Will the Witches be left behind?

THE tapes go up on the 2007 speedway season in nine weeks' time. But will Ipswich Evening Star Witches be left behind?After a series of disappointing campaigns the promotion of the Elite League club has vowed to bring the good times back to Foxhall Stadium.

By Elvin King

THE tapes go up on the 2007 speedway season in nine weeks' time. But will Ipswich Evening Star Witches be left behind?

After a series of disappointing campaigns the promotion of the Elite League club has vowed to bring the good times back to Foxhall Stadium.

But fans who were hoping for a mass clear-out have been disappointed, with four of the 2006 side already confirmed - with one more also a certain starter.

Four of the 11 clubs have already finalised their line-ups, while Ipswich still wait to complete after hoping to have everything tied up before Christmas.

But rider/manager Chris Louis today issued a 'Don't panic' message to concerned Witches followers.

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“I am happy with the way things are going, and a side should be in place before long,” he said.

“Although some clubs are now complete we are not last in the queue.

“As I said before it does get harder every winter, but there is certainly no need to panic.”

A return for Piotr Protasiewicz was always a long shot with the Pole appearing to lose interest in riding in England during the final weeks of the last two seasons.

It would have taken a huge public relations assault to have convinced many among the Foxhall faithful that the former Grand Prix rider was worth a third chance.

A last resort is probably the best way of summing up his chances of being included in the 2007 Ipswich team, and Louis has now confirmed that Protasiewicz will not be returning.

This is a sensible move, although the rider who will be 32 on January 25 has the ability to make an impact if he does as expected sign for Oxford.

But with meetings in the Polish, Swedish and Russian Leagues as well he will need a strong constitution to stay fresh and hungry for the whole of the campaign.

With 12 Thursday meetings in the Russian League - nine of which would have clashed with Ipswich home matches - Protasiewicz eventually ruled himself out of the equation.

But was he seriously ever in it?

Louis confirmed that the fate of Daniel King and Tobi Kroner largely depends on the rider brought in to fill the number three or four berth.

For King to partner Marcin Rempala at reserve then a six point rider would have to be recruited. If Kroner was to be included at the bottom end then a 7.75 rider could be accommodated.

Whoever it is, Louis confirmed that he will be foreign.

He explained: “It is one of my crusades that we are not going about things the correct way to produce our own home grown talent.

“And as I said before no rider who is not fixed up in the Elite League should be ruled out.”

Australian Todd Wiltshire has indicated that he will not ride in England this year at the age of 38, but the former world number three still knows his way around Foxhall having scorched to 17 points for Oxford last July.

His average of 7.48 could fit the bill, while as an outsider Ipswich-based Leigh Lanham has still to get fixed up (average 5.91).

Swede Mikael Max (6.35) has said that he will not ride in England this year, but such is the dearth of top riders available the former Grand Prix rider might be considered.

With Mike Smillie's work commitments this summer not proving as much as a problem as at once envisaged he is expected to carry on as Witches team manager for a tenth full season.

Louis gave Smillie his backing, saying: “Mike knows the scene, but like the rest of us he knows his limitations.

“At the moment he is to carry on and everybody at the club has full faith in his abilities.

“I saw former Arena-Essex promoter Ronnie Russell mentioned as a possible Ipswich team manager. I have no idea where that came from.”

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