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Stoke bid for title repeat

Stoke’s bid to become the first club to successfully defend the league title in seven years will largely depend on whether Jarno Gronlund can adequately replace Mark Windsor as the club’s third heat leader, a rider who signed off for the Wildfire with a 15 point maximum on the final day off the SL26 campaign. The New Zealander’s first season outside of the top flight in seven will be in a Sturminster race-jacket, the former world number eight a makeweight in a deal which saw Gronlund arrive in the Potteries from the recently relegated side. The exchange makes sense for Garry Pearce’s champions in terms of averages, the Finnish Champion a perfect fit numbers wise, and so far he’s made the step up in performance required of him if the Wildfire are to repeat last years success. Double figure returns in all four pre-season meetings for the 28 year old has been the backbone of the four straight wins for the club in the warm-ups, no other rider—including number one Brian Bell, back at the club for a sixth season—has been as consistent. Bobby Branch is also back at Lakes Park, season number five for the current British Champion at the club, who completes the heat leader trio, at 30 he’s now the veteran of a team that is the youngest in the division. 21 year old Tommy Leinonen is one rider Pearce will need to improve, the Finn is riding for his permit for the first time in his career and is required to attain a 5.00 point plus mark by the end of the campaign, so far he looks good value for his current 3.51 figure, he paid for seven in both the Wildfire’s latest fixtures, which included a four point win at Tresco.

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