WITCHES TEAM MANAGER
Sunday 26th November 2017
Words: Henry Chard
The ‘Tru7.com’ have completed their team building for the 2018 Championship season, subject to BSPA approval, after announcing all seven riders on Sunday evening.
It is a familiar looking side for the fans as six of the original seven riders from 2017 are back in Suffolk again for the new season. There is one new face to British speedway as young German rider Michael Haertel embarks on his first season in the country with the Witches. Joining him are Danny King, Rory Schlein, Nico Covatti, Cameron Heeps, Connor Mountain and Danyon Hume.
The 2017 side was tipped for big things at the beginning of the campaign and despite losing Nico Covatti and Danyon Hume to season-ending injuries early in the year, the team battled on to make both the Championship Play-Off final and Knockout Cup final, only to miss out in agonising fashion at the final hurdle in both competitions. That side entertained fans up and down the country, capturing the imagination of the Ipswich public and news that almost all of the team will stay together for 2018 is sure to delight the fans.
King will captain the side again next season as he returns for his fourth consecutive season with the club, his tenth in total in Suffolk. The 2016 British champion has admitted that Ipswich feels like home as he held his number one spot in the team in 2017 and finished with a 8.87 average.
Schlein proved to be a popular signing on the terraces last year. After a strong start to the year, he was snapped up by Premiership side Wolverhampton and his form continued all season as he became one of the top heat leaders in both divisions. The Australian started on a 7.17 average and despite ending the season on the sidelines with an ankle injury, finished on 8.58.
Covatti has become a cult hero since arriving at the club in 2015 as a reserve on a 4.19 average. Since then he has gone from strength to strength and is now an established heat leader in the second tier as well as competing at the highest level in the Grand Prix Challenge meetings and the SEC. 2017 was a frustrating year as his season ended in April after suffering a serious wrist injury in a crash at Redcar. Born in Argentina but racing on an Italian licence, Covatti is fully fit again and delighted to be back racing.
Heeps enjoyed the season of his career last year increasing his average from 5.07 to 6.93 and stepped up to the heat leader positions in Covatti’s absence. His form earnt him a Premiership spot with Somerset and as an Ipswich asset, the fans will be pleased to see ‘one of their own’ back again in the new year at Foxhall.
Haertel is an exciting addition to the 2018 side. The 19-year-old German was born in Landshut and has been German U21 champion three times already. He was given a wildcard at the 2015 SEC round in his home town and starred for Germany’s Under-21 team at this year’s World Cup semi-final scoring 16 points. Haertel shone in the 2014 Best Pairs Cup for Germany as he beat the likes of Chris Holder and Renat Gafurov on the night. He also scored eight for Germany in the 2015 World Cup qualifier and is now ready to embark on British speedway.
Mountain enjoyed a successful first season in the Championship with the Witches establishing a 3.33 average after starting the season on 2.00. The 20-year-old’s progress and professional attitude has impressed the management as the youngster looks to push on further in 2018. Mountain held the number one race jacket for National League outfit Mildenhall as they won the National Trophy last season.
Hume is another club asset who, like Covatti, suffered a painful 2017. After a stunning start to the campaign at reserve with the club, Hume suffered a broken arm and dislocated elbow in a crash at the British U21 Final at Poole which ruled him out for the remainder of the year. The 21-year-old is itching to get back racing in 2018 and will race for Birmingham once again in the National League too.
We’ll have news of 2018 season tickets in the coming weeks with the fixtures for the new campaign likely to be released towards the end of January. Stay tuned to our official website and social media channels for all the latest Witches news.More News
WITCHES TEAM MANAGER
We are really happy with the 2018 team. We had a list of riders we wanted to use and the six that finished with us at the end of last season and we would have liked to have kept them all. We put together lots of different teams and this one jumped out as the best one and we have managed to sign them all. We are delighted and a lot of people want to come and ride at Ipswich at the moment and people see that we have a good thing going.
Chris (Louis) and I work really well together and we say to each other ‘what do you think of this?’ We were both in agreement that this was our best line-up and it was the best way to go. It was pretty simple and I was happy that Chris was able to do deals with everyone and that they all wanted to come back. It came together quite easily to be fair.
The team is very similar but half the team is different to that which finished the season last year I suppose. Kyle (Newman) and Nathan (Greaves) played a massive part last year and were part of the team spirit. Danyon (Hume) was still part of it all too as he came to all the meetings. It is nice for the fans to have some continuity and it is nice to bring a fresh face in and with it being someone that no one has seen race in England, it adds an element of excitement to keep things fresh.
Nathan is going the right way and I am sure he will improve again this year. I don’t think it is a case of him going as far as he can. Cam (Heeps) for example put nearly two points on his average last season and I think they will both improve again next season. It’s the numbers game too and I think wherever Nathan goes he will do well. Kyle had a tough year injury wise but he will do very well for whoever he rides for next year and I would like to work with them both again.
We started the team building similarly to last year really. When you have Danyon on a two-point average, that is a no-brainer. Danny (King) is our number one and captain and he is a top rider, you are not going to change him. That is a great starting point and Rory (Schlein) in most other teams is a number one in the Championship. We are lucky to have him and Danny and they scored the most points in the league last year, won the most races and topped all those kind of stats from last year, we are lucky to have them.
Nico (Covatti) was doing very well last year until the injury and he has worked very hard and has been racing since. Everyone loves him at Ipswich, the fans love him because he is an out and out racer. He is ambitious and we are pleased to get him back in the team. With Cam’s progression it makes us look a strong top four. Cam needs to keep building, he matured a lot last year and you saw that in his results. He needs to keep working hard and pushing on now. He has been in Ipswich since he was 16 so the club means a lot to him and he is on the up. Connor (Mountain) is so professional and is doing everything right and he did really well for his first year. He averaged nearly three and half and he has done really well.
Michael (Haertel) is someone Chris has been keeping an eye on and we spoke about him during my first season as manager. I have watched his results since then and he came over to practice at Ipswich after a meeting this season. He seemed really professional and got round Foxhall really well for his first time, so there is a lot of potential in him and there are a lot of good reports on him. I don’t think he could be coming to a better club for his first season and I think he recognises that. There will be a lot of help there for him and he has a great opportunity. Having met him and seen how he works I am sure he will take that opportunity.
Glasgow have put a good team out already and Scunthorpe look strong, they are the two teams that have announced most of their riders so far. It will be the same mind-set as we have during the season though. We are very happy with what we have got and will concentrate on our own performance and what we are doing and let others worry about themselves. On paper we will be one of the strongest teams that everyone will be looking at and we have got to go out and do it on the track.
With the team being done quite early, it is quite nice to have a little break from speedway after a tough year, it has been stressful! However, it is the same as a rider, it is nice to have the break but you soon start to miss it! Hopefully we can start planning a trip away in February as a team for some practice. I will spend some time with Danny helping him with his preparations for the New Year and I suppose I had better concentrate on doing some work and earning some money personally!
Have a great Christmas and see you in March,
I am very happy with the 2018 team and in many ways it was a simple job as we knew what we wanted. Ritchie (Hawkins) and myself spoke about it before the end of the season and basically said that this team has gelled so well that with the injuries and not being able to put out the team we originally put together on track, it needed a second chance. You can only guess what the parameters will be that you are given to work with next year. As it worked out, it gave us a golden opportunity to bring the same team back with one change as we did have to shed some points to get within the 42.5 limit. We had a game plan and we have very much got that and we are excited about it.
We don’t agree on everything and that is probably the case for everyone but thankfully we agree on most things and that’s what makes us work well as a team. We work really well together and we are able to discuss what the other is disputing and we make what we believe is the right decision between us. It is an easy working relationship and fundamentally that is because we both want the same thing for the club and that is success and trophies for the fans.
I said this in a Speedway Star article maybe a year or two ago that we have lost the old tradition of loyalty, which is maybe the case in general society but I have seen it greatly in our sport. Partly that is down to the rules and regulations but there is no continuity and loyalty to a team but we have been able to pay that back. Obviously Kyle (Newman) did the majority of last season and we have had to lose him and Nathan (Greaves). Nathan wasn’t part of that original line-up but he came in and did a perfect job. Kyle is the one that is not starting from the off again and both of those decisions were really tough as we didn’t want to lose anybody that rode for us last year but we had to make those decisions and we have shown loyalty to the team. There is one change to what was the starting line-up in 2017 and I am happy to be able to do that and that is important to me as I said in that article a couple of years ago. There is not enough loyalty and we are not given the opportunity enough because of the rules but we have grabbed this chance with both hands.
There is two parts to having the same team back, they respect each other and get on really well. Had we have had six or seven riders that were not getting on it would have been pointless to bring them back as a unit. That wasn’t the case and we are building a bond and relationship with the fans and individual riders. Fans come to support Ipswich as a team but they have always taken a shine to one or two riders and when those riders are not there the next year it is difficult to find that bond again. Those relationships are getting stronger now and that is what is missing in speedway these days. I am really excited for the fans, riders and sponsors that they are coming back and we are building on those relationships that were strong last year and will be even stronger next year.
I am really excited about Michael (Haertel) as so many people are unaware of who he is and what he is capable of. I am not putting pressure on him and I won’t say ‘watch him go, he is going to do this and that,’ but he will have the opportunity to show me and everyone else what he can do. It is all new to him, he is only 19 and he is moving from his homeland to spend the majority of his summer in the UK and that will be difficult for him. He will need help and a little bit of time to settle down to UK racing and the tracks and surfaces which are completely different to continental riders. Everyone has seen that in the past and knows that. I believe he is someone who is capable of turning his hand to it very quickly, mainly because he has natural ability and his attitude towards the sport. I am looking forward to working with him and for the fans to see him ride for the first time. I think it is that little injection of the unknown and excitement which adds to the team. Even the riders in the team know very little about him but they are excited to see him and help him along the way. Already that is helping the whole team bond.
Announcing all seven riders at the same time is something that we have done before and we always aim to do. It is not something other clubs tend to do but I like it. I like to get it done early and I like to get the team out there because at the end of the day we have a product to sell to fans and sponsors and they need to know what they are buying into. Whether it is a season ticket or sponsorship, I want everyone to know what we are about. Until we get the team out there that is not the case and it is the way I like to do business. It works and I am happy with it.
As a club asset Gino (Manzares) is always part of our plans. We knew how keen he was and if anything had gone wrong with bringing the team back that we wanted to bring back, he would have been our first phone call. We have been in communication and knew exactly how keen he was, as would anyone who is on social media for the last six months. In the end, we got what we wanted and we have worked to make sure he got the opportunity here and he has that now with Scunthorpe. We are pleased he is back and will be racing against strong opposition every week and I hope he has a great season as he is a big part of our club. It is a temporary thing as far as we are concerned and hopefully it works out for him.
He has been doing all he can in the USA which is limited these days. His World Cup experience this year was vital to him keeping his hand in on different tracks against good opposition to put himself in the shop window and get a place back here. Any young American will see those World Cup opportunities and grab them with both hands to come to Europe, because this is what happens. Gino played it perfectly and he came over as part of the squad and he showed he can compete with the best of what Europe has to offer and that did him no harm.
It’s a case of getting back into a routine of consistent speedway on a league basis which he has missed the last two years and we wish him all the best. We will be in constant contact and keeping an eye on him with a view to welcoming him back in the future.
Have a great Christmas and an even better New Year!
The end of the season has been a tough pill to swallow really. We had a great season and got over hurdles all year with all the injuries we suffered. We maintained our form throughout it all and got to two cup finals. To win nothing is a real kick in the teeth. It is hard to take and it is probably the best team I have ridden in to not win anything.
It was a tough year but we were lucky that we all ride for a great club and have a great manager, a good boss and a great team spirit that carried us through. You speak to any Peterborough fan or rider and they don’t feel they won the Knockout Cup, the feeling is that we threw it away and maybe that is the case. That is sport and that’s how it goes sometimes and you have to take it.
I think I have been in the game long enough to know how it works but I know a lot of lads will have the feeling of ‘what do we have to do to win a trophy?’ That’s sport and that’s the way it goes. I have ridden really well in some races and come last and then not rode well and won a race. It is one of those things and it is hard to take but you move on and learn from it.
I think I was the only one not to get injured until the final meeting! You couldn’t make it up and it has been the story of our season, someone wasn’t looking down on us in a nice way this year! I’ve got a suspected fractured left wrist but I am waiting to hear from the specialist still though. There is obviously a lot of ligament damage to the wrist.
Personally this year wasn’t as good as the year before but that was going to be hard to top after winning the British Championship and getting a silver medal for Team GB. A lot happened last year and I knew it would be tough to top. All in all it was a good year and the form was there most of the time. I had a bad start to the season as I had a few issues behind the scenes but once that was sorted I was back on form and everything was going good until I had a little bike issue towards the end of the year as we got to the Play-Off semi-finals. I brought my Polish engines back over and we were away again so I felt I was riding good but was let down at times by other things.
I know how to deal with the pressure and I try to keep things very basic. Everything is the same and it does not matter what meeting it is or who you are riding against, I treat it the same. I go out and give 100% and that is all I can do and that has worked so far for me in my career and that is how I go into every meeting.
Injuries are part of motorsport. The bikes are not easy to ride don’t get me wrong, they’re a lot harder to ride than ten years ago. However, that is how the sport has evolved and the bikes have evolved and we are aware of how they are and how they react. Sometimes they do get away from you and silly things can happen. My crash was an example of this. Nathan (Greaves) got out of shape and couldn’t avoid me, he clipped me and that was it. That is the way it goes. The bikes could go back to how they were but they won’t because it would cost too much money so I don’t know what the answer is to that one.
I enjoyed my time with Leicester but it was also frustrating. It has been hard going to meetings with no team and you have pretty much lost before you get there, that is not much fun. To be fair, later in the year after they made the team changes it was a lot more enjoyable because we were going away with no pressure on us as we were at the bottom and picking up results, which was really fun. We were going to places that you wouldn’t expect us to get anything from and getting results and wins, the win at Belle Vue was fantastic and who would have thought that would happen. In the end it was great fun and you have to give credit to the Bates family for what they have done, they came in late with little to choose from for the team and stuck with it and didn’t give up.
Ahead of the AGM I like the idea of a fixed race night and that would stop the hindrance of doubling up as there would be no clashes, so I would like to see that come in. I want to ride my bike as much as I can and I absolutely hate missing meetings for clubs I have signed for. I’d also like more teams back in the Championship, it became very northern last year and with the two home and two away meetings the travelling became a killer despite it being nice to have the meetings. I’d like more teams and one at home and one way would be sufficient.
This time of the year is stressful to be honest as we don’t know what is happening in speedway and are in limbo. I am waiting for the AGM and I will be talking to people to try and find out what is going on and get an idea of where it is going. Once the AGM is out the way it is time to negotiate and get the contracts sorted. I would love to get that done before Christmas again as it always makes it more enjoyable knowing I have got two teams that I have signed for. Last year was stressful as I got to February having signed with Coventry and then we got a phone call to tell us they were not running, that was not fun. I want to get all that sorted but other than that I have DIY to sort out at home and the missus has told me I’ve got some decorating to do and after Christmas we will be building bikes and raring to go!
I have loved this year at Ipswich and we have had the best bunch of lads ever, not just riders but mechanics as well and Chris (Louis) and Ritchie (Hawkins). Everyone has mucked in, there has been no hassle in the team either. Sometimes you get a few riders who get under each other’s skin but there has been none of that this year. Everyone has knuckled down and got on and it has been really fun. Because of that people want to ride well and want to win and the way Chris runs the club is very fair. Chris makes you want to ride for him, you get no hassle from Ipswich speedway.
I would like to thank all my sponsors for supporting me again this year and I know I say it every year but without them, none of it would be able to happen. We rely on them majorly and I hope they have had an enjoyable year. I would also like to thank the fans who have been absolutely fantastic this year. I know we have been winning and that is always good but this year has been unreal, even on the road the support has been fantastic, so they deserve a big thank you. I would like to thank my family and Clara for sticking by me. As we have said before, speedway is not a normal lifestyle and not the easiest as you take a lot of it home with you and they take the brunt of it! I would like to thank my mechanics Dave Brabbin and Richard Maull, without them I would not be able to do it. I’d like to thank Ipswich speedway as well, it has been another enjoyable year and it feels like home to me and I want success for the club. That is why this year has been a bit of downer at the end as we have not won anything after being so close but I know how badly Ipswich speedway wants and deserves success and that is what I want to bring to the club.
Have a great Christmas,
Foxhall Rd, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 5TL 01473 623640