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A Look Back On A Successful Year For The Bees

Despite the traumas of the last week of the season, 1998 must go down as the Bees’ most successful year in a decade, with two final appearances and the highest league position since the title win in 1988.

The signing of the American pair, Billy Hamill and Greg Hancock, captured the public’s imagination, and their points scoring made the Bees a force to be reckoned with wherever they went. Hancock is positive overall about the club’s progress during his time at Brandon.

He said:

"Generally it’s been great. I’ve enjoyed the two years I’ve had at Coventry – I’ve had a warm welcome, the fans have been excellent, we’ve has a good team and a good working relationship with the management."

Some of the racing at Coventry this season has been superb, especially once the new track bedded in, with the matches against Ipswich reaching an intensity never previously seen in the British league. Hancock enjoyed the challenge of these meetings, but maintains the view that the all-conquering Witches were beatable this season, given the right circumstances.

"We’ve had some really tough matches against Ipswich, and there’s a lot of hype about them as well because there were the favourites for the year after they brought in (Tony) Rickardson and (Tomosz) Gollob as a top two, and they’ve had a stronghold on the whole league.

"But they’re not unbeatable, and I think there’s a lot more hype than actual riding ability. So I think they can be beaten, although I can’t take anything away from their success. I just don’t think the gap is as big as everyone thinks it is."

If Ipswich have been Coventry’s bogey side in 1998, a much happier state of affairs has been the almost total domination over local rivals Wolverhampton. Perhaps surprisingly, Hancock has some sympathy for the Bees’ near neighbours.

"It’s nice to beat them as much as we have, but it’s not good for them to have such poor performances – they’re a relatively successful team through and through, and to see them have as tough a time as they have had is not good, because they’re always right there pushing at the top. But guarantee it that the way (Chris) Van Straaten and (Peter) Adams work that they’ll be back with a vengeance next season."

The key factor in the Bees’ magnificent K.O Cup semi-final success over Wolves without the injured Brian Andersen, was the sensational debut of the 18 year old Swedish whizzkid Andreas Jonsson, and Hancock has no doubts that the Bees have one of the sport’s brightest young stars on their books.

"I rate him very highly – the kid’s definitely the prospect for the future. I think he’s going to be the guy who will turn the tables for everyone, especially for Coventry. He’s going to be the one to watch – he’s got all the talent in the world, he works hard and he’s got so much to learn and so much still to come. He’ll definitely be Sweden’s next hope."

As always, the sport is now in ‘silly season’ made with all sorts of rumours flying around about potential formats for next season. A novelty in any decision making would be to listen to the riders, and Hancock is certainly not a fan of the current system.

"I’d like to see it revert back to seven man teams, and I’d change the format back to the old style as well. I think this nominated rider thing has made it tough – it’s exciting for all of us, but it’s especially tough for the younger guys who are trying to make up points at the lower end of the team. I’d just like to see them put together a format and a system that they’re going to stick with and stick with for a long time so that everyone’s not left wondering what’s going to happen the next year."

Regarding Hancock’s own plans for 1999, there’s good news for Bees fans:

"I’m very happy to stay with Coventry. Obviously it depends on the Cradley situation, but under the circumstances I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be open to talks with anyone and everyone at the end of the year. But I’m quite happy to stay here, and I’m sure that Billy and I will both be welcomed with open arms if they want us back."

The one major disappointment for both Hancock and Hamill this season has been the loss of the World Championship to the Tony Rickardson steamroller. Hancock’s solid but unspectacular campaign netted him sixth place overall, but Hamill’s clash with Jason Crump in the last round saw him slip to ninth and elimination from next year’s series, although he has since been re-instated as a permanent wild card. And the Hancock message is simple Don’t write us off.

"We’ll definitely be having a big push next year – it’s going to be really tough, but we’ve has a very hard year this year. It hasn’t gone to plan but we’ll keep pressing ahead, we ant to win and we want to be on top all the time. We want to keep Team Exide on top so I guarantee that we’ll be pushing all the way."

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CWN / Sport / Speedway / News / 13 Nov 98

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