NEW Poole Pirates signing Brendan Johnson insists he is ready to embrace the pressure that comes with racing for the Elite League’s reigning champions.

A replacement for axed reserve Ben Hopwood, Poole resident Johnson will tonight make his debut against Belle Vue (7.30pm), seven days after a timely practice session on the Wimborne Road circuit.

And the 22-year-old lifelong supporter, who races for Mildenhall in the National League, believes the weight of expectation will bring the best out of him.

Johnson told the Daily Echo: “As a kid I always used to get upset if Bjarne Pedersen didn’t score a maximum, so I understand the pressure fans put on riders as I am a fan myself.

“But I’ve ridden in the World Under-21 Team Cup with Tai Woffinden and Lewis Bridger and I’ve had good experience in big meetings. I know I can blank out the crowd if I need to.

“I know it’s going to be difficult in the Elite League but I race week in, week out with the riders that are on the draft list in the National League, and I beat them on a regular basis.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge and I know I can do a job if I knuckle down and put my mind to it.

“Three points is my average in the Elite League and if I can pick up three points a meeting, I’ve done my job. If I can score more than that, I’ll be delighted.”

Hopwood – who replaced Lee Smart in the Poole line-up in May – struggled for form throughout his stint on the south coast and scored just 15 points in 10 meetings without bonuses.

However, the Stoke rider has vowed to come back stronger at a later date.

He said: “Next time I’m in the Elite League, I will know what to expect so I will be better prepared for it. I’m disappointed with the performances I put in and I can only improve on that.

“The timing of it was a shame as I had quite a few sponsors come on board over the past week and I have managed to improve my bikes.

“I hadn’t made one start in the Elite League this year but made three against Belle Vue on Monday.

“Prior to that, my machinery wasn’t quite up to scratch as I was funding it all myself and it was hard to upgrade the equipment.”

Pirates: (from) Darcy Ward, Josh Grajczonek, Shamek Pawlicki, Vaclav Milik, Maciej Janowski, Brendan Johnson, Kyle Newman.

Aces: (from) Matej Zagar, Rohan Tungate (guest), Scott Nicholls, Michael Palm Toft, Craig Cook, Stefan Nielsen, Lee Payne.