Edinburgh Monarchs have a long tradition of giving aspiring Australian speedway riders their first break in the UK, and over the years they have unearthed some genuine nuggets who have gone on to enhance their careers.
Josh Pickering is the latest to roll off the assembly line to complete Monarchs’ squad for 2017. But, after Monarchs misjudged the potential of fellow countryman Jye Etheridge last season, Pickering, who has only ridden speedway seriously for four years, may be forced to hit the ground running in what will be his British debut campaign.
And, with no Championship teams permitted to make any changes to their line-up after July, Monarchs will hope Pickering displays his worth early on to justify his inclusion right through to October.
The 20 year-old acknowledges his move to the Capital side represents a massive step up the ladder for him.
He said: “I had heard Edinburgh were interested in signing me and now the deal has been done I’m delighted to be linking up with them.
“It is my hope that riding for Edinburgh can help take my career to the next level and I’m grateful for the opportunity they have handed to me. It’s now up to me to justify Edinburgh’s faith in me.
“Obviously, it’s going to be quite a culture change and a lot of the tracks I will be riding on I have not seen before.
“It will take time to settle in but we’ll just have to wait and see how things go to begin with.”
Pickering has been around motorcycles for much of his young life and switched to speedway after losing his seat with road racing giants Honda Australia.
“I bought two bikes from Adam Shields, who rode in Britain for a time a while back,” said Pickering.
“I was determined to make a career from racing bikes and it didn’t worry me what form that took.
“I guess I just enjoy riding bikes and, although I have only been racing speedway since 2013, I have not looked back.
“But last year I had a few dramas with illness and some other things and did not spend as much time on my bike as I had wanted to.
“To make up for that, I rode here there and everywhere to get as many laps as I could under my belt. And it is starting to pay off for me which is why I think the move to Edinburgh is a good one for me in terms of how I see my future in the sport.”
Pickering, who is competing in the Australian Championships which are spread over four rounds beginning this month, wants to give a good account of himself, especially against former Monarchs Max Fricke and Justin Sedgmen and current team skipper Sam Masters, who all rate him highly.
Fricke said: “Josh is a 100 per cent trier and should do a good job for Edinburgh.”
Pickering added: “The last round takes place at my home track at Kurri-Kurri. I raced there last year and never scored less than twelve points, so I know I can get round the place.
“The field is a strong one for the Australian title but it will give me the ideal chance to see how I go against some of the top dogs.”
Aware that gating will be of paramount importance – especially around Armadale – Pickering revealed: “A few meetings I’ve done recently I failed to make the start after changing my motors from straight to offset and I was surprised by the difference this made.
“I just have to get my head around that. I never gave the bike enough revs off the start so it will be interesting to see how I go for the Aussie crown.”
Pickering is already thinking ahead to his Monarchs baptism and intends to keep his mechanical preparation simple, saying: “I will just be bringing my engines over to the UK and I have got two of them and I’ll buy my rollers once I’m here before building my bikes up for the press and practice day.”
He added: “I have watched videos of Sam at Armadale, who told me it’s a good track once I get used to it. Sam said you can pass at Armadale but I prefer to get out of the gate if I possibly can because it makes winning races that much easier.”
Pickering will be accompanied by girlfriend Brooke and reckons: “It will be good to have her with me for the bad times and the good. Sam knows Brooke quite well and, from his own experience, said it was tough when his girlfriend was on the other side of the world.
“Sam is a really good mate and I couldn’t be happier riding alongside him in the Edinburgh team.”
Monarchs team manager Alex Harkess says there is an element of risk attached to Pickering’s signing and commented: “I think there are gambles in all of the other Championship sides because nobody knows how a rider is going to settle down.
“Will Josh settle down after two months or will he want to go home? Or will he think he is in the greatest place on earth?
“We just don’t know. It could go either way these things, and that is where the element of gamble comes in. We hope he does well. It’s one of the reasons we signed him, although nobody is expecting miracles overnight.
“We will not be putting any pressure on him. He will have to find his feet but he comes highly recommended. We have had Australian riders who have done extremely well for us in the past.
“Josh seems confident and it’s up to him to prove what he is capable of.”