2012 Elite League preview
Skysports.com's Graeme Bailey previews the 2012 Elite League season.
By Graeme Bailey - Tweet me: @skygraemebailey
Last Updated: 27/03/12 11:53am
The 2012 Sky Sports Elite League is just around the corner and skysports.com is here to guide you through all the teams!
This year we are going to run you through each line-up and give our own assessment following the winter transfer deals, while also tipping up who we think will be the winners and losers in the year ahead.
You can also give us your own opinion, views and tips ahead of the season by using the feedback form at the foot of the page.
BELLE VUE ACES
Charlie Gjedde/Ulrich Ostergaard (DU)
Josh Grajczonek/Claus Vissing (DU)
A familiar look about much of the Manchester side and they have shown huge belief in spending big money to make Australian Rory Schlein a permanent asset of the club after he impressed on loan from Coventry last season.
Schlein will again lead them this term and he is joined by compatriot Adam Shields - who comes in on loan from Lakeside.
Shields did not have the best of seasons with the Essex side last year and he could easily add a big chunk to his starting average, but he will need to hit the ground running as he provides support to Schlein.
Familiar names like Patrick Hougaard and Charlie Gjedde will provide the main back-up to the Aussie spearhead and that should not be too much of an issue at home - but on the road they may come up short.
Hougaard especially has promised much and has been due to make the breakthrough and the Aces will be hoping he can really push on this season.
Travis McGowan has plenty of improvement in him, but asking him to be a top-five member could be a big ask.
The doubling-up pairing of Grajczonek and Vissing looks a powerful one, but Linus Eklof has a lot to prove to make it at this level.
"We will have a strong Australian contingent in the team this year, as well as our Danish connection, and we feel that with Rory as captain and Jim Lynch as team manager, we have the right people to help us get the best out of the side." Aces chief David Gordon
Main man:Rory Schlein
One to Watch:Josh Grajczonek
Ben Barker/Magnus Karlsson (DU)
Josh Auty/Tyson Nelson (DU)
The Brummies, buoyed by new owners and sponsors, have made a strong move over the winter to bolster their side with some experience and real calibre.
To that end they have done their job with Dane Bjarne Pedersen coming in as number one and he will provide real strength at the top end.
Pedersen is joined by one of the most exciting captures of the winter in the shape of Polish international Sebastian Ulamek. The 36-year-old returns to ride in England for the first time in a number of years and he could be a real powerhouse for the Brummies.
If Ulamek can reproduce his continental form for Birmingham, he could very well turn the Brummies into this year's dark horses.
Ben Barker and Danny King return to Perry Barr and the British duo will look to build on very good campaigns last season, and they should provide excellent support to Pedersen and Ulamek.
German Martin Smolinski also returns to England with Birmingham and, although in the top-five, he has proven in the past he is capable of riding at this level.
Birmingham have made some interesting decisions at reserve with the ever promising Josh Auty included. With Pole Tomasz Piszcz making a shock return to the Brummies line-up, they could have one of the better reserve pairings in the league.
"I'm very excited about the season ahead, we have a great team at Birmingham and I'm just surprised to see odds of 16/1 for the title by our name. I don't think we will have a problem getting into the play-offs and then anything can happen!" Ben Barker
Main man:Bjarne Pedersen
One to Watch:Seb Ulamek
Aaron Summers/Leigh Lanham (DU)
Adam Roynon/Jason Bunyan (DU)
Coventry were quick to make their moves this winter under new chief Mick Horton and they have a real British backbone to their line-up.
Grand Prix star Chris Harris leads The Bees and he will be looking for a much improved campaign after last term which saw his average drop to under 8.
Harris' long-term rival, and current British champion, Scott Nicholls also makes a return to Brandon to form an exciting top-two which looks full of potential to increase their starting figures.
The third heat-leading role is taken by Ed Kennett - who returns after being suspended for much of last season for running irregular silencers - and he will be looking to make an impact now he is back riding again.
Exciting Dane Kenni Larsen is also back on board and he will be looking to move above the 7-point mark - he makes up what looks a potent top-four.
But with a powerful top-end comes a weaker bottom half and Coventry's remaining three berths look, at best, unconvincing.
Aaron Summers and Leigh Lanham are sharing a double-up role but to ask them to ride in the main body is a tough challenge.
At reserve Dane Henning Bager looks a huge gamble, as does their DU pairing of Adam Roynon and Jason Bunyan, indeed The Bees' bottom order looks like preventing any sort of title push.
"I'm very pleased with what we've been able to put together, it's a team which contains plenty of familiar faces for the fans and we're confident in what the riders can achieve." Co-promoter Colin Pratt
Main man:Chris Harris
One to Watch:Kenni Larsen
As many predicted, six of last season's team - which finished as runners-up in the Grand Final - have returned to Arlington for the 2012 campaign.
Rather than bringing in a new number one, The Eagles have opted to give that role to Finnish star Joonas Kylmakorpi. Although undoubtedly capable of being their number one, it is a big ask and much will depend on how he leads the team away from home.
As ever Eastbourne are full of home track specialists and they will ensure the fans are kept happy as they will be difficult to beat - but on the road will be where their season is decided.
Starlets Lewis Bridger and Simon Gustafsson will be asked to push on and make big contributions this term, and both are capable of becoming fully fledged heat-leaders.
Skipper Cameron Woodward will again provide excellent support and the same will be expected from Czech Lukas Dryml - making his return after serious injury last term.
Young Finn Timo Lahti gets another chance at reserve after coming in last term and having an up-and-down debut season.
The one new face in the Eagles line-up is long-term target, Russian international Denis Gizatullin. And if Gizatullin is ready for the start of the season, his form could be crucial and the difference between mid-table and another title tilt.
"We were runners-up to Poole last year and, obviously, we want to go one better this year. Every rider in our team is more than capable of winning races. Strength in depth paid off in 2011 and we see no reason why it should not do so again." Team manager Trevor Geer
Main man:Joonas Kylmakorpi
One to Watch:Denis Gizatullin
KING'S LYNN STARS
Niels Kristian Iversen
David Howe/Jordan Frampton (DU)
Filip Sitera/Michael Palm Toft (DU)
The Stars failed to bring in a new number one to replace the out-going Kenneth Bjerre, instead opting to build a more solid looking side.
Danish duo Niels Kristian Iversen and Mads Korneliussen will lead the Stars in their second season back in the top-flight and they again are a very capable head-leading duo.
Both will feel they are capable of living with the league's best, but they will need to step up and lead from the front if King's Lynn are to avoid a year of struggle.
Swedish stalwart Daniel Nermark is back in the middle order and, although probably not of heat-leading quality nowadays, he is capable of hitting double figures anywhere on his day.
The real big signing of the winter for King's Lynn was the capture of World Under-21 champion Maciej Janowski, who shunned offers from elsewhere to make the move to the Norfolk Arena.
Janowski on a near 6-point average could be one of the best in the league and The Stars will be hoping the dynamic young Pole can be their ace in the pack.
German Kevin Wolbert is another astute capture, but he will be in the main body of the team as their two DU reserve pairings look unlikely to push on and that could be their real weak spot.
"It's going to be our most exciting season yet. After going up to the Elite League and getting up to the play-offs in our first year, now our second season is one to build on, and I believe we can do that." Stars promoter Jonathan Chapman
Main man:Mads Korneliussen
One to Watch:Maciej Janowski
Stuart Robson/Kauko Nieminen (DU)
Justin Sedgman/Richie Worrall (DU)
Once again Lakeside have put together a side which, on paper, should be challenging for honours and we don't see any reason why they won't be.
The Hammers have opted to make changes and they have re-worked their top-end with only Lee Richardson back in a heat-leading role.
And the British ace is joined by veteran Swede Peter Karlsson and Aussie Davey Watt.
Wolves legend Karlsson comes in on loan after being left out at Monmore Green and he starts the season as number one at Purfleet.
Karlsson is a track expert at Arena Essex and should easily maintain his average. Watt also brings vast experience to the side after joining from champions Poole, where again they were unable to fit him in.
Lakeside moved quickly for Watt and they now have a formidable top-three, but they have more than decent back-up.
Robert Mear is again included and will look to maintain his good progress from last year, whilst Stuart Robson and Kauko Nieminen provide some excellent options for the Hammers.
At reserve they are also far from weak with exciting Scandinavian Kim Nilsson returning. Nilsson shares the reserve berth with DU duo Justin Sedgman and Richie Worrall, who look like being the only weak link in an otherwise very strong Lakeside line-up.
"I can hardly contain my excitement at the team. Last year we made the very best of the season after a poor start and I think this team can move us forward at the crucial end of the season when we have been caught lacking in the past." Team boss Neil Vatcher
Main man:Peter Karlsson
One to Watch:Kim Nilsson
Lasse Bjerre/Rene Bach (DU)
Jesper B Monberg
Michael Jepsen Jensen
Richard Lawson/Kyle Newman (DU)
The Panthers have benefited from having the whole winter to build their side this time around and it is little surprise that home favourite Kenneth Bjerre was brought back from local rivals King's Lynn.
And with Bjerre leading their charge The Panthers will be hopeful of making a play-off place, although much improvement will be needed throughout their side.
There is little doubt Bjerre will be amongst the Elite League's top men and at the East of England Showground will be virtually untouchable.
Interestingly the Panthers have packed their middle order with no back-up heat-leaders to Bjerre.
The main burden of support will fall to exciting Swede Linus Sundstrom who will be looking to finish the season well above his starting figure of 6.90 - and he looks more than capable of that.
The middle order has Olly Allen and Jesper B Monberg who both provide experience at this level and should more than contribute.
Kenneth's brother Lasse and fellow Dane Rene Bach share the final main-body spot and they look a capable pairing.
The main reason for Panthers building their side in the way they have is to allow Danish starlet Michael Jepsen Jensen to start at reserve and that looks a very astute decision.
Jepsen Jensen is full of potential, but there will be less pressure on him at reserve, although he could very well find himself in the main body before the end of the season.
"I know there was some criticism when the team was first named, but I think we can really surprise those people. A lot can go wrong in speedway but if everything goes well for us I definitely think we can go all the way to the Grand Final." Kenneth Bjerre
Main man:Kenneth Bjerre
One to Watch:Michael Jepsen Jensen
Sam Masters/Ludvig Lindgren (DU)
2011 champions and the giants of British speedway, Poole, will be looking to defend their double triumph of last year.
They have again built a side who look more than capable of speeding off with the honours in 2012.
After arguing their corner over the winter, the rules over how many riders over 8 you could have were changed which allowed Poole to keep their brilliant top two of Chris Holder and Darcy Ward.
Holder and Ward could easily finish the campaign as the EL's top two averaged riders, but the beauty for the Poole fans is how well they ride together, which is often a joy to behold, especially around Wimborne Road.
With Holder and Ward returning, that obviously takes up a substantial chunk of their points limit - but promoter Matt Ford has looked to work some magic with the rest of the side.
Stylish Swedish youngster Dennis Andersson is back to continue his progress and he should only add to his average.
The real interesting winter signing is that of Pole Adrian Miedzinski, who shunned his parent club Swindon to return to England for the first time in six years. He has arrived on a initial deal until May, at which point he is expected to be well above his starting average of less than 6.
Sam Masters and Ludvig Lindgren will share the final top-five spot, although the brilliant young Aussie can expect to be an ever-present and his progress could be key to Poole's chances.
The one question mark is over Poole's starting reserve pair of Ricky Kling and Todd Kurtz who, although having potential, look far from being up to the task. However, it is widely expected that the Pirates will be one of the first sides to make changes.
Poole look destined, at the very least, for another play-off spot.
"Matt Ford had to fight for us to retain our top two and our supporters will surely again be thrilled by their exploits. Whatever happens, this certainly looks like it is going to be another great year for Poole speedway." Co-promoter Gordon Pairman
Main man:Chris Holder
One to Watch:Adrian Miedzinski
Jason Doyle/Seb Alden (DU)
Robin Aspergen/Kenny Ingalls (DU)
Alun Rossiter returned to the club in the winter and he immediately set about trying to transform last year's basement side into title challengers - and it is little surprise he looks to have succeeded.
Only Simon Stead has returned from the class of 2011 and there is little doubt that the Robins faithful will be happy with what has been done off the track thus far.
Swindon have brought in a very strong spearhead with Australian ace Troy Batchelor and Grand Prix star Hans Andersen lining up.
With Batchelor and Andersen, Swindon undoubtedly have a top-two capable of living with anyone else in the league.
Stead has been given the chance to return and he will be itching to battle his way back into the Great Britain squad.
Jason Doyle and club asset Seb Alden, two of the top men in the Premier League, will share a role which looks a very astute decision.
Australian Nick Morris has followed Rossiter from Coventry having doubled up with the Bees last season and he is a huge talent and could be a key signing for Swindon.
Another man who served Rossiter at Coventry is Danish prospect Peter Kildemand and he looks a more than capable reserve to add some real strength in depth to an impressive looking side.
"We'll be going to war on other people and I want the Abbey to become a fortress. We want to be demolishing sides out of sight - that's what we've got to do." Swindon chief Alun Rossiter
Main man:Hans Andersen
One to Watch:Nick Morris
Ricky Wells/Thomas Jorgensen (DU)
Wolverhampton struggled for much of last season despite having an excellent top-order and, whilst they look stronger, a play-off push looks unlikely.
Grand Prix star and Elite League big-hitter Freddie Lindgren is back to lead Wolves and he will be letting nobody down at Monmore Green.
British ace Tai Woffinden will be the second heat-leader and he will look to continue his progress after a very good 2011 campaign.
Dane Nicolai Klindt missed out last term but he is back in the Black Country following a stint with Swindon and he will be asked to provide the main back-up, which he is more than capable of doing.
Indeed, there is little worry over the top-three at Wolves, they can live with most in the league - but it is the bottom order where the worries begin to emerge.
Ty Proctor had a hugely disappointing campaign last year and did not progress at all and he will be key to Wolves this season and any hopes they have.
Wolves have also taken a big gamble on bringing in untested duo Lukasz Sowka and Pontus Aspgren. Neither arrive with huge reputations which makes their arrivals all the more questionable, but Wolves are very loyal and will give both the chance to make their mark on the side.
Ricky Wells will fill the final spot in a DU role with Thomas Jorgensen and the American is likely to see much of the action after showing some real signs of improvement last term.
Whilst Wolves no doubt have potential, at this stage they look unlikely to be challenging at the top end.
"I can't wait to get going again, I'm really enthusiastic about the season ahead and I think it can be a good one for both myself and Wolves. It's an exciting time for everyone and I have to say the Wolverhampton team is looking good." Tai Woffinden