Mike Bacon: Smells like team spirit and Ipswich Witches are building on it!
PUBLISHED: 13:06 27 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:08 27 November 2017
© Copyright Stephen Waller
The Witches 2018... And few changes to the 2017 line-up. MIKE BACON casts his eye – as to why!
You have to go back a long way to find the last occasion Ipswich Witches named the same six riders in their seven-man team, two years on the bounce.
But that’s the situation at Foxhall Stadium for 2018, after Ipswich promoter Chris Louis stuck firmly with the nucleus of the team announced this time last year. And while injuries decimated that 2017 team, Louis and team manager Ritchie Hawkins saw more than enough, to go for almost an exact repeat next year.
And why not?
A play-off final, a knock-out cup final and a feast of entertainment – 2017 was the season Ipswich Speedway got its mojo back.
OK, so nothing was won, two finals saw two defeats for the Foxhall outfit. But the interest around the club soared – helped in no small part by those very small, but very important words... ‘team spirit’.
Speedway is an individual sport, as well as a team one.
Riders ride for themselves as they chase their Grand Prix dreams, or domestic individual honours.
Many ride for more than one club on the team front.
So, getting ‘team spirit’ going at a club in today’s hectic speedway world, is not easy.
Back in the 1970s and ‘80s teams retained riders year after year. Clubs were built around three or four riders for seasons on end. Team spirit was created, the Grand Prix series non-existent, riding abroad was rare. Team was No.1.
The Witches were a classic case-in point.
John Louis, Billy Sanders, Tony Davey, Dave Gooderham and Mike Lanham were the stalwarts of the Foxhall club’s success throughout most of the ‘70s.
Loyalty was not seen as lacking ambition, the exact opposite, it showed strength. The trophies flowed, team spirit was high and the Witches fans identified with their team, their club.
Fast forward 40 years and the Witches of 2017 have re-created that ‘team spirit’ feeling.
If you don’t believe me, ask team boss Hawkins.
Having spoken to him on many occasions throughout the year, the words ‘team spirit’ feature many times in his pre and post-match analysis of Witches’ meetings.
You can’t buy it.
It’s unique and Witches promoter Louis is learning the importance of it. Who the best riders are to fit the Witches profile, not just as top riders on the track, but off it.
The 2018 Witches team is: Danny King, Rory Schlein, Nico Covatti, Cameron Heeps, Michael Haertel, Connor Mountain and Danyon Hume.
King is the Witches No.1 again in 2018.
The Peterborough-based former British champion exudes all that is right about speedway.
King (above is video is of him winning the British Final in 2016) has matured not only into a fine rider, but someone who takes his captaincy seriously, tackles the media without fuss – and has time for the fans.
That leadership is just what his good friend Hawkins, the team boss, thrives on, the pair of them having bought into what Louis is trying to create at Ipswich Speedway.
“When Rory walks into the pits, he just lifts the whole team.”
That was told to me by Hawkins last season when we were chatting about Aussie star, Schlein’s influence on the side.
You can’t put a high enough price on someone who does that. Schlein isn’t just a good rider, he’s experienced and respected.
It’s no coincidence young Cameron Heeps had enjoyed best-ever season in 2017, having Schlein, a fellow Aussie, on his side of the pits.
Heeps’ easy manner makes him good to work with too, on and off the track as he continues to mature. He rode as a heat leader for much of last season and showed that doesn’t faze him.
For Nico Covatti and Danyon Hume, their seasons were cruelly cut down by injury in 2017.
More polite and easy-going individuals you would be hard-pressed to find in any walk of life. And while Louis isn’t picking a team based on how ‘nice’ riders are, don’t forget Covatti is a top, top international racer... Youngster Hume has his whole promising career ahead of him.
When Connor Mountain was told he had lost his place in the Witches team in July as Hawkins and Louis re-jigged the starting line-up, only to be told hours later, he was back in because of an error by the management duo, the teenager could have acted in one of many ways.
Mountain chose the professional one... Got on with his racing, putting himself and his club first.
He scored plenty of valuable points, he will be better for last season’s experiences and will learn much from King and Schlein, especially.
Which just leaves the Witches new man Haertel.
The young German will have been eyed by Louis for many months now, his attitude as key to signing him, as his racing.
Clearly he is a talent, clearly Louis and Hawkins feel he will buy into the Witches’ way of doing things.
It’s called team spirit.
And at Foxhall Stadium right now, they are building it in abundance.