Edinburgh MONARCHS team manager Alex Harkess today responded to criticism surrounding the inconsistency of the Armadale track surface and promised: “We are working very hard to make sure we get things right both for the riders and our paying public.”
In recent weeks, the Lothian Arena circuit has been far too slick for the Monarchs team’s liking, but when they requested, and got, more grip for last Friday’s League Cup semi-final against Ipswich, they were not satisfied either, with Dutch ace Theo Pijper claiming: “There was grip, but it was in the wrong places.”
Harkess is acutely away of the need to provide entertaining racing, especially with crowds now at the break-even mark for this season, and he said: “We are working to put things right, but we are going from one extreme to another without creating an awful lot of difference.
“From being slick and the team asking for grip, they now say there is too much grip and they couldn’t pass against Ipswich. We want to prepare a track surface at Armadale where riders can pass opponents, that’s what entertaining speedway is all about. If I had a magic wand to make the track perfect every week, I would do it, but it doesn’t work that way, and the weather also plays a huge part in it.”
A slick surface for an Edinburgh team which historically has never contained a clutch of quicksilver gaters, plays into visiting teams’ hands, and makes home matches an uphill struggle, as was evidenced against Leicester and Ipswich.
Harkess said: “It is no different to when we go to away tracks. If the surface is different to what the home side are used to, they moan about it. You just have to get on with it and try to take advantage, and it’s no different when teams come to Armadale. We are trying to create the best stage for our riders.”
Asked why Monarchs cannot simply adapt to the conditions, Harkess replied: “If you make the gate and hit the first turn in front, you will win most races. But it doesn’t happen. Our riders do not make the first bend in front, but they want the best possible conditions to allow them to challenge opponents and try and pass them, not to follow them round for four laps. The public don’t want to see that, and nor do the riders.”
Harkess revealed the problem against Ipswich was the patchy nature of the track. “I was told the track was soft in patches which meant the riders were going from one type of surface to another and this caused some of them to get thrown off, or their bikes reared up. It was a difficult situation to control.”
It has been remarked that the standard of racing has slipped a little recently with too many races won from the tapes, but Harkess observed: “To be fair, we set a high standard early in the season when we scored 50 points or more and were winning with some style. But teams are now coming to Armadale and having a real go at us, so we must give our team a track which allows them to both challenge and pass on. The rest is up to them.”
Alan Bridgett is Monarchs’ track curator and Harkess says some of the flak directed towards him has been unfair.
“Alan is in charge of the track and is the top man in the country, that is his job. When the track is good, everybody is quite happy. When it’s not so good they look for someone to blame,” says Harkess.
“At the end of the day you have to keep working to get things right, and I’m sure Alan will do that, because he knows when it is right. The weather plays a big part during the course of a day. Two or three weeks ago the forecast was for it to rain all day. What do you do, put water down and wait for the rain to come which it didn’t, and it was too dry.
“These are the things which have to be overcome. It’s not easy, but we are doing our best to produce a track which can provide competitive and entertaining racing for everybody.”