During the winter months, those behind the scenes at Belle Vue speedway have been very busy in preparation for what could be a massive year for the club.
Riders have come and gone and now their squad has a distinctly cosmopolitan feel to it for the 2013 Elite League.
And with the possibility of a move to a new stadium on the horizon – a decision is due in the coming weeks – the future looks very bright.
Speedway stars from seven countries will ply their trade for the Kirkmanshulme Lane outfit this season, looking to return the club to former glories.
Finnish rider Kauko Nieminen – who arrives from fellow Elite League club Lakeside Hammers – is just one of four new faces looking to bring success back to Belle Vue.
“I always liked the place, the club’s got some good history behind it and I’m glad to be involved,” he explained.
“I thought I was going to be in the Lakeside plans – I wasn’t in the end so when I got the call from Belle Vue I saw it as a good opportunity to be involved in the club and to get it back in the right way.”
After falling out of favour with the Thurrock-based club, the 33-year old has set his sights on improving his low average while juggling commitments with Leicester and his club in Sweden.
“I’m coming in on a very low average and if I don’t increase that then it’s time to sell the bikes,” he joked.
A dismal start to their last year’s campaign saw the Aces rooted to the bottom of the table but team manager Jason Attwood now has a set of riders with a wealth of experience and talent.
Slovenian Grand Prix star Matej Zagar joins as the fresh number one for this campaign, although his GP commitments in New Zealand mean he has missed the Aces’ pre-season.
Another of the new faces German Kevin Wolbert was equally thrilled about the prospect of riding at Kirkmanshulme Lane this year, after picking up 39 points from three previous visits.
“I’m really happy they gave me a chance and I like this track,” he said. “It’s different to every other track that you have here in the UK so I’m looking forward to getting started.”
The youthful German is paired with Zagar for the forthcoming campaign and believes the Aces have the capability to drastically improve on last year.
“I think we have a good team this year and we can challenge,” he said. “I’ll give my best and we’ll see what happens.”
The final piece of the jigsaw, quite literally as he was the last racer to sign, is experienced 41-year-old Swede Magnus Zetterstrom, who will partner Craig Cook.
Englishman Cook and Pole Artur Mrocska remain from last season’s squad, as does Ales Dryml who has since been named captain.
Former motocross rider Cook – now in his third season with the Aces – admitted staying wasn’t the easiest decision to make but feels it was the right one.
“It was always in my head, even last season, about where I would want to be this year, but the first thing that always came to my mind was Belle Vue,” he explained.
“It was the first place I always wanted to come.
“With the offers out there anything could have happened but this is where I am best off.
“Hopefully I can progress and grow into the number one but only time will tell.”
Cook will ride at number four in Attwood’s plans, meaning the Englishman will join forces with Zetterstrom and the 25-year-old feels they can build a strong second partnership.
“Obviously Magnus has been around for a very long time and he’s a wise old owl,” said Cook.
“Hopefully I can learn and pick up a few tips from him, and he’ll help me to progress and become a better rider.”
Czech star Dryml was a little more reserved with his targets for this season, but he too believes the only way is up.
“Not finishing bottom is the first target,” he explained. “We looked very good at Birmingham, we looked quite strong and I think we surprised them.
“We pushed them very hard, we had a great start and they always had to catch up.
“I think the team spirit is very good so we can aim quite high.
“I think you can see on the team setups that it’s pretty even now and it depends how the season will start – we have to start hard and then hold on tight once the season starts!”
The 33-year-old admitted last season wasn’t too good, but that he is looking forward to settling down and reaping the benefits of a prolonged stay with the Aces.
“In the past years I’ve been every year at a different track and a different team,” he said. “So now I want to settle down.
“When I’ve done that in the past everything went much better and even my average went quite high.”
Attwood handed Dryml the captaincy for this season, but the reserve was adamant that only a team effort will bring reward this season.
“I speak with all the guys it’s not just about the captain, everybody has to help each other, keep the spirit up and it can bring us extra points with everybody working together,” he said.
Should the Aces be successful this term, they may have a double reason to celebrate, in the not too distant future.
A decision is due on the Belle Vue Sports Village – the clubs’ proposed new home – at a forthcoming Manchester City Council meeting and Cook would relish the opportunity of racing on a new track.
“The new stadium is a great prospect and a great opportunity for Belle Vue,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Should the council side with the Aces, they move 100 yards up the road to a larger circuit and the possibility of a return to the glory days of a by-gone era.
It’s fair to say, there is a lot riding on it.
Picture courtesy of KGGucwa, via Wiki Commons, with thanks