With the Somerset Rebels having officially ‘raised the curtain’ on their 2017 season with a Practice day, attention now turns to the first on-track action of the season at the Oaktree Arena, which will see the club stage the highly prestigious SGB Premiership Pairs Championship on Friday 31st March.
The competition was last staged back in 2011, this year’s re-launch coinciding with the rebranding of the top flight of British speedway, with Somerset competing in the top-tier for the first time in their history.
The Pairs brings together two out of the top three riders from each of the 8 Premiership sides, the teams being divided into two groups of four, the top two of each progressing through to the semi-finals, the winners’ going through to contest the ‘winner takes all’ Grand Final.
The ‘Cases’ Rebels will be represented by Rohan Tungate and new signing Patrick Hougaard, Tungate looking to make it three Pairs successes in consecutive years, he having won the second-tier version of the Championship with Ipswich in 2015 and then again with Somerset, when partnered by Josh Grajczonek, last season, whilst for Dane Hougaard, the meeting will mark his home debut for the Rebels.
The line-up is a star-studded affair with the likes of 2012 World Champion, Chris Holder, being one half of the King’s Lynn duo, his partner being Robert Lambert, one of the top British riders currently coming through the ranks, while Swindon will track two ex-Rebels in the shape of current Grand Prix star Jason Doyle and his Australian compatriot, Nick Morris.
There is a third Grand Prix rider amongst the line-up in the shape of Wolverhampton’s Fredrick Lindgren, the Wolves duo being an all-Swedish affair with his partner being the highly rated Jacob Thorssell, while Poole include another ex-Rebel, Brady Kurtz, as one half of their partnership, his team-mate on the night being the 2014 Polish Champion and 5-time World Cup winner, Krzysztof Kasprzak.
Meanwhile, the Rye House duo of Chris Harris and Scott Nicholls can boast a staggering 10 British Championship titles between them, while Belle Vue track the current Oaktree Arena track record holder, Craig Cook alongside four-time Australian and current World Under-21 Champion, Max Fricke.
Finally, Leicester track two-time German Champion Kevin Wölbert and Swede Kim Nilsson as their representatives in this highly competitive competition, one that Somerset promoter Debbie Hancock feels is very difficult to call as far as the eventual winners are concerned;
“The Premiership Pairs is a great way with which to start our historic 2017 season,” she said, “but looking at the various partnerships, it will take a brave person to try and predict a winner, you could quite easily make a case for each of the eight teams to end up on the top spot of the podium.”
“The meeting has all the hallmarks of being a fantastic night of action and one that I am sure the fans will enjoy and hopefully we will see a packed Oaktree Arena with fans from each of the eight teams cheering on their own particular favourites.”
Pictured: 2017 ‘Cases’ Somerset Rebels; [L-R] Patrick Hougaard, Jan Graversen, Paul Starke, Jake Allen, Charles Wright; Front; Rohan Tungate & Josh Grajczonek