Edinburgh Monarchs speedway co-boss Alex Harkess hopes the club’s supporters will take a positive view over the revamp of the league format for next season despite his own reservations about some of the changes voted through by promoters at their AGM last week.
Monarchs will compete in the rebranded SGB Championship division, a window-dressing exercise in reality but, with the team-building points limit dramatically slashed to 40.00 from 42.50, it has fuelled concerns that the quality of racing – and not just at Armadale – could suffer as a consequence and harm attendance levels.
Harkess said: “I can understand that way of thinking. And just because this particular change was agreed at the AGM doesn’t mean we agree with it, but we have to live with it for now.
“The mentality behind it was cost and the thinking was by reducing the points limit this will now make more riders available to all clubs for selection.
“But it’s still seven-man teams we are running with and you still have to find seven riders. The minute you place restrictions on certain parts of team planning to get riders under the limit it pushes the cost up because so few riders can fit in. It defeats the object in my opinion.
“I’m not saying I agree with everything that was done at the AGM but Edinburgh will do their utmost to build the best team we can to challenge for honours again, and that is always our aim.”
Harkess went on: “All clubs can now start off with a two-point rider instead of a three-point rider at No.7 and any foreign rider now comes into our league on a four-point average as opposed to five this season.
“And because we did not win anything in 2016 we did not exceed the old points limit by much so I don’t think major surgery will be required, but we will look at all our positions for sure.”
Harkess agrees that finding the right candidates to fill the two reserve positions will be crucial and thinks a mad scramble will ensue throughout the league to hunt down riders with the potential to blossom at the tail-end.
“We are all going to have to carry riders on either a two or three-point mark and if anyone thinks there is a superstar out there by the time everybody chases him he would quickly become the most expensive rider in your team.”
Monarchs’ geographical location, however, could be an obstacle in attracting any southern-based youngster with little or no experience to make the long haul north every Friday for the sake of scoring perhaps just a couple of points. Harkess added: “I have been saying that for days now.”
Monarchs’ immediate priority is to make Dan Bewley their first signing for 2017. But they could have a fight on their hands with big spending Glasgow Tigers rumoured to be interested in the young Cumbrian ace who was sidelined in August after a nasty tumble at Newcastle Diamonds. Monarchs found it impossible to find replacements for the teenager such was his high octane scoring from reserve.
But Harkess believes Monarchs are in pole position to secure his signature. “When we first signed Dan no-one else was interested in him and we are already working very hard to get him back.
“The rules state because he rode this year for us as a guest we are entitled to first option on him, because of that we are hoping he will return.”
Despite his misgivings about the points limit reduction the challenges in assembling a squad within such tight parameters now are certainly not insurmountable according to Harkess. “I’m not sure that going down to 40 from the previous limit will require a major cull to our side, in fact it could possibly mean just a one-man change if we wanted to do that. We could get away with that.”
And the way has also probably been cleared for Sam Masters to lead the squad again in 2017. Somerset Rebels, who own the Aussie’s contract, have made the jump into the newly named SGB Premiership division and might have recalled their asset but Harkess revealed: “Somerset are not interested in Sam and Sam is not interested in Somerset, an easy problem solved.”
The Championship will boast ten teams after Workington Comets confirmed their participation at the weekend and will race each other twice home and away for a match programme of 36 races.