Jon Cook: Q & A Special

HAMMERS boss Jon Cook gives a Q & A to Hammers fans and speedway fans in general.Here are his thoughts. Thanks to www.lakesidehammers.comQ: For 2010 Lakeside are definitely looking strong with Daniel Davidson and Paul Hurry riding for us at six and seven but is Stuart Robson going to be strong enough to ride at two or four?Despite a poor season last year Joonas Kylmakorpi still averaged in all matches 6.

HAMMERS boss Jon Cook gives a Q & A to Hammers fans and speedway fans in general.

Here are his thoughts. Thanks to www.lakesidehammers.com

Q: For 2010 Lakeside are definitely looking strong with Daniel Davidson and Paul Hurry riding for us at six and seven but is Stuart Robson going to be strong enough to ride at two or four?

Despite a poor season last year Joonas Kylmakorpi still averaged in all matches 6.84 against Stuart's 5.05, although we appreciate Stuart rode in far more matches. Many fans would have loved to have seen Piotr Swiderski join us instead of Paul Hurry or would that have put our total average too high?


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JC: At the Cup Final we spoke to our five regulars in the changing room after and guaranteed all a place in the team next season, I don't think any fan present would have disagreed with that. Once we made that choice and all five said they wanted to return (of course Lee was later switched for Kris) we had to wait and see how many points we would have to complete the team. Once the Elite clubs voted in the 40.95 average it gave us approx 7pts to play with and therefore we signed Daniel and Paul. Had the average been higher or one of the five not wanted to return then we would have loved to have had Piotr back and I feel sure he will ride for us at sometime in the future.

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Q: Robert Mear impressed when he rode for us last year and many felt he could be really useful for us in 2010. Did you consider purchasing Robert's contract so as to be able to use him full time this year or would now consider this move to be something for the future?

JC: We are big fans of Robert too and yes we did and still do have a deal in place with Rye for Robert to join us. However we felt that without PL racing to fall back on to keep his confidence and earnings high it would be unwise for Robert to ride only Elite. Sadly he hasn't been able to gain a ride in the PL at the moment but we will stay in touch with him and if that situation changes and he is still keen to be involved with the Hammers then we feel he has a great future with us.

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Q: There's a lot of chat on the forums regarding Paul Hurry's inclusion in 2010 line-up. What is Paul's current level of fitness and commitments outside Lakeside ?

JC: Paul's father Graham approached me after Paul's 14pts against us for Eastbourne to tell me Paul was now back to full fitness and his arm was now as good as anyone's, it was pretty much there and then that we started to include Paul in our team selections as his performances at our place had been top notch last year even though he was not fully fit. Since then Paul has been on a dedicated fitness programme and is looking very lean and mean. His commitment to us is his priority for the forthcoming season and he has foregone the chance to double up to concentrate his efforts in returning to the form he enjoyed before being so affected by injury.

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Q: What was the logic behind choosing Jerran Hart when he has other commitments for Friday evenings?

JC: The logic is very simple. Jerran is a full asset of ours and we are keen that he starts to become part of the squad this year rather than being a No.8 for another club and perhaps falling under their spell. His improvement over the last half of the season just gone was brilliant and he has a big part to play in this club's future. His clashes on Friday are obviously a problem but Scunthorpe are not running every Friday and we have a few off racenights ourselves - besides someone has to be injured for him to ride. Poole have Gary Havelock as their No8 and because of the amount of Thursday tracks clashing with his Redcar fixtures he is unavailable for half of their away fixtures so its not a unique problem. The other advantage in naming Jerran is that because his average is assessed at 3 for the Elite when he is not available we can pick any PL rider to take his place who has an average under 6, so its not as crazy a move as some may think.

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Q: Will the riders be riding in the colours as last year or will they be changed?

JC: We liked the suits so much we will be giving them another go next year.

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Q: I have just received my new season ticket. I wonder if allowing season ticket holders on occasions to bring guests at discounted rates may be a way of generating new support ? Also, I would love to go on a mini-tour with the Hammers, say two northern premier teams in the summer. I wonder whether this is a possibility when there is a slot in the fixtures.

JC: We have allowed free entry for Sky matches for guest of season ticket holders but sadly the few spoilt it for the many by just bringing the friends they stood with each week rather than using the offer in the spirit it was offered. We would look at this again in the future and certainly any fans wishing to arrange a work, school or scout visit to help us spread the word will also receive a positive response from Mark Sexton, our Community director. As for a mini tour, our riders commitments would not allow it as Northern racenights are all around the weekend.

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Q: During your time with the Hammers, What has been your toughest decision regarding the team line-up and why?

JC: Our toughest decisions were probably at the end of 2008 when we had to let AJ and Leigh go. AJ as we wanted to be able to run more regularly on a Friday and Leigh as we felt he had probably peaked in terms of average. Both very difficult decisions to make I can assure you.

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Q: There was talk in the press during the winter that Andreas Jonsson was keen on a return to UK shores. Did he ever figure in team planning?

JC: We still wish to maintain as regular a Friday night as possible and because of that we can not consider any GP, Jonsson included. We had to make Joonas Davidsson and Kai Laukannen clear on that before the GP challenge, although if in future riders adopted Scott Nicholls' attitude last year of riding Fridays and missing GP practise then that situation would change.

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Q: Why can we not prepare the track to Adam Shields liking in order to maximise his scoring potential?

JC: We have to prepare the track for the whole team to maximise 7 riders potential and everyone of them needs something different, Adam realises that we can't get the track as right as he would like, but we know where we need preparation to be to keep everyone, Adam included, happy and when we have no weather issues we have achieved that, our aim this year is to achieve it a little more often. Adam is starting his fourth season with us and I feel the tweaks we have made in this area will see him achieve a 9pt average this year.

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Q: John why is it that a lot of fans on the forum are always moaning about the track being slick at Lakeside ?

Is it slick and if so is it because this slows down the racing pace which means there are a greater less chance of nasty high speed accidents around the outside. Don't get me wrong it is great when you see a rider go round the outside of a bend and pick up drive for the straights. But does the chances of rider having an accident who could be out of action for some time and to more cost to the team then determine that you then make the track slick.

The nature of our track shape means that for rider safety and quality of racing lines it is better for the track to be run towards slick than grip. In the past few years it's been very much a fashion in speedway to run a track with a very grippy outside line that moves further and further out until the riders are all scraping the fence.

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Q: Does Lee Richardson have a place in any future Lakeside Hammers team after the 'misunderstanding' over his availability to us for 2010?

JC: Lee and I are still in contact and on good terms, I wouldn't rule it out.

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Q: While there would clearly be an advantage to Lakeside to run against teams containing GP riders on a Friday night prior too GP's this does deprive us the supporter of the opportunity to see some of the best riders in the world, do you propose to do run or to avoid these clashes?

JC: We are well aware of the need to race against teams with GP riders on non GP weeks and as such the fixture is put together around that, rain offs might have to be another thing though but we have done well on that so far.

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Q: I have heard the Lakeside Hammers will have to close as part of the Thames gateway project, is this correct and what will happen to the club? Where will you race? I'm near Dover and after Canterbury shut I have always travelled to Arena

JC: We do have a long term threat to our current venue with the Gateway project but it would seem to be a while off yet and if the project goes ahead at all or in its current grand style is open to question with a general election and probable change of government on the way as well as the current financial climate. We still have hopes that we can be included within the project as we feel the last three seasons have proved that Speedway is a very important part of Essex leisure life and would be missed by many voters.

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Q: What is your view of the state of health of Elite League Speedway in this Country and do you think it is likely that any additional teams will be tempted to step up to the Elite in the near future?

JC: The Elite League is probably the healthiest top level sports league in the country if you talk about the financial state of clubs in comparison to the huge debts most other sports team seem to carry forward and compared to the predictability of League champions in football, where only 3 teams have won for the past near 20 years, its great that each year every team has the same chance of victory because of the averages, just look at the super teams Belle Vue and Poole have after the disasters they had last year. Viewing figures for Sky coverage are extremely healthy and the Play Offs, which were actually Mr John Perrin's idea, have worked commercially with the final crowds higher than anything seen since the 70's. So in many ways the basics are right.

However, there are still problems and changing rules and tinkering has to stop and this year we have pretty much done that, apart from the Play Offs dropping the points advantage. Nationally we need the BSPA to get its act together to publicise the sport better, many of us do good jobs locally but without a concerted national campaign its very difficult to convince the general public that the sport will entertain them. To that end we need to actually go and meet and find out what the two rugby codes have done with the ir League fayre to become so mainstream in the past 20 years, they never were when I was growing up. We really need to collectively give up protecting our little bit of England and I would favour giving our sport to a Barry Hearn-type figure, give them a huge slice of the profits and lets use their contacts and skills to benefit us all.

In terms of growing the Elite, We need to make the league more attractive for other clubs to enter but to do that will take either a large cash incentive or a very ambitious PL promoter or a mix of both, which is almost certainly what could have happened this winter with Birmingham or for a league to cut our rider levels so dramatically that the likes of Sheffield, Rye, Lynn etc can just add in an Ed Kennett-type rider to what they have, paid for by a larger share of TV money, and commit without taking a huge gamble.

I believe the second situation is evermore likely to happen as rider commitments increase away from the UK and with the Danish League now running on many Wednesdays and Fridays its got to be inevitable that sooner rather than later riders are limited to only riding in two leagues as the way we are currently heading we have the same group of riders riding in the same four countries and this is blocking the development of young riders in all those countries, its why the biggest country for new talent is now Australia as they don't have a domestic scene over run with foreigners, denying their national riders experience.

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