Theo PIJPER celebrated his 33rd birthday last week and is now considered the elder statesman in the Edinburgh Monarchs speedway squad for this season.
The Dutchman’s experience as a track merchant allows him to express opinions which are generally listened to and today he gave a stark warning that unless there is total commitment and passion from Monarchs, their Premier League title ambitions could bite the dust, just as they did last year.
Monarchs were shaded out in both the championship play-offs and the KO Cup semi- finals in 2012 and Pijper is adamant the Capital side only had themselves to blame for their failure to collect any of the big prizes up for grabs.
He said: “I was disappointed at the way last season panned out. We had plenty of fire in the team at the end, but it didn’t happen for us. A couple of guys, and I’m not mentioning names, couldn’t care in the end and I hope that doesn’t happen this year.
“A couple of decisions at home, when it was raining and the referee told us we must ride, didn’t help us either. I think the riders should decide whether a meeting goes on or not. There were too many injuries last season, and it’s not good for the fans either.”
Pijper was one of the first names on Monarchs’ 2013 roster and when you consider he added a couple of points to his average, his omission would have been a major surprise.
“I didn’t really expect to put so much on my average because being on a rolling average, it’s very difficult to increase it,” he said, “but I had tried my hardest in 2011 when I rode for Glasgow and I felt good there as well. I just carried on from there.”
It could be argued that Pijper’s boost to his average was at the expense of former skipper Matthew Wethers, who suffered a slump in form which sparked his loan move to Berwick Bandits this season.
However, no-one can deny Pijper’s consistency at home and he explained: “I really only had one bad match and that was against Scunthorpe when it was wet and I crashed. That was the only occasion I was disappointed with myself.
“It all comes down to things coming together for the whole team and you have fun and then you go further than you personally expect. I’ll definitely be trying to put even more on my average this season, I feel good and hopefully I can continue what I did in 2012.”
One change Pijper and his teammates will have to get to grips with is the shifting of the starting gate to the back straight, turning the old third and fourth bends into the first and second turns now. While the switch may seem minor, Pijper explained: “It’s definitely going to be a harder first bend because it’s going to be a bigger corner and it will be a battle to see if you can cut up the inside and race in search of the line.
“It will be a harder approach and we will all need to practice that when we get the chance to see what the best racing lines are.”
Pijper is expected to wear the No. 5 race bib in Monarchs’ refreshed squad, pairing him with reserves Jozsef Tabaka and Marcel Helfer. “I’m happy with that,” said Pijper. “If Craig (Cook) is at No. 1 and Sam (Masters) is No. 3, our strength is spread out a bit more and we’ll have a strong rider out in heat 12 which is important.”
Along with Workington, Somerset and defending champions Scunthorpe, Monarchs are among the front-runners to make the play-offs again, with some suggesting the Edinburgh side will be tracking one of their strongest sides in recent years.
If Pijper is purring at the prospect of a potential fourth league crown in a decade, there are some caveats to consider first. “We do have a good line-up but we need to get Marcel going a bit more,” he said. “I don’t know much about Max (Fricke) other than what I saw when I watched him ride in Matthew’s testimonial meeting.
“Sam is an all-round type of rider and is good everywhere and I don’t think he’ll have any trouble adapting to Armadale every week. We just need to make sure we help each other, but it looks a decent team and Derek (Sneddon) is a good captain, he talks to all the guys.
“I think we’ll be as strong as ever at Armadale and I think we have got more of a chance away from home, but it’s one thing saying we look good on paper – we have got to make it happen on the track. It’s also important to avoid injuries and stuff like that.”
Pijper and Cook will have a pre-season warm-up when they compete in the Ben Fund Bonanza meeting at Berwick on March 9.