Team boss Carl Johnson insists Peterborough Panthers are still strong enough to enjoy success as the curtain goes up on the 2019 season tonight (April 1).
The city team begin a new era of top-flight racing under the new ownership of Keith Chapman when hosting Belle Vue at the East of England Arena (7.30pm) in the new SGB Premiership Supporters’ Cup competition.
Panthers’ plans for the new campaign were thrown into disarray by the departure of Craig Cook last Wednesday after the former British champion refused to sign a contract with the city club.
They have since drafted in Aaron Summers, whose average is almost three points lower than that of Cook, as a short-term replacement.
He slots in at reserve with Lasse Bjerre now being shuffled up into the main body of a team which is by far the weakest of the seven top-flight clubs on paper. Panthers have used just 39.46 of their team-building limit of 42.50 points.
“I’m not awfully worried by the number next to a rider’s name,” said team chief and co-promoter Johnson.
“I’m far more interested in how they perform on the track and I believe Aaron – along with the six other members of the team – will do well for us.
“Aaron jumped at the chance of helping us out and we’re delighted to have him on board.
“He has a lot of experience and has shown in the past he can score plenty of points on our track.
“Lasse rode impressively in the main body of the Leicester team at this level in 2017 so there is no doubt in my mind he can do a job for us there as well.
“Obviously the situation with Craig was far from ideal, but as I said last week, I only want riders who want to be here and are proud to race for Peterborough Speedway.
“We are now three points under the limit for team-building so we have lots of room to manoeuvre going forward if it is needed, but right now our only focus is on getting off to a good start tonight.
“It’s a new chapter in the club’s history and hopefully we can kick it off with a win in front of a big crowd.”
Opponents Belle Vue boast a strong side headed by reigning Australian champion Max Fricke. He pipped Panthers number one Rohan Tungate – a former Belle Vue rider - to that crown earlier this year.
Danish racer Kenneth Bjerre, who has spent seven seasons as a Panthers rider during his career, is also part of the Aces septet along with British wonderkid Dan Bewley and highly-rated Australian newcomer Jaimon Lidsey.
The SGB Premiership Supporters’ Cup is a new competition for 2019 to replace the old KO Cup.
Fans can have a direct influence on meetings due to being able to vote for which riders take part in heat 14 via the official Twitter account of each club.
Panthers, Belle and Wolverhampton are in Group 1 with Ipswich, King’s Lynn, Poole and Swindon in Group 2. The two group winners advance to a two-legged final.
PANTHERS: 1 Rohan Tungate (7.61), 2 Lasse Bjerre (4.72), 3 Bradley Wilson-Dean (5.27), 4 Charles Wright (5.14), 5 Hans Andersen (7.56), 6 Aaron Summers (4.58), 7 Ben Barker (4.58).
BELLE VUE: 1 Max Fricke (8.20), 2 Steve Worrall (6.16), 3 Dan Bewley (7.13), 4 Ricky Wells (5.77), 5 Kenneth Bjerre (7.02), 6 Dimitri Berge (4.00), 7 Jaimon Lidsey (4.00).