Dramatic swoop by Ipswich Witches for Ben Barker as Aussie ace is dropped

A dejected Ben Barker waves to the crowd following the Ipswich v Somerset (Premier League Play-off s

Ben Barker, back at Foxhall again - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Witches have made a dramatic team change just four meetings into the 2022 speedway season.

Cornishman, Ben Barker, who has ridden for the Witches in two previous seasons has come in to replace the out-of-sorts Cameron Heeps, subject to BSPL approval.

It has been a difficult start to the year at Foxhall with the club losing all four meetings in a disappointing League Cup campaign and with the new Premiership season starting this Thursday against Belle Vue at Foxhall, the management have decided to act quickly and make the change.

Ben Barker (white helmet) and Kyle Newman battle in heat five of the Ipswich v Redcar meeting. PI

Ben Barker leads the way ahead of Kyle Newman - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Club asset Heeps departs, after struggling to find his best form so far in 2022 and having also endured a difficult 2021 that was hampered by injury.

Barker is no stranger to Foxhall and is back in Suffolk for a third spell having been at the club in 2013 and 2016. He has had an encouraging start to the season individually and will make his first appearance for his ‘new’ club on Thursday against the Aces.

Promoter Chris Louis explained why the club have had to make the difficult decision to replace the Australian at such an early stage of the season.

Cameron Heeps in action.

Cameron Heeps, dropped by the Witches after just four meetings. - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller- www.steph

“This happened last year under difficult circumstances with his injury on top of the other two injuries all within a week of each other,” said Louis.

“The last thing I wanted to do was to have the same thing this year, but he hasn’t hit the ground running and we are struggling as a team. We haven’t had a victory yet in our four League Cup fixtures. We are not that bad a team by any means, but we are a team that requires a reasonable input from all seven on most occasions.

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“We built a team knowing that the nucleus of it in Erik (Riss), Cam and Troy (Batchelor) are coming off of bad seasons, that’s why were able to build this team really. We had no right to expect them to be back to their top form just because they put on a Witches suit, so we knew we would have to give them time.

"Unfortunately, with the way the way the Premiership works with just six teams, it’s a short season and it has a transfer window, that opens after 25% and closes at 75%, so you are forced into making moves quickly if you need them, so it hasn’t enabled us any time with Cam.”

The former skipper says he can’t quite put his finger on what has gone wrong for Heeps in recent times but would welcome the club asset back into the side in the future.

“It’s not really for me to answer because I don’t know and I’m not going to make excuses for him, but the pandemic period has been tough on him being stuck in the UK and not being able to see his family back home and different things like that," Louis said. I think that has had an effect on him and his preparations.

“If you were pushing me for an answer, I would say maybe he is just not quite prepared enough and at the beginning of the season that is when it shows. I hope and pray, because he is someone I am close to and have a friendship with, that he can ride himself through it.

"If the situation presents itself and he is scoring points, I would see no problem at all with putting him back in the team if the situation arose. It’s really tough on him.”

Louis believes Barker will be a popular signing amongst the Foxhall faithful having already represented the club in the past.

“It is no secret that with the doubling-up, other than dipping into the international transfer market, which in fairness we tried, there was one option that the club simply could not afford and when we looked at what was available here, Ben was the obvious choice really," Louis added.

"He knows Ipswich, he knows the club, he knows the track because he has been with us a couple of times before.

“You know you are going to get 100%, he doesn’t know any other way and he feels like the right fit. We need to fill that one position; we need consistent points from that position that we weren’t getting, and he is probably the right man to do that. He is popular on the terraces, Ben is a racer, he will only ever give 100%.

"I know all fans demand 100% effort but particularly our fans need to see 100% effort from all of the riders.

"We thank Cameron for all of his efforts this season and wish him the best for the rest of the campaign."