Witches fail in Hancock bid

IPSWICH Evening Star Witches have failed in an ambitious bid to bring former world champion Greg Hancock to Foxhall Stadium.After intensive talks lasting most of the week, the American is unable to commit himself to riding in the Sky Sports Elite League.

By Elvin King

IPSWICH Evening Star Witches have failed in an ambitious bid to bring former world champion Greg Hancock to Foxhall Stadium.

After intensive talks lasting most of the week, the American is unable to commit himself to riding in the Sky Sports Elite League.

He is now based in Sweden and has a full schedule of meetings in that country and in Poland. And Hancock's backers are keen on him putting every effort into retaining the world title, with the first Grand Prix of the season taking place in Poland tonight.Ipswich also approached Tomasz Gollob, and the Pole, who rode for the Witches in 1998, 1999 and 2000, was sympathetic.

But he fears that his form is not good enough to hold down a heat leader berth. "I am doing well in my own country, but have struggled in the Swedish League," said Gollob.

"I do not feel confident enough to come to England and serve Ipswich as well as I would like. If I do come back, and it might happen one day, I want to be able to make a big impact."

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Ipswich would have made two changes to accommodate either Hancock or Gollob, with Paul Hurry and Tom P Madsen the most likely to have been dropped – with Danny King a possibility to come in at reserve.

The Witches have won just once in the Elite League, and director Magda Louis admitted today that the club is in crisis.

"We were very close to a deal with Greg," she said. "Money was not a factor. We know we have to see an improvement.

"We are not going to walk away. We are going to face this crisis head-on. Nobody is more frustrated about the poor results than my husband John, Mike Smillie and myself.

"If John and I felt that resigning and dismissing Mike would be the best option for the Witches we would do it. But unlike football, there are not people around prepared to promote speedway.

"We have lost far too many matches and our riders have under-performed. Paul Hurry has hit his lowest low, and does not know why."

Mrs Louis has called for radical changes to be made to the structure of the sport in England.

"Riders must find it hard to have an allegiance to any club," she said. "Many ride for two clubs in England and for clubs in Poland and Sweden as well.

"I have to ask, 'What has happened to our sport?' I am appalled by what I have to deal with these days. There must be major changes with a top master – independent of all clubs – overseeing speedway in Great Britain."

Ipswich are still hoping to make changes, but they will not involve such high-calibre riders as Hancock and Gollob.

The Witches lost their third speedway meeting of the week when a waterlogged track ended hopes of riding at Arena-Essex last night.

The British League Cup match was postponed at 3.45pm, and no new date has yet been arranged.

On Monday the Witches rode just one heat in the Elite League at home to Coventry, and Wednesday's planned trip to King's Lynn was called off in mid-afternoon.

The Witches visit Belle Vue, Manchester on Monday, a side who have yet to collect a single point in the league. Chris Slabon is fit enough to ride after his car crash while Leigh Lanham will be at number six.

The return fixture is at Foxhall Stadium on Thursday, and five points against the Aces will relieve some of the gloom currently hanging over the club.

Meanwhile, Witches asset Tony Rickardsson starts his bid to equal Ivan Mauger's six world speedway titles in the opening 2003 Grand Prix in Chorzow, Poland tonight.

The Swede, who is on loan to Poole Pirates for the next two years, is favourite to lift the crown. And he confirmed that he still has a hunger to succeed.

"I have as good a chance as the next rider of winning the title this year," said the 32-year-old. "I will go for it and if I don't win again I will probably learn something extra that will hold me in good stead for 2004.

"Being successful for me will be staying in the top ten, it's quite a big achievement in the sport today.

"If I lost a little hunger and nerve, I would not keep riding that much longer. But if I keep plugging away like I have over the years I will stand a chance of winning another title.

"I've been lucky to win titles, but you need to be lucky. I never heard about an unlucky world champion."

Rickardsson won his first world title in 1994, and is aiming to equal another Mauger record by winning three years on the trot.

Scott Nicholls, Stowmarket-based Mark Loram and Lee Richardson carry the English hopes, with the former at a stage in his career when he can take over from 2000 world champion Loram as the top British threat.

He finished on the rostrum in the last GP in Sydney in October last year and gained a lot of experience last season when he was in the GP full-time for the first time.

Andreas Jonsson is injured so his place goes to Peter Karlsson, while Loram and Ryan Sullivan will not be fully fit but are likely to ride to collect points on offer for starting in the main event.

Loram suffered a serious elbow injury a month ago that required surgery. He said: "I'm going all out to make it. It's feeling better but it's unfair to say it's 100 per cent."

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