Speedway facing crunch time

SPEEDWAY: British speedway has to make some of its biggest decisions for 50 years over the next couple of weeks.Yet there appears to be no reason for confidence that promoters of the country's top clubs will get it right.

By Elvin King


BRITISH speedway has to make some of its biggest decisions for 50 years over the next couple of weeks.

Yet there appears to be no reason for confidence that promoters of the country's top clubs will get it right.

To say that there is lack of suitable ideas flying about at the moment is an understatement. No one has come forward with any feasible answers to the problem of how to run the Sky Sports Elite League in harmony with the expanding Grand Prix series.

"There is no simple solution," said Ipswich Evening Star Witches director Magda Louis today.

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The situation is weighing on the Witches' management to such an extent that they are considering a move down to the Premier League, where everything in the garden appears rosy.

The Premier League has no interference from the GP. Rider costs are much lower and apart from Workington's Carl Stonhewer it has contained no riders associated with the world championship race.

However, Mrs Louis confirmed that the Witches will remain in the top flight in 2003.

"We have assets in Scott Nicholls, Tomasz Gollob and Jarek Hampel and it would be wrong at this stage to drop down. But I cannot give that confirmation for 2004," she said.

Much will depend on decisions made next Tuesday when all nine Elite League promoters meet at the British Speedway Promoters' Association headquarters in Rugby.

Here the blueprint will be made for the annual conference at Swindon later in the month.

Oxford, Peterborough and Coventry are the three clubs most badly affected by the GP. Having to switch from their usual home race nights most weekends has affected their business.

Oxford have announced they are to move to the Premier League, but this has to be ratified. Peterborough are struggling to find enough dates at their East of England showground base to fulfil their 2003 fixtures, while regular Saturday track Coventry had their lowest crowd for 50 years on a Wednesday night in September.

The Elite League has existed for the last two years on nine clubs and it cannot viably run with any less.

What would Ipswich like to see? Mrs Louis could find no easy answer.

"No two clubs have the same problems," she said. "What might be a good answer for one might by a disaster for another.

"We would like to see a cost-cutting exercise, but we happy to use Scott Nicholls as our number one.

"Scott fitted in his GP duties alongside his Ipswich meetings and I am sure he will do the same next year if he gets the nominated spot we all expect.

"There is talk of A fixtures involving GP stars and B fixtures – run on GP weeks – not involving GP riders. This might work and it is one option."

Like most British club officials, Mrs Louis has a dislike for the GP series. "I feel as though I am sponsoring it by providing income to keep riders afloat.

"Speedway in Poland has run dry now and payments in the GP are poor. It is British speedway that keeps the top riders in clover.

"At the end of the day Witches fans want us to win and we have to survive. We cannot do either if we cannot pick a full side every week. If top riders sign contracts with Elite League clubs for 2003 they should be made to confirm that they can fulfil all the necessary dates."

Ipswich, who have already agreed terms with Nicholls and Hampel for next year, expect to finalise their team building before Christmas.

They have no shortage of riders keen to stay or sign for them, although Joonas Kylmakorpi is expected to ride for his parent club Eastbourne next season.

Chris Louis is earmarked to start as a second string, while Gollob's position is likely to be determined by the combined average limit, with talk of a 22 point heat leader ceiling and a 42 point team limit.