Monday, 20 May 2013

Pirate Woes, Final Winners, GP Glee & Sky Goes PL Again

ITEM: Of all the accusations levelled at Matt Ford over the years the one that is pretty much agreed on by all parties is that he's a shrewd promoter. He showed that once more this week with his reaction to Poole's disappointing start to the season, dropping three riders - including the injured enfant terrible Darcy Ward - and bringing in replacements he considers will turn the Pirates' season around.

The new arrivals - former Coventry rider Przemyszlaw Pawlicki, Poole asset Thomas H Jonasson, and untried Latvian Andreij Lebedevs - should make their home debuts on Wednesday, against King's Lynn, and all eyes will be on how they perform. Pawlicki is certainly a better rider than his average suggests and, while he won't score what a fit Ward would contribute, he should have no trouble winning the Pirates fans over.

Lebedevs is a risk, but has been scoring well for Daugavpils in the Polish 1.Liga and in open meetings in that part of the world. Whether he can translate that form to the Elite League is obviously open to question, but fresh faces are often welcome in British speedway.

As for Jonasson, he's an enigma. So talented, often able to mix it with the best in the world, but he doesn't have a five-and-a-half point average in the Elite League for nothing. His commitment to British speedway - and the effort he puts in when he actually turns up - varies wildly, and he's probably the biggest risk of the three. Opposing fans will be hoping that the usual Jonasson turns up, but Wimborne Road regulars - ever hopeful - are sure he'll be a success.

An unfortunate casualty of these changes is Kyle Howarth, a young British rider and Poole asset, who finds himself without an Elite League berth. Poole made no little noise about giving Howarth a chance, and he's performed to expectations, so his axing at the first sign of trouble is galling for fans of British riders, and must be heartbreaking for the lad himself. It's all the more disappointing given that the Pirates' team manager also manages Team GB and can't back a Brit if his life depended on it - as opposed to Team GB's junior managers, who have filled their EL sides with British riders.

You also have to ask what the future holds for Darcy Ward, who will be unable to return to the Poole side without another bout of major surgery down the line. There were rumours in the off-season that Ward's various transgressions had pushed Ford to the limit. This, like so many speedway rumours, proved not to be the case, but you wonder if his latest bout of troublemaking in Poland, together with his poor early season form, haven't led Ford down that path in the end...

ITEM: Last week's British Final was an entertaining affair, and - to my mind, at least - wasn't lessened by the loss of the Cardiff wild card reward for the highest placing non-GP rider. As it turns out, it would have been Scott Nicholls, although you can't say how thins may have turned out if that extra carrot were dangled in front of the other riders.

Tai Woffinden continued his magnificent early season form to take his first title, at last on his home track (although in the form he's been in he most likely would have won it anywhere), and further pushed on to win his maiden Grand Prix in Prague at the weekend. There are still some - and I must admit I'm one of them - who can't quite take to him, but I'm sure our numbers are lessening by the day and it may not be long before he's a true British champion we can all get behind.

One of the more sparky entrants into the final was Jason Garrity, a late call-up after the withdrawal of Stuart Robson, and he certainly made the most of his opportunity. Garrity scored more in his qualifying round than Ben Barker, who was quizzingly given a wild card into the final he didn't deserve, and finished in a higher qualifying round placing than Kyle Howarth, who had also been given a fee ride into the final despite finishing way down the qualifiers.

Although that must have puzzled and disappointed him, Garrity did his talking on the track, and could have qualified for the night's semi-finals if he'd won his last ride, but found himself ridden wide at the first bend - a tactic he loves to employ himself - and ended up in 7th place, one outside the semi-final places. As (bad) luck would have it, Garrity broke his leg three days later, and will sit out 6-8 weeks of the season, but certainly put his name on many fans' radar with his efforts.

Of the rest, Craig Cook continued his improvement be beating Edward Kennett into the final, and a 4th place finish that cements his growing reputation. Although British speedway is in the doldrums right now, there are encouraging signs all over. Time to be positive, and time to get behind our boys, yeah?

ITEM: Woffinden's win at the Prague Grand Prix is the culmination of a fantastic season so far - whatever he's done to his bikes, his body, and his mind is paying dividend after dividend, and is shown even more starkly when his usual British rivals are struggling badly.

The Prague GP wasn't a classic by any stretch of the imagination, and continued a run of poor meetings at the Czech track, which will host the latter stages of the Speedway World Cup in July. This was despite a handful of fantastic races involving Woffinden and particularly Emil Sayfutdinov, but the rest of the field was much of a muchness. It must have been particularly galling for series sponsors Monster to see none of their riders - a quarter of the field - make the semi-finals, especially given rivals Red Bull's successes thus far.

The GP circus moves to Cardiff next, and the artificially-laid track at the Millennium Stadium. This usually guarantees a poor spectacle but Cardiff occasionally produces some excitement - the year-on-year dwindling crowd will certainly hope so - and Woffinden's form gives a good chance of a British winner for the first time since 2007.

Chris Harris, who won that time out, has been given the wild card contrary to popular opinion and will be eager to prove the naysayers wrong, although his current form is worrying and he may end up vying with Ales Dryml, subbing for the injured Darcy Ward, for last place. Let's hope not, for every possible reason!

ITEM: Sky's cameras pitch up at Berwick tomorrow night for the Premier League clash with Newcastle. Although both sides will be missing riders, the Premier League encounters on Sky are usually good value (with the possible exception of that mauling Rye House delivered, live on Sky, a few seasons back).

One absence from the meeting - although he ma very well be at the stadium - will be David Bellego, who has been banned by the French authorities for turning down a place in their team for the SWC qualifier in Hungary today. The French would have been unlikely to qualify from a meeting which also features the Hungarians, the USA, and the Italians, and it's disappointing that the FFM have taken this action.

Still, it shows that their federation are taking the competition seriously, something which can't be said of the Finns, who have not entered a team and allowed their top rider, Joonas Kylmakorpi, to race on a Swedish license this season.

You have to wonder what the reaction would be if the ACU took this stance with British riders - I'm not sure Scott Nicholls, or Coventry, would take too well to him being banned for refusing to compete for Team GB at the SWC this summer!

Even without Bellego, the efforts of Edward Kennett and Richie Worrall will be worth tuning in for, and it's always interesting to see how the young Brits like Lewis Kerr (flying at the moment, and averaging more than several established Elite League riders) and Paul Starke get on.

Berwick may not be the most salubrious of surroundings but that's half the fun. Sky Sports 1, 7.30, okay?

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