August 13, 2015
Highbridge speedway track's big Sky TV night draws crowds

Sky Sports brought their TV cameras to Highbridge's Oak Tree Arena on Tuesday (August 11th) and broadcast a victory by the Edinburgh Monarchs.

The visiting side produced a stunning victory, ending the day nine points to the good with a 42-51 win in front of a big crowd in the evening sunshine.

Operating rider replacement for the still injured former Rebel, Sam Masters, the Monarchs hit the ground running, as they quickly built up an early lead they were not to lose.

That lead came courtesy of some rapid gating, and the ability to give their ‘Number One’ Craig Cook three rides by Heat 5. Cook capitalised with two wins from his programmed rides, plus a win in the first rider replacement opportunity.

As the tapes rose on Heat 1, Cook, and another former Somerset rider, Justin Sedgmen, bolted from the gates, with Sedgmen hitting the first bend in the lead. Down the back straight, Cook took up the running, and the pair started to pull away from Leigh Lanham and Brady Kurtz, who were struggling behind. With time running out, the home pairing didn’t help their cause by seemingly hampering each other in their efforts to close the gap, and were unable to make any impression into the Monarchs race lead.

The Rebels looked to have pulled back some of the opening race deficit when Paul Starke produced a rocket start to hit the front from the tapes, with Ollie Greenwood not far behind. Out of the turn, Max Clegg came up Greenwood’s inside, and as they raced around the third turn, Greenwood clipped Clegg’s rear wheel, unsettling him, and allowing Robert Branford up his inside. Racing back to the straight, Branford moved Greenwood wide, demoted him to the rear. Meanwhile Starke raced clear, and the race played out to a share of the points.

Charles Wright lifted off the gate in Heat 3, handing the early initiative to the Monarchs pair of Kevin Wolbert & Erik Riss. Riss appeared in front at the turn, with Wolbert following on. Meanwhile Wright was making up the lost ground, coming with a strong run at the opening turns of the next lap; he soon had Wolbert in his sights. Swooping off the second bend, Wright took up the chase on Riss, who was now speeding away at the front. Try as he might he couldn’t close him down, and even had to fend off a renewed challenge from Wolbert, before posting a second place at the flag. Richie Worrall never got into a challenging position after a tardy start.

John Campbell hammered home the Monarchs early dominance, with the introduction of Craig Cook for the first rider replacement spot in Heat 4. The move paid dividends as the Monarchs top man flew from the line to power around the fast starting Paul Starke in the opening curves. Garry May had brought in Paul Starke to bolster up the reserve spot, and the move was rewarded as he did the job of beating his counterpart Robert Branford, and providing the Rebels with a much needed point. Josh Grajczonek moved to second spot off the final turn of the lap, but Cook was long gone, streaking to the second fastest time of the season, as the Rebels packed the places.

The Rebels made a flying start to Heat 5, leading to the bend on a 5-1, only for Christina Turnbull to call them back and warn Richie Worrall for moving at the start. In the restart, inevitably it was the Monarchs, in the form of the speedy Craig Cook, who made the best getaway. Charles Wright narrowly beat Justin Sedgmen to second place, but had to be at his best to fend off the swarming Sedgmen for all four laps. Richie Worrall put in an early challenge to the Edinburgh second string, but made no impression as his efforts fizzled out, leaving the Monarchs a further 2-points to the good.

The next four heats were shared, as the Rebels struggled to make inroads into the visitors lead. A fairly level break in Heat 6 saw Kevin Wolbert, taking the rider replacement; emerge from the second turn in front, with Leigh Lanham and Brady Kurtz filling the places. Lanham made an effort up the inside of the German at the third bend, but he was shrugged off as Wolbert powered away on the wide line. Kurtz was building up a head of steam after his slow start, and came around Lanham on the second lap. Chasing Wolbert hard, he tried to make ground, but the truth was that the Monarchs man was using the fastest line to his advantage, easily holding his lead to the finish.

Josh Grajczonek shot off the start line to lead all the way, with Erik Riss and Kevin Wolbert packing the places. Ollie Greenwood came into Heat 7 for Paul Starke, and was not too far away at the turn. He shot up the inside of the opening turns, pressing Wolbert for third, but once again a Rebels rider found a determined Monarch in his path, as his challenge was nullified. Riss gave chase, but could never get close to the flying Rebels skipper.

Paul Starke was the opposite Rebels reserve switch in Heat 8, and the early indications were that it was a move to produce the goods. Starke careered off the start to lead to the turn, with Leigh Lanham and Justin Sedgmen battling for second place. At the turn, Sedgmen shook off Lanham, and set about chasing down Starke, passing him down the back straight. Starke wasn’t going to lie down easily, and kept Sedgmen up to his work. He worked the lines, getting up the inside of the Victorian on the opening curves of the penultimate lap. Sedgmen just had the better line out of the turns, and held Starke’s push for the lead, giving him a little breathing space, which he was able to hold to the flag despite another powerful run from Starke over the final two bends. Lanham held third place to share the heat.

Sedgmen was quickly back on track, as he took the replacement spot in Heat 9. This time he left nothing to chance as he jetted from the tapes to make all the running from Richie Worrall and Charles Wright. Worrall had made his first reasonable start of the night, but in the process he only proved to hamper his team mate at vital times in the race. Every time, the clearly faster, Wright made his a move to take second spot and provide a challenge to Sedgmen, Worrall appeared to take his ground, leaving Wright extremely frustrated, something he made obvious to his team mate after the flag.

After the period of stalemate, it was the Monarchs who once again took an advantage and broke the deadlock. Erik Riss was having his first outing at the Oak Tree Arena, but the 2014 World Longtrack Champion had taken to it like a duck to water, and had so far dropped only one point to an opponent. He kept his run going with another superb ride in Heat 10, breaking quickly at the start to make every yard of the running. Kevin Wolbert was next away, with Brady Kurtz taking up the chase. Kurtz ran down Wolbert, and by the first turn of Lap 2, he was up his inside, and moved the experienced Edinburgh man out to the fence. Leigh Lanham quickly took advantage to snatch third, but his tenure was short lived, as Wolbert immediately hit back. Kurtz charged after Riss, but although making some ground, he was still some way behind when he caught a huge lift in the final turn, and worked a small miracle to get the bike in some semblance of order, and hang on to second spot at the line.

The advantage had given the Monarchs a 10-point lead on the night, but Garry May bided his time in introducing the ‘Black and White’ . With the so far unbeaten and imperious looking Craig Cook in the next race, he rolled the dice, swapping out his reserves, bringing in Ollie Greenwood for Paul Starke, and banking on Josh Grajczonek to keep the status quo. Clearly he hoped that the move would give the Rebels a better chance of making a tactical move work on the next heat.

Grajczonek made the ploy work perfectly as he hit the front directly from the tape rise, and then clamped Cook hard to the kerb in the turn, blocking off his route to the front, and blasting his prospective maximum out of the water. Justin Sedgmen took up the running, but with Grajczonek having the better run out of the bends, he could only settle into second place, as he passed Cook down the back straight. From that point on it was race over, with Grajczonek roaring off in the lead, and able to answer any questions that might be posed by the visiting pair, as he ensured the points were shared.

Heat 12 saw Garry May send Charles Wright to the start, carrying the Rebels hopes of salvaging the meeting, along with the Black and White helmet colours. Paul Starke came in for Ollie Greenwood to provide added bite for the home side. From Wright’s point of view, everything went to plan, as he charged into an early lead. Unfortunately Starke was slower away than he would have liked, and found himself at the rear. Undeterred, he set off after the Monarchs duo of Wolbert and Clegg. Starke powered down the back straight, and was soon on terms with Clegg, who he despatched quickly around the final turn of the lap. He put it all in, as he chased Wolbert for the remainder of the race, trying every line he knew to get on terms and pass the Monarchs man, but Wolbert cleverly avoided giving him a chance to post maximum points for the Rebels. However the resulting 7-2 brought the deficit down to just 5-points, and put the home side back in the hunt.

Heat 13 proved to be another pivotal point in the meeting, and it didn’t go the Rebels way. But what a superb race it produced. Craig Cook and Erik Riss (rider replacement) shot from the tapes, only to get called back, with Cook being warned for jumping at start. In the restart Cook was again very quickly into his stride, with Riss coming from the back to steam around both Josh Grajczonek and Brady Kurtz through the opening turns. Cook allowed Riss to move through to the front, and then rode shotgun for four superb laps to fend off the Rebels challenge, with Grajczonek and Kurtz all over the back of the Monarchs pairing.

For 3 laps the Rebels probed and pressured the Monarchs, with all four riders just over a bikes length apart. At one point Grajczonek got up the outside, and Kurtz up the inside of Cook, but he had so much speed out of the second turn, he grabbed his place back. With it all to play for going to final lap, Brady Kurtz caught a lift at the start line, and almost took his partner’s wheel. That was enough to end Grajczonek challenge, but Kurtz went on to ramp up the pressure, producing a massive run off the final turns of the race, which just failed to limit the damage.

Although mathematically possible for a Rebels win, it would have taken circumstances akin to winning the National Lottery to come about if that was to happen. Realistically the best they could hope for was to take two maximum advantages in the final two heats to limit Edinburgh to a 3-point win.

In the end the Monarchs provided both of the heat winners, as the races produced just a share of the points for the Rebels. In Heat 14 the prolific Erik Riss completed a superb debut at the Oak Tree Arena; with another all the way win to add to his earlier exploits. Paul Starke came next, with Richie Worrall having to come from behind Robert Branford on the second bend to earn the Rebels the shared heat.

Riss was out again in Heat 15, taking his place alongside Craig Cook. Garry May nominated Brady Kurtz and Charles Wright for the Rebels. Cook again showed a huge amount of speed off the start, leading up Charles Wright to the turn. Wright had Erik Riss on his outside, and cleverly moved him wide to allow a slow starting Kurtz through into third place as they hit the back straight. For his part, Riss never gave up the chase, and tried every possible line to find a way through into third, but Kurtz had him covered, answering all his calls over the four laps.

The visiting side had produced a stunning victory, endinng the day 9-points to the good with a 42-51 win, and four more points to add to their tally, maintaining their place at the head of the table. Craig Cook produced a top drawer performance, being beaten only once by an opponent all night, and posting a 15+2 return. Erik Riss’s debut at the Oak Tree Arena was a revelation, as he too hit double figures, with his 14-points seeing only two defeats by an opposition rider. The pair were backed up by a fantastic 11+2 from Justin Sedgmen, whilst Kevin Wolbert hit 8, with rider replacement unbeaten.

For the home side it was their second home defeat in three meetings, after an unbroken home record of 52 wins. Several riders produced lack lustre displays, and it was telling that the two top scorers were the superb Charles Wright, with 13+1, including a tactical win, and Paul Starke with a hard working 9+1. Wrights performance deservedly earned him the ‘Somerset Rider of the Night’ award, presented by Sam and Mandy Abbott of Rebels team partners TQ Exel. Josh Grajczonek backed up the two top scorers with an 8-point return. For the first time in the two years he has been at the club, Brady Kurtz failed to post a heat win.

The 'Cases' Somerset Rebels have some important meetings coming up, including their Scottish tour, and they will have to be at the top of their game if they are to maintain the push for a Play Off place, and another shot at the title to add to their 2013 victory.

Pictured: The speedway action at the Oaktree Arena on Tuesday (pics Colin Burnett and

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