Witches suffer top-end headache

IPSWICH Evening Star Witches will not find it easy to improve the top end strength of their speedway side for 2004.They plan to keep skipper Scott Nicholls – a move that will be welcomed by Witches supporters, but one that rules out most other top riders from heat leader positions.

IPSWICH Evening Star Witches will not find it easy to improve the top end strength of their speedway side for 2004.

They plan to keep skipper Scott Nicholls – a move that will be welcomed by Witches supporters, but one that rules out most other top riders from heat leader positions.

Last season the Witches suffered badly for having no one giving Nicholls consistent top end support. They won just six Elite League meetings and finished 12 points adrift at the foot of the table.

Promoter John Louis and his son Chris plumped to stay in the top flight at the British Speedway Promoters' Conference held in Tenerife earlier this month.

It was a toss-up between staying in the forefront of British speedway or dropping down to the Premier League, and in the end the Louis' made a positive move.

They will now keep their fingers crossed that the Ipswich public gives their support by coming through the Foxhall Stadium turnstiles in sufficient numbers to arrest a situation that has seen the club struggle to keep their heads above water financially over the last couple of years.

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Under the new grading system, riders have been put into categories from one to six.

A team cannot be built on more than 19 points, and heat leaders must not have a combined average of more than 13.

Also, only one rider can be used from grades six and five. This means that with Nicholls – a grade six – in their side Ipswich's other heat leaders must come from grades four and three.

This rules out riders with an average of over eight points, plus former world champion Mark Loram, whose average is 7.96 but is graded five. Witches asset Tomasz Gollob is also graded five and Grand Prix star Rune Holta, if he decided to ride in the Elite League, would also be graded five.

Ipswich's number two and three would have to come from the likes of Grade four riders Charlie Gjedde, Dean Barker, Hans Andersen, Joe Screen, Billy Janniro Jason Lyons, David Norris, Chris Harris, Sebastian Ulamek, David Howe or Bo Brhel.

Or from riders in grade three, who include ex-Ipswich riders Toni Svab, Joonas Kylmakorpi, Matej Ferjan and Steve Johnston, plus Kenneth Bjerre, Gary Havelock, Stuart Robson, Bjarne Pedersen, Adam Skornicki, Niklas Klingberg and Jesper B Jensen.

Witches asset Jarek Hampel, who is not intending to ride in England in 2004, is a grade four.

Grade Two riders include Shane Parker, David Ruud, Craig Boyce, Daniel Nermark, Andy Smith, Leigh Lanham, Paul Hurry, Ales Dryml, Freddie Eriksson, Mark Lemon and two riders who might well cause interest in the Ipswich camp Ronni Pedersen and Tomasz Bajerski.

Davey Watt looks the top grade one prospect, and he is joined in this lowest category by the likes of Kim Jansson, Tom P Madsen, Jason Bunyan and Nigel Sadler.

It appears Ipswich can keep Danny Bird as a doubling-up rider. The new rules state riders can only be English and never had an Elite League average over five.

"We don't want to be in the same position as last season," said Witches team manager Mike Smillie. "Ideally we would like a stronger top end, but the way it is looking it will not be easy to achieve this.

"It makes every sense to keep Scott Nicholls in our side – and this is obviously what we intend to do. We shall be looking at the figures and sitting down to agree our best options."

Other decisions that have emerged from the conference in Tenerife are that the top two riders in each team must ride at positions one and five and that reserves must still be programmed at numbers six and seven.

Each team can sign two Premier League riders as squad members to cover for reserves, while guests will only be allowed for a number one rider.

The rider replacement facility is set to be used for any other absence. Any new rider to the Elite League, who is Grand Prix standard, will be classified at grade four. Any other new foreign rider to the Elite League will be graded one.

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