Cases Somerset Rebels were the only Premier League speedway side able to host a meeting on Friday night following 48 hours of heavy rain, and they were rewarded with a 58-34 win over Glasgow Tigers (writes Dave Thompson).
With the Oaktree Arena track in surprisingly good condition, the fans who chanced the weather and decided to miss England's Euro 2012 match against Sweden were treated to a meeting with some superb racing, despite the one-sided look of the final score.
Reigning Premier League champions Glasgow haven't had the greatest start to the season, but got their night off to a great start when veteran Joe Screen made a slick start to just nip in front of Jason Doyle at the first turn.
Doyle, who was riding one of Sam Masters' bikes after his own had given up the ghost on the way to the tapes, was soon on Screen's back wheel, and tried every line possible to find his way back to the front, but to no avail.
Screen rode a great race to hold off the Rebels skipper, whilst Chris Mills was doing a similar job behind him, after sneaking in front of Alex Davies in the opening turns, to give the Tigers a first heat advantage.
The Rebels corrected that in Heat 2 as Kyle Newman and Tom Perry blew the Tigers reserve pairing away, with lightning starts to take up the running before the first turn.
Once at the front they made no mistake, team riding home in front of young Australian duo, Jayden O’Malley and Mason Campton, for a maximum advantage to put the Rebels in front by two points.
O’Malley was quickly back in action, as he took a rider replacement ride, in place of the absent Filip Sitera in Heat 3. The Czech rider had received a late call-up to the Grand Prix Qualifier in Hungary, and could not take his place in the Tigers line up.
O’Malley fared little better in this race than he had in the previous one. Behind from the start, he only got as far as lap three, before his machine expired and he retired.
At the head of affairs, Sam Masters was swiftly into his stride, coming over the top of Josh Grajczonek in the first turn, clamping him to the kerb, before going to the front, and pull away with ease, to win pulling a cart.
For his part, Grajczonek had to be up to his mettle to hold off a charging James Wright, who had recovered from a tardy start to pressure the Queenslander all the way.
Rider replacement was back in action in Heat 4, but this time for the home side, as Jason Doyle replaced the still recovering Claus Vissing.
Doyle shot from the tapes, with the other three breaking level behind him. He was in a clear lead before the turn, and was soon putting yards between himself and the rest of the field, who were headed by Mason Campton.
Kyle Newman was soon challenging Campton, and swept around his outside on the third turn. Meanwhile James Grieves, who has never pulled up any trees at the Highbridge circuit, was making his way into third, relegating his team mate to last place.
He gradually closed down Newman over the final two laps of the race, and although he got close at the third turn of the final lap, he could never throw in an effective challenge, and Newman easily held him off to take a ‘full house’ for the Rebels.
With a strong wind blasting across the Oak Tree Arena, the tapes were being blown into the riders faces at the start, making things difficult for all concerned.
Whether this was a factor is up for debate, but whatever the reason, James Wright took an absolute flyer, in Heat 5, and burst through the tapes before Dale Entwistle could let them go.
Rather than putting Wright off 15 metres, Steve Bishop and Garry May chose to send out Kyle Newman to take his place.
Newman also proved a little over eager, as he too moved at the tape, but this time the only person he inconvenienced was himself, as the tapes rose just as he was halting his forwards motion.
Sam Masters broke quickly to take a small lead into the first turn, only to see Joe Screen come sailing around the wide line to take up the running off the next. Newman had recovered from his indiscretion and was charging after Chris Mills for third place.
He flew around the outside of the final turn of the lap, and was going so quickly, that not only did he grab third from Mills, his run took him past his team mate as well, and up into second place.
The home pairing set off after Screen, but there was no hauling him in, as the Chesterfield born racer was making the best of the clear track in front of him, and the points were shared.
The Rebels looked likely to extend their lead, which now stood at eight points, in the next heat as Alex Davies and Jason Doyle jetted off the start to lead into the first turn.
As they ran down the back straight they looked to have another maximum locked away, and then disaster struck for Davies.
Running into the third bend, the back end just went away from him, and just as it looked like he might take a spin, the rear tyre bit hard, and straightened up his machine, high siding the unfortunate Davies, and driving him and bike into the safety fence at high speed.
The race was stopped for several minutes, as Davies was attended to by the medical staff, and happily he soon regained his feet, making his way back to the pits, under his own steam, if a little battered and bruised.
In the restart, Doyle was again quickly into his stride, and looked to be pulling away with every turn of the wheels, but as he passed the scene of Davies demise, he too locked up and slowed, causing James Grieves to close quickly, and almost run in to the back of him.
Once Doyle had regained control he soon put clear air between himself and the Tigers pair, and pulling away to take a shared heat.
Heat 7 was all change, with James Wright and Mason Campton taking their team’s respective rider replacement rides. As the tapes rose it was Wright who made the best start, leading before the opening bend, with Josh Grajczonek close up.
The Townsville rider, who missed most of last season with a broken leg, suffered almost exactly a year earlier at the St Boniface Arena, against the Plymouth Devils, but has returned to the Tigers line up this season determined to make up for lost time.
He was quickly onto the exhaust pipe of Wright and pressed him hard over the opening two laps, getting up his inside off the second turn, before Wright moved back into the lead, on the wide line around the next bend.
As the pair slugged it out at the front, Tom Perry was taking care of business in third. The Albrighton rider had taken second place in the early stages, but had been demoted to third by Grajczonek in the opening turns. Despite this, he was never far away and easily accounted for Mason Campton over the remainder of the race.
At the front, Wright had gradually eased away from Grajczonek and took the win comfortably in the end, and with Perry taking third the Rebels lead was extended by another two points.
Heat 8 has been something of a problem recently for the Rebels, having given up more 5-1s to the opposition than they would care to.
This time the tapes rose and Kyle Newman looked to have laid the hoodoo as he flew clear to lead at the turn. As they ran down the back straight he looked to have the win sewn up, but the rest of the field had other ideas, and by the fourth turn they were all on top of each other.
Suddenly from being in a great position the Rebels found themselves in the familiar position of being 5-1 down, as the Tigers pair passed Newman, one either side, as they exited the final curve of the lap.
Any thoughts of the Tigers reducing their deficit were blown to the winds as Alex Davies, who had been close up all the way, carved his way from last place to challenge Chris Mills for the lead by the opening turn of the next lap.
He was always pressing Mills, and by the back straight of Lap 3 he was upsides, but couldn’t find a way by the Chelmsford man. A lap later he was inside Mills on the final bend of the race, but just couldn’t find the space to force his way to the front, despite all his effort.
Meanwhile Newman had regained third spot, and the Rebels filled the minor places, in a breath taking race to share the points.
Heat 9 saw the Rebels duo of James Wright and Sam Masters break on a maximum, but James Grieves was soon up the inside of Masters to grab second spot on the opening bend.
Masters was in no mood to give up the place easily, and powered around the outside, sweeping by the Tigers stalwart on the wide line on bend four. Once back on Wright's wheel, Masters rode out the race, with the pair pulling farther in front the further they went to take all the points, and put the Tigers 14 points in arrears.
It was no surprise to see Stewart Dickson call on Josh Grajczonek to wear the ‘Black and White’ in Heat 10, but the move failed in dramatic fashion as the Australian failed to complete the race.
As the tapes rose the Rebels ‘Double Ds’, Doyle and Davies, rocketed from the tapes with Davies leading before the turn, with Doyle blocking any chance of a Grajczonek outside run around him .
Doyle took up the running off the fourth bend, as Grajczonek tried to make up ground after his terrible start. With the Rebels pair charging into the back straight, Grajczonek came steaming off the opening turn, and suddenly lost control, and crashed into the safety fence on bend two.
With the Tigers man excluded from the re-run the Rebels repeated their earlier slick start, and powered away to easily account for Mason Campton.
Joe Screen was next to wear the ‘Magic Hat’, as he arrived at the start line for Heat 10. Luckily for the Tigers he fared better than Grajczonek, but unfortunately for the visitors it didn’t reduced their deficit at all.
The race had to be restarted as referee Dale Entwistle stopped the original running after Sam Masters lost his steel shoe in the turn. Masters had made a great start, and clamped Screen hard to the kerb, allowing Tom Perry to sweep around the outside.
However from the referee’s point of view he saw the contact on the first turn, and observed an object fly from one of the two combatants. Not knowing what it was, he took the safest option and stopped the race.
In the restart Masters could not quite make it over the top of Screen but, as the Tigers top man took up the running, Tom Perry again appeared on the scene, and sailed around the widest of lines to take up the running down the back straight.
Screen was soon on Perry’s case, and was challenging around the outside of the final bend of the lap, but Perry held firm. Screen switched inside and came storming alongside Perry on the back straight.
Again Perry held the line, but as they entered the fourth turn for a second time, Screen had the run, and cut off any chance of another Perry repost, moving wide across him to stop the outside reply.
Perry came back at Screen, getting up his inside on the first turn of the lap three, and moved him wide in the process.
He couldn’t make the move stick, but opened up a big gap for Sam Masters to exploit, and grab the lead. Perry didn’t give up easily, and was closing down again on screen, but the line came just in time for the Tigers man, giving him a share of the points.
It was a stunning ride by Perry, battling it out with one of the best ever exponents of riding the wide line, on an area of the track that Screen is most at home.
Heat 12 should have seen Josh Grajczonek return to the track, but his earlier fall had taken its toll and his place was taken by the very busy Mason Campton.
A level break saw the Rebels twosome of Sam Masters and Kyle Newman fly from the gate to lead up. Campton was soon close up, and slipped up the inside of Newman off the final bend of the lap, completing the move on the opener of lap two, to take second spot.
Newman is a battler of the first degree, and he was soon after Campton, trying inside and out to find a way to regain the place, but Campton stuck to his guns, and rode a great race to hold off the Rebels charger to the line.
Heat 13 saw Alex Davies take the rider replacement ride for the Rebels, but as the tapes rose it was team mate, Jason Doyle who contested the lead with Joe Screen. Doyle and Screen battled it out at the front, with Screen gaining the upper hand on the inside of the fourth turn.
Doyle hit back and by the same point on the next lap, he came with a wet sail to power around the outside of Screen to take back first place.
Davies, for his part accounted for James Grieves late on in lap two, and gave chase to the pair in front. He rapidly closed on Screen, as Doyle pulled away, and came with a storming run off the final two bends of the race, and only just failed, by the narrowest of margins, at the line.
It was all change for the Tigers in Heat 14, with Chris Mills taking the replacement ride, and Jayden O’Malley taking Campton’s place, as he had run out of rides.
Mills flew off the line to lead up James Wright. Wright used a multitude of lines, swooping wide, and then cutting back inside, as he pressed Mills for the lead.
The pressure paid off on lap two, with a final cutback inside the third turn taking Wright to the front. Mills challenged back immediately, but Wright moved him wide on the final turn, to stop his run, and from there went on to take an easy win.
With Tom Perry taking a very comfortable third spot, the Rebels took their lead to 24 points.
With the result long beyond doubt, both sides tracked a rider from their lower order in Heat 15. Chris Mills got the call for the Tigers, and Kyle Newman for the Rebels, as both came to the tapes with James Wright and Joe Screen.
The tapes went up, and almost immediately the race was stopped with the Rebels pair at the head of affairs, after the referee spotted movement at the start by Kyle Newman.
In the restart James Wright blasted into the lead, keeping a tight line around the opening turns, only to see Screen, who beat off the an early challenge from Newman, come charging around the outside to challenge for the lead.
Wright held off Screen, but on the next lap Screen moved even wider into the dirt, and swept into the lead off the last turn.
Wright later said that he made a mistake, thinking he had enough speed on the inside to account for Screen’s charge, but in hindsight he should have moved wide to block the run. Wright charged back, and cut up the inside of Screen on the third turn next time round, but Screen clamped him hard to the kerb and stopped his run, before going on to take the win, under extreme pressure from the Stockport racer.
Newman took third to give the Rebels a share of the points, and take the win by a score of 58-34.
In the final analysis, the Rebels had produced a superb all-round team performance, with everyone getting in the points. Despite the lopsided looking score the meeting produced some terrific racing, and as well as the riders, a great deal of credit should go to the Ez Curtis and the track staff, who had not only produced a great racetrack in the face of some truly awful weather, but had maintained it in tip top condition, despite the very strong drying wind that blew all day and all night.
Joe Screen put on a superb display for the Tigers, top scoring with 15 points. For the Rebels top of the charts was Jason Doyle, with 13+1, dropping only a single point to an opponent.
Somerset Rebels = 58
1. Jason Doyle - 2, 3, 3, 2*, 3 = 13+1
2. Alex Davies - 0, Flx, 2, 3, 1 = 6
3. Sam Masters - 3, 1*, 2*, 3, 3 = 12+2
4. James Wright - 1, XT, 3, 3, 3, 2 = 12
5. Claus Vissing - (R/R)
6. Tom Perry - 2*, 1, 1, 1 = 5+1
7. Kyle Newman - 3, 2*, 2, 1*, 1, 1* = 10+3
8. Darryl Ritchings - DNR
Glasgow Tigers = 34
1. Joe Screen - 3, 3, 4^, 2, 3 = 15
2. Chris Mills - 1, 0, 3, 0, 2, 0 = 6
3. Josh Grajczonek - 2, 2, Flx^ = 4 (withdrawn)
4. Filip Sitera - (R/R)
5. James Grieves - 1, 2, 1, 0 = 4
6. Jayden O'Malley - 0, R, 0, 0, 0 = 0
7. Mason Campton - 1, 0, 1*, 0, R, 1, 2 = 5+1
Heat 01: Screen, Doyle, Mills, Davies (2-4) (2-4) 57.95
Heat 02: Newman, Perry, Campton, O'Malley (5-1) (7-5) 59.10
Heat 03: Masters, Grajczonek, Wright, O'Malley (ret) (4-2) (11-7) 57.77
Heat 04: Doyle, Newman, Grieves, Campton (5-1) (16-8) 58.23
Heat 05: Screen, Newman (for Wright – exl Tapes), Masters, Mills (3-3) (19-11) 58.47
Heat 06: (Rerun) Doyle, Grieves, Campton, Davies (flx) (3-3) (22-14) 59.23
Heat 07: Wright, Grajczonek, Perry, Campton (4-2) (26-16) 58.78
Heat 08: Mills, Davies, Newman, Campton (ret) (3-3) (29-19) 59.89
Heat 09: Wright, Masters, Grieves, O'Malley (5-1) (34-20) 59.42
Heat 10: (Rerun) Davies, Doyle, Campton, Grajczonek (Tactical) (flx) (5-1) (39-21) 60.04
Heat 11: Masters, Screen (Tactical), Perry, Mills (4-4) (43-25) 59.69
Heat 12: Masters, Campton, Newman, O'Malley (4-2) (47-27) 59.78
Heat 13: Doyle, Screen, Davies, Grieves (4-2) (51-29) 59.73
Heat 14: Wright, Mills, Perry, O'Malley (4-2) (55-31) 59.94
Heat 15: (Rerun) Screen, Wright, Newman, Mills (3-3) (58-34) 59.61