season at Highbridge's Oaktree Arena is off to a flying start
speedway season at Highbridge's Oaktree Arena got underway with
a well-attended fixture on Friday (31st March) when the SGB Premiership
Pairs Championship took place.
Premiership Pairs, which includes two riders from each team in the
league, is the first of two National Championship meetings to be
held in Somerset this season, with the second being the SGB Championship
version, now long established at the Oaktree Arena, on 21st July,
the eve of the British Speedway Grand Prix.
On Friday the eight teams were split into two groups of four, competing
in a Round Robin qualifier to establish the semi-finalist. Unlike
normal team speedway, the scoring system is 4pts for a win, 3pts
for second, 2pts for third, with the fourth place a non-scorer,
which is designed to encourage team riding within the pair.
Cases Somerset Rebels were drawn in Group A,
alongside Belle Vue, Wolverhampton & Swindon, with Group B
consisting of Rye House, Poole, Leicester and Kings Lynn.
The opening heat in Group A turned into two separate
races, as Craig Cook and Fredrik Lindgren flashed from the tapes
to battle it out to the turn. Cook eased into the lead, with Lindgren
hot on his tail. Lindgren pressured Cook for all four laps, but
couldnt find a run at the Cumbrian.
behind them Max Fricke was chasing Wolverhamptons Jacob Thorssell
for third place. As the front pair pulled away, Thorssell held off
Fricke with some ease, and Wolverhampton to the heat advantage 5-4.
Cases Somerset Rebels made their debut in an SGB Premiership
level competition in Heat 3 (the second heat in Group A)
and produced a winning debut, as Rohan Tungate charged off the start
to show former Rebel, and 2016 World Championship contender, Jason
Doyle the quickest way round the Oaktree Arena circuit. Doyle tried
every line around the Highbridge track, but in the end had no answer
to Tungates speed.
Hougaard was last away, but swept around another former Rebel, in
the shape of Nick Morris, on the final turns of the opening lap.
Once there, like Doyle, Morris had no reply to Hougaard, no matter
how hard he pressed. The home fans gave the Rebels pair a resounding
cheer as they recorded a 6-3 victory in the heat.
Heat 5 saw Belle Vues chances of adding significantly to their
score, as Craig Cook was squeezed out on the run to the turn by
the fast starting Swindon pairing of Doyle and Morris. To add insult
to injury he also caught a big lift off the start, which virtually
ended his chance of success before it had even started. Swindon
roared to the front, and never looked back as they completed all
four laps upsides each other, shutting out Belle Vue and recording
a maximum 7-2 victory in the process.
Heat 7 saw the Cases Somerset Rebels duo eventually
shut out by Wolverhampton. Rohan Tungate was quickly away, contesting
the early running with Fredrik Lindgren, but as they hit the back
straight it was Lindgren who had established a lead, as Tungate
was shuffled back one more place by Jacob Thorssells outside
run. Late in the race, Patrick Hougaard took up the challenge and
was almost upsides Thorssell as the hit the third turn of Lap 3,
only to have the door slammed in his face, as Wolverhampton ran
out 7-2 winners.
Tungate and Hougaard were quickly back on track as they contested
Heat 9 with Belle Vue. As the tapes rose the pair ran to the turn
three abreast with Craig Cook. Cook ran Tungate out to the fence,
leaving his partner a huge gaping hole to the inside to exploit.
was quick to take the invitation, as he slipped through, followed
by Hougaard. For his pains, Tungate found himself at the back, a
position he couldnt recover from, no matter how hard he tried.
Hougaard took the wide route down the back straight, and swept into
the lead as they headed for the third turn.
took over the chase from Fricke, but Hougaard answered every question
he posed, and in the end took the win with something in hand.
With the Cases Somerset Rebels having completed their
three rides, and sitting on 12-points, there was still a chance
of a semi-final place, but unfortunately, it was out of their hands
and relied on the result of Heat 11 going their way. To add to the
suspense the race was held up as both teams came to the tapes wearing
the same helmet colours.
would need a 7-2 win by Wolverhampton over Swindon for the Rebels
duo to progress to the semis, but as the tapes rose the Rebels
fate was sealed, ironically by none other than Jason Doyle, who
bolted from the tapes and after contesting a tight run to the opening
turn with both Wolverhampton riders, took up the lead off the second
turn and led every other inch of the way. The result meant that
both Wolverhampton and Swindon had qualified for the Semi-Finals
from a hard-fought Group A.
Group B turned out to be a more cut and dried affair
for Kings Lynn, who produced an almost faultless display to record
a maximum 21-point haul to top the group. In their heats, former
World Champion, Chris Holder showed what a top notch team rider
he is as he was constantly looking for partner Robert Lambert, allowing
him through to lead at times, and then sitting on his wheel to shepherd
him home. Not that the ever improving and highly talented Englishman
needs much shepherding.
Heat 2 saw the experienced Rye House pairing of the Chris Harris
and Scott Nicholls open up with a maximum advantage, sweeping off
the start to swamp the Poole pair of Brady Kurtz and Jack Holder
on the run to the turn. Once at the head of affairs the pair put
on an excellent display of team riding to completely eclipse the
Dorset duo, with a 7-2 win.
Kings Lynn made their first appearance of the night in Heat 4, with
Robert Lambert getting a great inside run at the turn to pass the
whole field after a fairly level break. Heading into the back straight,
his partner Chris Holder caught the grip, sending his front wheel
high into the air. Holder was unflustered by the lift and quickly
had the bike down and running again, so much so that he rapidly
picked off the Leicester duo of Danny King and Kim Nilsson, and
joined lambert at the front, before going on to take the heat with
ease, and put 7-points in the bank.
There was a close fought battle to the turn in Heat 6, as Holder
and Lambert, in a quick return to the track, battled it out with
Scott Nicholls. As Holder hit the front off the turn, Lambert showed
Nicholls the long way round and put an end to the challenge before
they reached the back straight. The opening turns were really the
story of the race, with Kings Lynn heading home from Lap1, and scoring
another maximum haul.
Danny King and Brady Kurtz provided the entertainment in Heat 8,
after King and his partner, Kim Nilsson, had given Leicester early
hopes of a maximum heat win. With Nilsson taking up the running,
King was relegated to third by Jack Holder as they ran the back
straight for the first time. As Nilsson and Holder headed for home,
Kurtz was giving chase to King, and for three laps he closed him
down, at times getting close to finding a way through. As they ran
into the first turn for the final time, Kurtz found an opening,
slicing through the inside as King left a gap. If he thought that
he had stolen a heat win late on, Kurtz had to think again, as King
repaid the compliment on the very next turn, giving his team a 6-3
Heat 10 opened with a pretty physical battle at the opening bend,
as Scott Nicholls and Chris Harris tried to shut out Kim Nilsson.
Whilst it was partially effective, Nilsson was at his belligerent
best as he muscled his way into second place, demoting Harris to
third, but Nicholls had stolen a march and was now heading for home.
Harris was soon harrying the Swede all the way. Nilsson took the
pressure well, and answered every call Harris made, holding him
off to the flag, but with Danny King not getting into the race,
it was Rye House who carried off the heat win, 6-3.
Robert Lambert produced a stunning ride in Heat 12 to ensure that
Kings Lynn headed into the semi-finals unbeaten, but for a long
time that outcome looked highly unlikely. All but lambert fought
out the run to the turn, with Chris Holder getting the better of
younger brother Jack and Brady Kurtz at the opening bend, with Lambert
bringing up the rear.
how the race settled and for a long time it looked as though the
Poole pair had stopped the Stars from going unbeaten through the
night, but Lambert clearly had other ideas. As they headed to the
completion of the second lap, Lambert found the drive he wanted,
and quickly closed on Jack Holder, sweeping around the fence line
to grab third place as they hit the third lap, then almost on one
fluid movement he switched his attack inside, cruising serenely
up the Kurtz inner as they headed out onto Lap 3. Once there it
was game over, as he quickly put distance between himself and his
pursuers, to keep the unbeaten record intact.
So the semi-final line-ups were now complete, with the Group A
winners, Wolverhampton, lining up against Group B runners
up, Rye House, whilst Kings Lynns opponents were Swindon in
Semi-Final 1 turned out to be a muted affair, with the Wolverhampton
pair completely dominating Rye House from the off. Jacob Thorssell
took up the running inside the rest of the field as they hit the
opener, and was quickly followed through by Fredrick Lindgren. Once
in place, they cruised to a bloodless victory, never giving Rye
House a sniff of the front.
Kings Lynn lost their perfect record in Semi-Final 2, when Jason
Doyle blazed from the tapes to lead every inch of the way. Chris
Holder took an erratic line off the tapes, as his bike appeared
to struggle for grip, weaving its way to the first turn. Whatever
problem he had in finding some grip, it was still good enough to
see off Nick Morris, who was shut out at the rear. Morris did find
some drive and came roaring down the back straight to deliver a
strong challenge as they headed into the third turn, but his run
fell short as Holder slammed the door shut at the vital moment.
Once Morriss challenged had been snuffed out, Kings Lynn were
happy to sit and defend second and third place to take the heat
win 5-4 and progress to the final with Wolverhampton.
The Final line up saw Kings Lynn take the inside gates, with Wolverhampton
off 2 & 4. In keeping with their earlier virtually impeccable
performance, Kings Lynn did it again. Chris Holder was very quickly
into his stride off Gate 1, as he and Robert Lambert squeezed out
Jacob Thorssell on the run to the turn. Lambert moved wide and sailed
around the outside to follow his partner to the front, leaving the
Wolverhampton pair floundering in their wake. They then rode the
whole four laps side-by-side, with Holder easing off slightly at
the line to allow his young partner to take the flag in first place,
as at the rear, Fredrik Lindgren retired on the final lap.
It was a thoroughly well-deserved victory for the East Anglian side,
who had shown what this competition is all about, team riding as
a pair, with Chris Holder, in particular, showing his undoubted
prowess in that sphere. For his part, Robert Lambert showed an increasing
liking and understanding of the Oaktree Arena circuit, as, until
his final visit of the 2016 season with Newcastle, he had been somewhat
inconsistent at the Highbridge racetrack, but all that was gone
from his game as he showed what an extremely fine rider he is developing
into. On this kind of form, if it can be brought to the rest of
their septet, Kings Lynn are going to be a force to be reckoned
with in the coming league season.
From the Rebels point of view, although they went out before the
Semi-Final stage, they were in there with a shout right up to the
death, and Rohan Tungates performance in beating Jason Doyle
in their first meeting showed that even the best in the world wont
be feared when they come to visit the Oaktree Arena.
The whole night went off smoothly, with the well-organised meeting
being kept swinging along at a pace by Graham Flint and the Oaktree
Arena staff, giving the tremendous crowd an entertaining evening
of speedway to start the season with. For the Somerset fans, in
particular, it was a glimpse into what life will be like in the
newly formed SGB Premiership. Whatever happens, the Cases
Somerset Rebels will be giving their all.
The scenes at Highbridge's Oaktree Arena on Friday (photos Colin