Craig Cook has been monopolising the speedway headlines of late, but his 17-year-old team-mate Max Fricke shared top billing last week when he was joint top scorer with Cook as Edinburgh Monarchs stormed to an impressive 61-34 victory over high-flying Workington Comets.
As he prepared to face league leaders Leicester Lions at Armadale tonight, Fricke admitted that the scale of the team’s victory over Workington took a lot of people by surprise. “The result was a lot better than we had hoped for because Workington are a very strong team. Their own circuit is bigger than our own and that played into our hands a little bit, but everybody rode really well and we really need to take our hats off to the whole side.”
Fricke’s haul of 14 points from the reserve berth, allied to two impressive showings at Somerset and Newcastle, is a clear indication that the teenage Australian racer is destined for big things and the ability Monarchs bosses pinpointed in him was no dewy-eyed fantasy.
“I’m steadily improving,” said Fricke. “And I’m gaining in confidence every week since I dropped down to reserve. I’ll be back in the main team quite soon again but I’ll be better prepared this time because I have become more used to the Armadale track. I also feel a lot more comfortable with the people around me and how things work here in the UK. I have learnt quite a lot already since I came over.”
Fricke’s maturity and intelligence has impressed seasoned observers and he says riding at the tail-end has added another dimension to his apprenticeship. “You do race the same opponents as you meet when you are in the main team, but the gate positions are a bit easier I think.
“My first races have also been slightly easier, but overall things are still pretty similar to when I was riding at No. 5. But I don’t think it will be too big a jump when I move back into the main side in a month’s time, I’ll be a lot better.
“I’m getting to know Armadale now. I’m learning the racing lines and how to ride the track properly and it’s good to get out in front and win races, it makes me happy. It’s being able to find the right line, and being the first to find it. People say the secret to riding Armadale is to go for an inside line, and while that may be true, there is definitely a fast outside line and you see Craig using it every week.”
Even away from home on circuits he hadn’t seen before, like Somerset and Newcastle, Fricke was able to pick some very productive lines which suited his particular style and it paid dividends both personally and for the team as a whole.
With Monarchs still awaiting the return of Mitchell Davey from injury, Fricke is being handed extra rides a lot of the time at reserve and this has raised the expectancy, probably unfairly, on him to win races. “I don’t make expectations on myself,” he added. “I enjoy taking seven outings, it’s giving me more experience on each track I go to, and that’s a good thing.”
The season has already reached halfway and Fricke believes he will set a personal target he set himself. “It’s going really well. I always thought I would drop to reserve. My goal for the season is to maintain my five-point average and I don’t think that is an unrealistic target, in fact it might be higher if I continue to ride well.”
The one millstone round Fricke’s neck was being compared to Aussie legend Leigh Adams shortly after Fricke captured the Aussie Under-21 crown last winter, but it’s something he doesn’t give a great deal of thought to. “I feel flattered,” said Fricke. “But it’s only other people’s opinions. Obviously I didn’t see Leigh riding back in the day. I know he was a great rider but I don’t set my goals to be like him.”
Monarchs took care of Leicester in the KO Cup earlier in the season, but Fricke cautioned: “It’s going to be another test for us, I know Leicester have made quite a few changes to their team this season and they have improved quite a lot, so it will be interesting to see how we compare against them.”
Monarchs might have to be wary of a Lions backlash after the wounded Midlanders surrendered their two-year unbeaten home record to Somerset Rebels 47-46 last weekend after leading the match by 12 points at one stage.
Leicester Lions co-boss Alan Jones said: “Records are there to be broken and it was naive to think ours would go on indefinitely, it was going to happen sometime.
“However we have to question ourselves after being ahead by a dozen points, at the same time you have to give credit to Somerset for nibbling away at our lead.
“While we were disappointed to lose, the standard of racing was a credit to the Premier League.
“We need to get back on track but Edinburgh is always tough as Workington found out last week.”