Trengrouse.

Armstrong is a multiple Australian junior dirt track champion, and won the two premier titles at last year's championship on the Gold Coast: 80/100cc big wheel 11-U16, and 125cc 13-U16. Meanwhile, Trengrouse emerged victorious in the 80cc 11-U13 division at the same meeting.

"It's certainly a top field of riders, but I am confident that I can go one better than last year and win the title," said Norman, speaking from his home in Pennington (SA). "I must admit I haven't been practicing that much lately, but I love the Mildura track and I'm sure the competition will bring out the best in me.

"A lot of great riders have won the under 16 title, and I would love to see my name on that list."

The individual under 16 title was first held in 1983, with Paul Snadden the inaugural champion. Since then, it's been won by a number of luminaries, including the fearsome troika of Leigh Adams (1986), Jason Crump (1990) and Ryan Sullivan (1991) which now headlines Australia's world championship offensive. Three riders have won the under 16 title twice: Jason Hawkes (1987-88), Russell Harrison (1995, 1997) and Mark Jones (1999, 2001).

In the teams title, one half of the 2003-winning South Australian pairing - Norman - will return to defend his title against six other entries: two from NSW and Vic, and one each from Qld and WA. Norman will be partnered by Sam Martin, while the teams from WA and Qld - second and third respectively in 2003 - have all-new incumbents.

Practice for both championships will be held this Thursday, with Friday set aside for a barbecue and vest presentations. The individual title will then be decided on Saturday night, and the teams on Sunday night - both commencing at 8.30pm eastern daylight savings time with the first of the heats.