After the warmups that were the Scottish cup and Champions Challenge it is into the real stuff on Saturday evening as we head to Shielfield park to take on the Berwick Bandits in the newly rebranded Challenge Shield.
You will need to forgive me if I forget the name of the competition that has had more iterations than anyone can care to remember in recent years with it being the league cup, premier trophy and I’m sure it was probably called the Tennent’s sixes at some point as well.
Still it is a competition that provides a chance to lift a trophy and will give us a good indication of where we stand before the league fixtures start in a few weeks team.
As ever the group stages to begin have been regionalised with the Bandits, Workington and Glasgow making up the ‘Northern’ section with all teams facing off against each other home and away and the group winner being guaranteed a semi final spot alongside the winners of the other two groups and the best runner up (I have no idea how that is worked out with the groups being unbalanced and to be 100% honest I actually haven’t gotten round to reading up on how it works yet)
Firstly we head to the borders to take on the revamped Bandits in what will be there first fixture of the season. No one in speedway suffered more bad luck than the Bandits on the injury front last year and they will be looking for a more successful and injury free run in the second year of the current promotional reign.
As with any team that finishes towards the bottom of the table the Bandits were not forced into the kind of wholesale changes that other were during the winter but there was still somewhat of a fresh feel to the team with 2 newcomers to the team and it could be argued that Nikolaj Busk Jakobsen is a fresh signing also giving that he crashed out on his debut last season.
The two newcomers come from the different ends of the experience scale when it comes to British speedway in Aaron Summers and newcomer John Lidman. Summers of course is vastly experienced at this level having spent the last 11 years between Edinburgh, Redcar and Glasgow. A move that has been in the offing for a while it seems with Aaron’s locality staying as he does 13 miles from the Berwick track and his involvement in the Duns training track means this should be a marriage made in heaven and ‘Spud’ will be looking to kick on and take back a number 1 mantle after a few years as part of a powerhouse Glasgow trio.
Joining Aaron in what must be one of the most experienced and savvy opening pairings in the division is the evergreen Kevin Doolan. Doolan is now firmly entrenched as a club legend at Berwick having celebrated his testimonial there last year and is one of the most popular riders on and off track in the sport. Now settling into the later part of his career Doolan is still a very handy man to have around and settling in at the number 2 slot you would expect in the short term he will make heat 8 is own.
The only true newcomer to British speedway is Swede John Lidman who takes the number 3 slot. The 23 year old Nykoping born racer is somewhat of an unknown quantity (well to me anyway as I don’t study foreign speedway that much) but positive reviews have been coming out of Berwick about his arrival and they have a good lineage of bringing over riders from Scandinavia over the years.
Helping guide Lidman on the track and no doubt off it in the in early parts of the year will be David Howe who takes the number 4 race jacket. Howe having successfully returned from retirement last year with some displays that were reminiscent of his pomp. Reinvigorated Howe is another popular and chirpy character and one thing is for sure with Doolan and Howe in the fold the Berwick pits will be a fun place to be this year.
Number 5 is Dane Nicolaj Busk Jacobsen, seen by many as a coup of a signing last year when introduced on a 6.5 average Jacobsen unfortunately injured himself on his very first heat at Shielfield and was not seen again last year. The silver lining to that is he did not get a chance to improve that average and is again brought in on a bargain figure. Jacobsen appears to have all the makings of a top talent and with a couple of years where it appears he has not really moved forward and at 24 years old now he may well see this as the year for him to really kick on and if he does then it will make Berwick a very tough team to beat indeed.
Moving to reserve and this is where Berwick feel they have a real powerhouse pairing that they will look to capitalise on. Average wise it is the strongest in the league with both incumbents on averages of over 5 and with both looking likely to improve it could be that a revolving door of strong performers will man the lower reaches of the Bandits team. Number 6 is a former Monarch in Jye Etheridge. Jye perhaps took a little time to settle in to British speedway but is certainly making his mark now, more at home on the bigger circuits the Shielfield circuit alongside his doubling up spot at Belle Vue should suit him well and many are expecting big things.
Joining Jye at reserve is Austrian Daniel Gappmaier. The 26 year old now in his third year at Berwick and certainly knows the quickest way round his home track. Gappmaier started last year in the same berth he takes up this year and quickly moved into the main body of the team with some blistering results a repeat of this and the Bandits will be in good position to challenge this year.
For the Staggs Bar Monarchs well we have now seen our guys on track twice and it looks like we are starting to gel together. Ricky and Erik look set fair for a battle for that number 1 race jacket all season and with Matt Williamson and Josh Pickering looking dialled in already that gives us a good base at the top and bottom end. No one can have been failed to be impressed by Max in his opening efforts and once Joel settles down we know what he is capable of as well although he unfortunately misses out tonight after his heavy tumble in heat 14 on Friday with rider replacement in operation. Mark will be looking for results from the practice efforts he has put in recently even as the weather as put paid to the real stuff so to speak so all in all we look well placed for another interesting season.
Obviously though nothing is won on paper and its time to back that up on track starting at Shielfield park as we look to get our Championship Shield (is that right?) campaign off to a flying start.
Sunday 8th April 2018, 12:28pm
In spite of the best efforts of the track staff (including some Edinburgh travellers) our visit to Berwick last night was postponed due to a lengthy spell of rain.