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WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE GLADIATORS IN 2024

Plymouth have had a torrid time in recent seasons, with campaigns marred by injury, bad weather and their squads underperforming on track, despite putting together sides with very capable riders.

2024 has seen the Gladiators' promotion completely revamp their side, with only Ben Barker and Dan Thompson recalled from their 2023 side. Even Plymouth's track is seeing major changes over the winter, with the track being lengthened and turns 3/4 being widened.

Barker is a huge fans favourite in Devon and is capable of beating anyone around the Coliseum. He finished 2023 on the side lines after picking up a nasty shoulder injury late in the season, but few are better to watch than a fit Ben Barker and he was an obvious choice to lead the Gladiators into the new season.

Dan Thompson is the 2nd rider to be retained and he is joined by twin brother Joe. It is easy to forget that Dan and Joe are still only 19-years-old, as they have been racing professionally in British Speedway's top leagues since they were just 16. Both Thompsons have not had much security when it comes to team places over the last 2 seasons, something which is important when it comes to progressing at a young age, so a full season together at Plymouth will be hugely beneficial to them.

Dan has put in some big performances in the past, especially around his old home track Leicester. He may have put a lot of laps in around there, but it still takes a very capable rider with an ability not to be intimidated by bigger names to perform to the level he has previously. Joe's progress has been a little slower, but he too has proved he can score well at Championship level when his confidence is high. The brothers should not be underestimated - they have talent and Plymouth's technical circuit should suit them both.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Plymouth line up is the return of the exciting Nico Covatti to British Speedway. Covatti becomes the Gladiators' new number 1 and their season could well hinge on how well he is able take on that role. Covatti has been racing regularly since his sabbatical from racing on these shores, but British tracks can pose a much bigger challenge technically than those overseas and he will need to perform as a genuine number 1 quickly for the Gladiators to be competitive from the off.

Brits Kyle Newman and Alfie Bowtell complete the Gladiators' top 5 and both seem to be solid signings. Newman is based on the south coast, so his move there makes a lot of sense and he is another rider that should be well suited to the technical Coliseum track. Newman enjoyed a successful season with Poole in 2023 and is a gutsy and entertaining performer. Bowtell is well known to the Gladiators' fans and promotion and made good progress with Birmingham in 2023. He should perform well for the Gladiators and is more than capable of improving further this season.

The final jigsaw piece comes in the form of young Aussie Jacob Hook. Hook has spend the last 2 seasons much further north with Championship spells at Edinburgh and Berwick, and although his progress to date has not been spectacular, he is very accomplished on a speedway bike and will be far more experienced than most of his counterparts at reserve. Alongside Joe Thompson, he should form one of the strongest reserve partnerships in the league and that is going to be vital to the Gladiators this season.

BSN Verdict:

Plymouth do appear to be missing some top end strength when compared to the rest of the Cab Direct Championship and much will depend upon the success of Nico Covatti's return. Making the most of home track advantage and capitalising on a strong reserve pairing will be key if the Gladiators are to have a good season

GLADIATORS LINE UP FOR 2024:

Nico Covatti

Ben Barker

Kyle Newman

Alfie Bowtell

Dan Thompson

Joe Thompson

Jacob Hook

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