Edinburgh Monarchs’ teenage sensation Max Fricke today admitted he had “big boots to fill” when he was picked to partner team-mate Sam Masters in the Premier League speedway Pairs championship, a title the Capital club last claimed 28 years ago.
But the Monarchs duo stormed to glory in fantastic style at Somerset on Friday, upsetting the form book by defeating defending champions Somerset Rebels in the Grand Final.
While Monarchs as a unit remain unbeaten after 23 meetings this season, everything else they touch also seems to turn to gold.
Fricke got the nod because No 1 Craig Cook was attending a practice session for the British Grand Prix at Cardiff, but he was fully aware of the responsibility placed upon his shoulders. But nothing appears to faze the Australian.
He told the Evening News: “Stepping in for Craig made me realise I had big boots to fill, but it felt great to win the title, and it also showed that we are a good side all the way through and it’s not all about ‘Cookie’.”
Fricke and Masters made a stuttering start when they lost a 7-2 against Somerset in the qualifying heats, but bounced back with a 5-4 advantage over Plymouth. A 6-3 win over Berwick Bandits left them needing that same margin against Sheffield Tigers in the last heat to reach the semi-finals, and they did so in style by claiming the maximum 7-2 score over the Yorkshiremen.
The Monarchs duo easily brushed aside Redcar in the last four, setting up a Grand Final showdown with Somerset twosome Nick Morris and Olly Allen who ousted Workington Comets in the other semi-final.
The battle for the crown was not without controversy when Morris was excluded for coming down on the second bend. In the rerun, and under the 4-3-2-0 scoring system, Fricke and Masters simply packed in behind race winner Allen to end Monarchs’ long wait for another Pairs triumph.
While some wanted a rerun with all four back, principally to make a better spectacle for the Sky Sports cameras in attendance, Fricke said: “It was a hard decision for the referee, but the rules clearly state if there any crashes on the first bend, leading into the second bend, then someone has to be excluded.
“However, it was great to go out in the rerun and have a victory race in front of the crowd. It was a bit of fun and one of those moments you can’t really explain.”
Monarchs were not deemed to be among the contenders for the silverware, but Fricke revealed: “Sam and I definitely thought we had a chance beforehand. We are both riding pretty well in the league right now. We just had to make sure we were consistent and not run many last places.
“I felt pretty good after my first race. I thought I had thrown it away after I went through the tapes, but I managed to come back from that. It definitely looked like an uphill battle when we lost the 7-2 against Somerset. I changed my bike because it was caked in dirt, but we got on a roll after that which lasted for the rest of the night!
“We both had the speed and we made some good gates and never really looked back. It was awesome to win and the Monarchs fans who made the journey down gave us such tremendous support and backing.”
For Masters, the delight in overturning Somerset in the Grand Final was almost palpable after the Oak Tree outfit dispensed with his services in 2012, although he insisted: “There was no drama about it, though to beat them made it a bit better. But Olly and Nick are good riders and good blokes as well.”
Masters says he was pretty confident about Monarchs’ chances of success and admitted: “I said to my girlfriend in the morning that I thought we could win this, and sure enough we did. We started off a bit slowly. I hadn’t been back to Somerset for a couple of years and it took me a while to find the correct bike set-up.
“But Max just got stronger as the meeting went on, and we simply did what we needed to do. We didn’t have a plan really. Max just dragged me along. I was lost for words at the end. I didn’t know what to say. It was awesome.”
Masters concluded: “This triumph is as much for the whole team as it is for Max and me and it will give them a big boost. Edinburgh have done a fantastic job in picking the team for this season. We are all really close and I just hope we can pick up a few more trophies over the second half of the season. We are having such a great time at the moment.”
Les Collins and Doug Wyer were the last Monarchs pair to win the championship in 1986.