By Henry Chard

When and where

East of England Arena & Events Centre: Sunday 1st April, 7.00pm

The teams

Ipswich: 1. Danny King 8.87 © 2. Michael Härtel 5.20 3. Rory Schlein 8.58 4. Cameron Heeps 6.93 5. Nico Covatti 7.49 6. Connor Mountain 3.33 7. Danyon Hume 2.00. Team Manager: Ritchie Hawkins

Peterborough: 1. Scott Nicholls 9.73 2. Emil Grondal 5.04 3. Nike Lunna 5.90 4. Michael Palm Toft 6.77 5. Ulrich Ostergaard 7.12 6. Tom Bacon 2.67 7. Simon Lambert 4.56 ©. Team Manager: Carl Johnson

Referee: A. Steele

The story

The ‘Tru Plant’ Witches make the journey to local rivals Peterborough on Easter Sunday for their first meeting of the season in the Championship Shield group stage. The Witches were due to begin 2018 with a double-header against Lakeside on Good Friday but both meetings were called off early due to the bad weather forecast leaving everyone involved frustrated. A clash with local rivals Peterborough to open the season is one to look forward to though as the Witches look to finally get the campaign started and get one over on the Panthers to establish a strong position in the group. It’s a track that many riders enjoy going to with new German signing Michael Härtel making his debut for the club.

The opposition

The Panthers endured a disappointing league campaign in 2017 missing out on the play-offs but picked up two trophies after winning the Championship Fours on their home track and beating the injury-hit Witches in the Knockout Cup final at the end of the year. There are four changes in 2018 with only Ulrich Ostergaard, Simon Lambert and Tom Bacon keeping their spots for the new season. In comes Ipswich-born Scott Nicholls to spearhead the side at number one with Emil Grondal, Nike Lunna and Michael Palm Toft joining him to give the Panthers a fresh look for 2018.

One to watch

Scott Nicholls made all the headlines towards the end of last season as he guested for Sheffield in the play-off final second leg against his hometown club before guesting for the Panthers in the Knockout Cup final and then he pulled on the Witches race jacket for the second leg at Foxhall. After a winter of confusion over rule changes that prevented Nicholls from riding in the Championship, tweaks were made to the rule to allow the seven-times British champion to take his place in the Panthers side and he will undoubtedly be the man they are banking on to lead from the front.

From the boss…

‘Tru Plant’ Witches Team Manager Ritchie Hawkins previews Sunday’s clash.

“Everyone was looking forward to the Good Friday double-header and it has been a long winter as well but the weather has put us back another couple of days and it is another week until we are at home. It’s disappointing but that is the nature of speedway. It is good that the meetings were called off early so that people do not have to travel and wait around at the stadium.

“Hopefully we will have plenty of people at Peterborough on Sunday to support us. In a sense, Peterborough is not a bad track to go to as your first meeting of the season as everyone enjoys riding the track and it is not necessarily the most technical, it is big and fast. Hopefully that will suit us and everyone is looking forward to going there and racing on that track and hopefully the weather stays good.

“We are going there looking to win it of course, especially as there is the local rivalry there and we always have really good meetings there. The atmosphere is usually good and it’s usually a close meeting too. If we can get a win it would be a massive bonus for everyone at the start of the season and it would put us in a strong position in the group early doors. It is the first meeting of the season for us though.

“Lakeside got a point there last week so that puts a little more emphasis on us trying to better that. From the group perspective we need to go there and get a result.”

The form

The Witches are still yet to take to track this season after their double-header with Lakeside was postponed due to bad weather on Friday. Peterborough began their Championship Shield campaign last Sunday, narrowly beating the Lakeside Hammers 46-44 at the East of England Arena & Events Centre with Emil Grondal scoring 11+1.

What happened last time?

The last time these two sides met in Cambridgeshire was in last season’s Knockout Cup final first leg. After Rory Schein was withdrawn following a crash in his first ride, the five-man Witches side battled back to lose by just four points in a 47-43 defeat. Danny King top scored with 13 with Cameron Heeps impressing with 12.

Away guide

The Panthers are sponsored by T. Balfe Construction and race in red, black and white kevlars. They race at the East of England Arena & Events Centre on Sunday and Friday evenings on the fast 336 metre track where Krzysztof Kasprzak holds the track record of 58.4 seconds set in September 2010. An adult ticket costs £16, Concessions (Over 65s and students) £13, Juniors (aged 10 to 16) £5, Children (under 10s) Free. A programme costs £3. For more details and how to find them visit their website here: