Edinburgh Monarchs speedway team manager Alex Harkess today insisted that new signing Erik Riss has the potential to make his mark in the Premier League in 2015.
And he said it would be unfair to compare the 19-year-old World Longtrack champion to previous German acquisitions who failed to make the grade with the team.
It has been pointed out that Max Dilger, Tobias Busch and Marcel Helfer were all released after struggling to stamp their authority on the sport’s second-tier division and while most have welcomed Riss as Monarchs’ final team member for next season, others have opined that Monarchs’ track record with German riders is not good.
However, Harkess, pictured below right with co-promoter John Campbell, responded, saying: “I don’t think Kevin Wolbert, who has rejoined us, was a bad investment and he went to No.1 in our team. What more do people want? It is very unfair to say that Tobias was a failure. We would have had him back in a minute, but he would have come back on a seven-point average, which was too high for us.”
Wolbert, in conjunction with other contacts in Germany, convinced Monarchs to give Riss the green light and Harkess thinks the gifted teenager has the talent to make people sit up and take notice.
“Riss is a guy who looks very good on a bike,” said Harkess, “but obviously we have got to get him to adapt to Armadale, which could be interesting. If he does adapt I think he will do very well. His machinery is very good and importantly he comes from a speedway background.”
By his own admission Riss, who has been keen to ride in Britain for a while, lacks experience. However, Harkess is not unduly concerned by this.
“It may actually work out to our benefit simply because he is an accomplished motorcyclist,” he said. “This could see him come on very quickly indeed. He is already a world champion on a motorbike, so clearly he can do something, so the gamble on our part is that bit less.”
Without doubt Riss will find the cut-throat nature of the Premier League something of an eye opener and Harkess said: “I’d like to think he will be good on the big circuits and good round the smaller ones as well.
“And if he can master Armadale, then the rest should fall into place.”
With Riss on a five-point starting mark and reserve duo Max Clegg and Rob Branford both three-pointers, Monarchs’ revamped squad may look top-heavy in appearance, with the onus on their top four to share the scoring burden.
Harkess said: “Our top four (Cook, Masters, Sedgmen and Wolbert) are probably the strongest quartet in the league and it doesn’t follow that our two reserves will put pressure on our top four to score big all the time.
“Rob is a former British Under-21 champion and Max, who I admit is a gamble, is used to winning races in the National League with Cradley Heathens, but he is not an also-ran.”
“I would be deeply disappointed if the riders at the bottom had bad nights every week. That would be the worst scenario, but I don’t think that will happen.
“I think the balance of the side is fine, but it is a question you could come back and ask yourself in September or October depending on how things go. It is our intention to finish next season with the seven riders we start with, but who can tell.”
Asked if there had been any British riders available to fill their final berth, Harkess replied: “One or two but they were already owned by other clubs and would have spent four or five hours to get here and the same driving back. That presented problems because they probably would have passed a number of other tracks en-route and none of them would have been our assets.
“Riss will be, once he completes four home and four away matches for us.”
The one disappointment for Monarchs supporters is that no place has been found for popular Hungarian Jozsef Tabaka, who broke his leg against Somerset Rebels two years ago.
But Harkess explained: “Jozsef’s average was 6.00 and we only had 5.90 to play with. We tried to get his average reassessed, but because Jozsef rode quite a few matches in Europe last season he wasn’t eligible for a reduction otherwise he would have been back in our side and we would have looked no further for our last man.”