Undercooked Witches pay the penalty on opening night. ‘We looked rusty’, admits boss Hawkins

Danny King takes the chequered flag to win heat one on opening night against Peterborough. Pictur

Danny King takes the chequered flag to win heat one on opening night against Peterborough. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Witches 44 Peterborough Panthers 46

Scott Nicholls makes an inside move on Ipswich's Rory Schlein in heat 15 to help clinch the meeting

Scott Nicholls makes an inside move on Ipswich's Rory Schlein in heat 15 to help clinch the meeting for Peterborough on opening night at Foxhall. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Witches’ opening night of the 2018 speedway season ended in a disappointing defeat for the Foxhall outfit.

Peterborough made the most of the Witches lack of track action and secured victory in the last race as both Panthers passed Rory Schlein.

In that last heat, Schlein and Danny King had gated to the front to look as though the Witches were set to snatch victory in the final race decider.

But Schlein was passed by first Scott Nicholls and then Michael Palm Toft - and the points were the Panthers.

Michael Haertel holding off Scott Nicholls for a point in the opening heat. Picture: Steve Waller

Michael Haertel holding off Scott Nicholls for a point in the opening heat. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller


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It was not the start to the new season Chris Louis and Ritchie Hawkins would have been hoping for. But some of their team looked off the pace throughout and the Panthers took advantage.

Only Schlein and King impressed for the home side, although new-boy Michael Haertel showed his pedigree with a heat win and a battling five points.

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Witches team manager Ritchie Hawkins admitted the team looked rusty.

“We looked rusty and we looked like we were still in winter mode,” he said.

Team boss Ritchie Hawkins gets a 'tidy up' from photographer Steve Waller at the Witches press shoot

Team boss Ritchie Hawkins gets a 'tidy up' from photographer Steve Waller at the Witches press shoot. Photo: ROSS HALLS - Credit: Archant

“It wasn’t a great performance and we looked like a team that hadn’t been out on the track but I don’t think you can use that as an excuse as Peterborough have only had one meeting. We looked a rusty side and we need to improve a great deal.”

Despite the defeat the boss was pleased with Michael Härtel’s debut for the club which included a race win in heat eight.

“Michael had a good debut and rode really well so that is a positive. I think individual riders will take positives from tonight as they tried some things that worked and some that didn’t, so they have learnt something. On an individual basis each rider will have to take something positive from it but from a team perspective the only positive is that we can only improve from that.”

Hawkins says that Nico Covatti and Danyon Hume will need time to get back into the swing of things after lengthy injury lay-offs.

“Neither of them will be happy with their score. Danyon made some good starts but he didn’t ride like we know he can. You could tell that he hadn’t had a lot of racing and the thing is he is not experienced anyway, so then to have a long time off the bike is a big thing for him. Nico has got to get back into it as he missed most of last year too and the track did not suit him tonight either. I have no worries about either, they just looked rusty and the other boys couldn’t carry them tonight.

“There are no worries, it’s the first night of the season and it is not a massive disaster. It is disappointing but it is what it is and I expect a massive improvement as the weeks go on.”

The former skipper said that track conditions were not as normal due to the recent weather but believes the new track shape will provide some entertaining racing this season.

“I think a lot of the new inside lines produced a lot of passing tonight and with all the weather we have had it had to be a bit slicker than normal but the track held up well. It chopped up a little bit but that is to be expected after all the rain we have had. The track had to be run that slick today but the track shape changes made over the last few years have made a big improvement to the racing and there are more options to pass.”

Hawkins conceded that the team now have a mountain to climb to progress from their Championship Shield group.

“As far as the group is concerned it leaves us in a terrible position with a massive mountain to climb in the three meetings that remain. In that sense it is a massive ask and we will have to see how it goes. The league and the play-offs remain our focus but we need to do well in this competition to get the fixtures because the lack of fixtures this year is the big killer.”

King was first away in heat one with Haertel keeping Nicholls at bay at the back.

But the Panthers hit back straight away as Simon Lambert took Danyon Hume wide. Hume fell as Tom Bacon nipped through to win, with Connor Mountain in second.

Schlein and Cameron Heeps hit the front together at the start of heat three. But Heeps was passed by Palm Toft as the newly-shaped track was catching out some of the Witches.

It was a good Foxhall crowd in attendance and they were on their feet as Hume shot to the front in heat four. However, he went wide as Ulrich Ostergaard nipped through.

Schlein shot from the tapes in heat five, with Heeps passing Emil Grondal for third. Ipswich were four up and it stayed that way after Ostergaard gated across King to win the next. The Witches were not getting out of the starts and Nico Covatti was the next to be left trailing as Palm Toft sped away to victory.

There was two in it as Hume shot to the front in heat eight, as partner Haertel hurtled through the Panthers pairing to join his team-mate at the front. However, Hume starting going backwards and fell on the final lap.

King flew past Palm-Toft win win the next as Haertel made a mistake and was passed by Nike Lunna.

The Witches weren’t stamping their authority on this meeting at all, but on opening night it was understandable.

Covatti was struggling and Grondal and Nicholls had little trouble seeing him off as the Panthers took the lead by two points. Schlein won the next but Hume was at the back and both Witches were passed by Palm Toft in heat 14 after making the start. It looked good for a time in heat 15, before the Panthers sealed the win.

It’s early days of course, but with a smaller than usual fixture list in 2018, progressing on all fronts in all competitions is a must. The Witches will now need to find some firepower at Lakeside next week in this mini-group of three teams, where only the winners go into the semi-finals.

Heat details

1 King, Grondal, Haertel, Nicholls 57.2 4-2

2 Bacon, Mountain, Lambert, Hume 59.8 6-6

3 Schlein, Palm-Toft, Heeps, Lunna 58.8 10-8

4 Ostergaard, Hume, Covatti, Lambert 59.0 13-11

5 Schlein, Nicholls, Heeps, Grondal 57.4 17-13

6 Ostergaard, King, Haertel, Bacon 57.7 20-16

7 Palm-Toft, Covatti, Lunna, Mountain (f) 58.8 22-20

8 Haertel, Lambert, Grondal, Hume (f) non time 25-23

9 Ostergaard, Schlein, Heeps, Bacon 58.0 28-26

10 King, Palm-Toft, Lunna, Haertel 58.0 31-29

11 Grondal, Nicholls, Covatti, Mountain 58.2 32-34

12 Schlein, Bacon, Lunna, Hume 58.2 35-37

13 King, Nicholls, Ostergaard, Covatti 57.7 38-40

14 Palm-Toft, Heeps, Mountain, Lambert (f/x) 58.5 41-43

15 King, Nicholls, Palm-Toft, Schlein 58.8 44-46

Ipswich 0 pts. Peterborough 3 pts.

Scorers

Ipswich: D King 14, M Haertel 5+1, R Schlein 11, C Heeps 5+1, N Covatti 4, C Mountain 3+1, D Hume 2

Peterborough: S Nicholls 8+1, E Grondal 6+1, N Lunna 3+2, M Palm-Toft 11, U Ostergaard 10=1, T Bacon 5, S Lambert 3

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